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Understanding Your Relationship with Money: 09/01/2016

The “what-ifs”

Financial happiness has less to do with how much money you have and more about how you understand your point of view. Many people suffer from money-related stress and anxiety but it’s how they think about their situation that keeps them stuck in “suffering mode.” A good example of this is the “what-ifs.” What if I can’t pay my mortgage on time, what if I don’t get paid on time, what if I can’t retire and need to work until I’m 80! It’s impossible to feel happy or content when you allow negative thoughts and beliefs to circle your mind endlessly. This is fear at its most damaging, and it keeps you small, putting a lid on your creative endeavors, emotions, and more important, your spiritual growth. Your spiritual growth involves inspired thinking and enthusiasm for living. In contrast, fear stimulates the part of the brain called the amygdala and triggers the fight-or-flight response.

Monica (not her real name) is a bright, well-educated, talented, financially successful woman who fell into the what-ifs. She and her husband retired early because they both had worked hard all their lives, earned high six-figure salaries, and invested well for their retirement. Monica was all set financially. One would think she would feel secure. Instead, she was extremely frugal, worried she would run out of money, and felt anxious about her situation much of the time. I will mention that retiring early does require a plan and strategy to ensure you can sustain your lifestyle for the next 30 or so years; staying aware and awake around your spending habits is essential. Monica was doing all of that and she still experienced anxiety. Reviewing her childhood reveals how her money patterns and behaviors developed and why she had a tendency to feel these challenging emotions.

Monica was adopted as a newborn by a professor and his wife who both held Ph.D.s in mathematics. Her biological parents were bright young foreign exchange students from Asia whose culture wouldn’t allow them to return to their homeland pregnant and unmarried. Holding this precious secret, the young couple confided in their mathematics professor about their situation. The professor and his wife decided to adopt the young couple’s baby, naming her Monica. The family eventually had two more biological children. Monica was part of a loving family.

From early childhood, Monica was told by her parents that she was “oriental” but given no more explanation. She was raised knowing she was adopted and also told “it was no one’s business.” So there was a sense of secrecy from the time she was conceived and throughout her childhood; her parents wanted to protect her from unwanted judgment from others. Instead, Monica was confused. In spite of their best efforts, she was reminded of her differences every time she looked in the mirror, underscoring feelings of not fitting in.

Monica’s parents grew up during the depression. They sent a strong message of financial frugality to Monica. Highly educated, they also had high expectations of accomplishment for their children. So Monica was a high achiever, meeting expectations to fit in and feel worthy… and frugal. She excelled at everything she did, and became an engineer and pianist. Admittedly, she found herself over-analyzing situations, intolerant toward others, and finding a right and wrong for every situation. Here’s a perfectionist with high expectations of herself and others (Martyr) who has a tendency to control every outcome to achieve financial success (Self-Tyrant). Although intelligence, generosity, and kindness is Monica’s true nature, when her unconscious fears take over, her thoughts of self-worth and belonging easily morphed into proving herself and controlling situations, especially around money.

When Monica and her husband decided to retire early, feelings of anxiousness returned. Her success and self-worth was reflected in and equated to W-2s. “If money equates to ‘being worthy’ then what would happen if I run out?” This was her big “what if,” resulting in extreme frugality.

In this case, true happiness for Monica came by letting go of her fear of not-enoughness, forgiving her past story, and weaving a new one. Instead of feeling like a secret abandoned by her biological parents, she chose to see how much she was wanted, loved, and supported by her family. She was able to look back at difficulties and grudges and realize how they brought value and wisdom.

As Monica becomes accustomed to retirement, she brings her spirit and enthusiasm as an inspired musician to her travels. She shares her abundant life and creates opportunities for children in villages by involving them in music and performances.

Learn more about your relationship with money: visit and take the complimentary “Money Type Quiz.” Only you see the results. Or contact me at

To learn more about your relationship with money, visit and take the complimentary “Money Type Quiz.” Only you will see the results. Or contact me at

Donna Colfer has worked in financial management since 1987. As a Financial Counselor and a Certified Money Coach, she blends her financial expertise with spiritual counseling in her private practice in Sonoma. A Valley resident since 1981, Donna and her husband, Randy, reside in Kenwood.

© 2020 Donna Colfer


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