‘Belief’ is a word that can be used in two ways. We say we believe in something when we’re convinced it exists. We also say we believe in something when we support it philosophically. “I believe in fairies.” “I don’t believe in spanking.” This distinction in linguistic usage is important because it helps to give us some perspective on our own thought process. One believes in the factual existence of fairies, while recognizing that other people dispute it. One don’t believe in spanking, while recognizing that there is in fact a thing called “spanking” that happens in the material plane. I think most people don’t really “believe” in money in either sense.
Money is weird these days. Most of it exists digitally. I can look at a screen and see how much I have in my bank account. I can look at another app on the same screen and see my credit card balance, and how many reward miles it has generated this month. I can look at yet another app and see how much I supposedly have in the stock market today. Not so much of a penny of any of that passed through my hands in a physical sense.
You know what I do with real pennies? I find them on the sidewalk and put them in my purse. I also tend to find a lot more nickels, dimes, and quarters than I did ten or twenty years ago. I even found two one-dollar coins last year! I put the found coins in my purse, and then I put them in the piggy bank when I say “um” at Toastmasters meetings. (It’s like a swear jar for vocal tics). The only other things I can really do with coins are to ride the bus or pay parking meters. It’s fair to say that I don’t really “believe” in coins anymore. At least, I don’t in the way I did as a little kid, when I could still buy nickel candy or 3-cent gum.
What do I mean, then, when I say that I believe in money?
More importantly, what do I mean when I say that I think most people don’t believe in money?
I believe that money is a form of energy exchange. It’s an anthropological concept that, once introduced into a culture, never goes away. Americans vote on stuff and we stand in line and we understand the concept of exchanging labor for money for goods and services. I’ve used cash and personal checks and debit cards and credit cards and gift certificates and reward points and punch cards, all to the same effect. How could I not believe in money when I use it every day?
Ah, and that’s the point. Work with hoarding and squalor as long as I have, and you’ll see that not only do people tend not to believe in money, they act like they’re actually allergic to it.
This is where the paradoxical, sometimes ruinous decisions of scarcity mindset come from. Why would a broke person pay money she can’t afford for a storage unit full of stuff she doesn’t use that has no resale value? Why would a senior citizen on a fixed income run up a huge electric bill every month for three chest freezers full of discount loaves from the day-old-bread bakery? How do these financial policies make any sense?
It makes perfect sense if you believe in stuff, but not money. It makes perfect sense if you believe in day-old bread, but not money.
When you’re poor, it feels like every time you get a dollar in your hands, somebody shows up and puts a claim on it. You can barely get your rent together. You sometimes have to put something back when your groceries are rung up. Everything you own is either broken, wobbly, or cobbled together in some way. The minute you come into a windfall like your tax return, either your car coughs up a vital part, or you have a big co-pay, or... or something. Always something! It would take thousands of dollars to ever get caught up. Wish in one hand, spit in the other, which one fills up first?
Everything you own might be the only one you’ll ever have. It might also be the nicest one you’ll ever have.
They might come after you for cash, but you’re pretty sure they won’t come after you for your actual shirt or your work boots or your other small personal items.
I’ve been there. I had a roommate who stole my laundry quarters and a roommate who stole my winter coat. A friend had roommates who stole and sold his bed. I’ve known people who had bags of groceries stolen out of their car. That’s nothing compared to all the money I’ve seen vanish in fines and fees and finance charges. It disappears on you.
The rules of money are totally different for poor people, middle-class people, and wealthy people. There are externally imposed rules, and there are also internally generated rules. In other words, the policies of the business world tell you one thing, and the guidelines you use to make decisions tell you another thing. It’s deeply frustrating, until you figure out how they work and how to avoid being victimized by them.
As a poor person, I had to pay a huge deposit to get my power turned on, because someone who lived at that address before me moved out without paying off their bill. Unfair! Unfair but legal. Now my credit score is so high that I never have to pay deposits on anything.
I can get the same loans for a lower percentage rate. I have a special credit card that earns me triple points to use for free plane tickets and hotel rooms. In fact, I get all kinds of goodies and free stuff. The more you have, the more you get. The more money I have, the more I believe in it.
I believe in money.
I believe that it is always possible for me to earn more money at a higher rate.
I believe that I can make things that people will want to buy for money. I believe that I can offer services that will be so valuable to other people that they will pay for them with money. The better I get at providing goods and services to people, the more they will pay, and the happier they’ll be to do it.
I believe that I can accumulate money, and that that money can produce money babies, also known as investment income.
I believe that if someone steals my stuff or my money, it will be okay, because I believe in insurance and I believe in the anti-fraud, anti-theft policies of my banks and credit card issuers. I also believe that it doesn’t matter if anyone cheats me, because my earning power is worth more than my cash on hand.
I believe I can make more money by following the law, paying my taxes, and being honest because integrity also makes solid business sense. My reputation is my most valuable asset.
I believe that stuff depreciates and money appreciates. In other words, anything I buy will be worth less the moment I pay for it. Stuff wears out, breaks, and becomes obsolete. Money is just a flow of energy. The stuff I can buy next year will be better than what I might buy today.
I’m a minimalist because I know I can always use money to buy groceries and physical objects. I don’t need to have a huge pantry or piles of clothes or stacks of books, because I can buy any of those things 24 hours a day. I can even have them delivered! Because I believe in money, I don’t waste it buying anything I don’t need. That’s why I have money and not very much stuff - I didn’t SPEND the money ON the stuff in the first place.
There is no end to scarcity mindset. The point of scarcity mindset is the deeply uneasy feeling that there will never be enough, and if there were ever enough, something bad would happen to it. Abundance mindset builds on itself. The more you trust that there is plenty and there will always be plenty more, plenty more keeps on showing up. The more I believe in money, the more thought and consideration I put into earning it and investing it. The more money I have, the easier it is for me to share it. The more I give gifts and charity, the more it reinforces that feeling of wealth and abundance. Once I started believing in money, somehow, that cup started to fill and then to overflow.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.