Oprah Winfrey’s rise from difficult economic circumstances (largely through self-education) to undreamed of socioeconomic status is an inspiration to many. And it’s particularly heartening to think that she did this while helping millions of others improve their well being. Though Oprah’s story is particularly exceptional, the truth is that every one of us can attract wealth into our lives and improve our relationship with money.
Prosperity, like health, is a true dialectic. On the one hand, the energy that manifests as wealth or health is truly unlimited. On the other hand, you need to create a consciousness and a physical structure (accounting, checkbooks, bank accounts) to be able to receive it, use it, and circulate it wisely.
Step One: Acknowledge that money is important. Though money cannot buy the things that are most precious in life—loving relationships, beautiful weather, or the laughter of an adorable child—the fact remains that money touches every part of our lives. Most of the time, money is associated with worry and stress, regardless of how much or how little you have.
The subject of money can be so stressful, in fact, that it can put your health and your relationships at risk. I know this first hand. Control issues around money became so distressing in my own marriage that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would get sick or die if things didn't change. (My intuition told me that it would be breast cancer.) Divorce was the way in which I became financially conscious. Though I wouldn't wish this on anyone, it sure got me up to speed quickly.
Step Two: Know that you cannot afford to let your spouse, or anyone else, assume all the responsibility for your important financial decisions. This issue is so important that financial expert and author Suze Orman only agrees to meet with couples if both members are present and contributing to all financial decisions.
When one member of a couple makes all the financial decisions, it puts the other member at risk. And it may also lead to "acting out." This is one of the main reasons why one member of a couple may overspend or run up credit card debt that she (or sometimes he) hides from the other spouse.
There's a myth I'd like to shatter right now. Men are not necessarily better at handling money than women. In fact, one of my financial advisors told me that women often make better investment decisions than men because they are more willing to admit that they've made a mistake and thus change course.
Step Three: Face your fears and beliefs and have the courage to update them. Years ago, I heard Joe Dominguez, co-author of the book Your Money or Your Life, describe that we're socialized to reveal just about every other aspect of our lives except the truth about our finances. And like all secrets, those things that we hide or are ashamed of have a way of leaking away our energy and thus setting the stage for ill health.
Another fact of life is that we inherit our financial beliefs from our parents and grandparents who hand them down to us like heirlooms. And these beliefs, and the behaviors that go along with them, are often crippling and limiting. An example of this would be keeping our money in a savings account at a very low interest rate rather than "risk" a money market fund or other investment where we could earn higher interest rates.
Take a moment right now and see if you can recall your first memory about money or a "money story" that was handed down to you from your parents. How has this story influenced your relationship with money? One of my own limiting beliefs (though subconscious) was that I wasn't good at managing money and that my husband was far more skilled. Therefore I was happy to let him handle that area of our lives.
A friend told me that when she was a teenager, she began to earn her own money and would occasionally buy things for herself. Her mother chastised her for being frivolous and irresponsible, warning her that terrible things would happen to her because of her so-called indulgences. Her mother often chided: "Your father and I practically kill ourselves working to put food on the table, and you just buy anything you want with no regard for what things really cost." Eventually, whenever she thought about buying something for herself, she experienced panic, fear, anxiety, and a deep belief that she didn't deserve to have nice things. For many years, if she saw something she wanted, she'd buy it and give it to someone else, thus enjoying her pleasure while avoiding the fear of appearing materialistic herself.
By bringing this and related memories to consciousness, my friend is beginning to transform her relationship with money. Not surprisingly, her sense of self-worth has also improved. She has started to invest in her own retirement and to buy some of the things she desires. She has also become far better about actually accepting gifts from others rather than always being the one to give.
Step Four: Educate yourself about the basics of money. When my husband and I separated, I had to get up to speed on finances very quickly. Overnight, I found myself financially responsible for my home and children without the benefit of two incomes. I was terrified. But I also had a lot of faith. A friend sent me the book The Courage to Be Rich by Suze Orman so that I could read the section about divorce, which helped me a great deal. (For example, Orman suggested waiting six months after a divorce or separation before making any major financial decisions or changes, because the emotional upheaval caused by a divorce can cloud judgment.)
Nothing is more empowering than getting control over your spending, your money beliefs, and your cash flow. And nothing is more thrilling than seeing your bank account grow as a result of these changes. Anyone can take the same steps I’ve taken to achieve peace of mind and better financial and physical health. The first step is simply knowing you can do it!