December 23, 2013

By Margaret H. Johnson

I have always been amazed at how doctors, counsellors and advice givers tell people how to deal with all kinds of issues such as depression, anger or marital conflict without addressing underlying financial problems. It has been my experience that many people are depressed or angry because they don’t have enough money to make ends meet.

What further complicates everything is how money pressures stemming from essential family costs are reduced to a choice model – you either make good or bad choices.

Of course we make choices, but we certainly do not individually control the economy, inflation, taxation or supply and demand. Affordable housing, for example, is high on the list of trouble for millions of people. What do you do if you need a place to live but can’t afford the rent or qualify for a mortgage?

Day care and the cost of raising children can cause excruciating pain (financial and emotional) for today’s parents trying to find a balance between home and work. Extracurricular activities for children are no longer just a matter of choice because children need (must have) exercise. Sports help develop competitive skills and feelings of confidence, a team spirit as well as discipline. Without these traits, children will be disadvantaged at school and later in the workplace.

Extracurricular activities have further expanded beyond sports and fun. Music in whatever form – guitar, piano, singing, flute, saxophone, violin, trombone, trumpet etc. adds an artistic dimension to cognitive development, one that allows children (and adults alike) to express their feelings while teaching discipline – you have to practice to get good. Music is a huge component of our culture and personal growth. This expense is an early casualty and would be chopped quickly from the family budget if tension between income and family expenses (including mortgage and creditor payments) became insurmountable. Once again, those children miss this opportunity to grow, develop confidence, and paint a picture (musical and emotional) of the world around them.

Dancing, painting, drawing, acting and playwriting further enhance the beauty of our world and our ability to communicate our interpretation and experiences to ourselves, our families and others. These activities are easily cut when the money runs out or other competing interests elbow them out of the way. And, nobody really notices because beauty is a personal thing. It’s a silent internal psychological sensation – it’s invisible to the scientific eye. It can’t be quantified or measured.

Emotional intelligence became relevant to psychologists and educators in the late 1980s. Other professionals noticed that children have not been growing up quite as fast as in the past. They ‘mature’ much later. Some psychologists suggest it’s around 30 years of age, today. This means that children and young adults are not able to effectively solve many of life’s problems. They may achieve great academic acclaim but must call mom or dad on the cell phone constantly about what to do – about friends, relationships, bullies, where to buy something and  money.

For many educators emotional intelligence is just as important as academic excellence. They believe that what happens on the playground is as important as what happens in the classroom.

This view could and should be extended (logically) to the home-family environment where social values and behavioural patterns are developed.

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I saw an interesting article recently on my Facebook page that outlined 13 characteristics for what I would call emotional intelligence. It was this short piece that inspired me to write an article about emotional intelligence and money. The following summarizes the thirteen points for mentally strong people.

1. Do Not Waste Time Feeling Sorry for Themselves. 

2. Do Not Give Away Their Power. (To make them feel inferior or bad.)

3. Do Not Shy Away from Change. (Embrace change and they welcome challenge.)

4. Do Not Waste Energy on Things They Can’t Control like bad traffic, lost luggage, or especially, about other people.

5. Do Not Worry About Pleasing Others. (Try to be kind and fair and to please others but are unafraid to stand up for their beliefs.)

6. No Fear of Taking Calculated Risks. (Weigh risks and benefits thoroughly before taking action.)

7. Do Not Dwell on the Past (avoid fixating on past disappointments.)

8. Do Not Make the Same Mistakes Over and Over. (Accept responsibility for past behavior and are willing to learn from mistakes.) 

 9. Do Not Resent Other People’s Success. (Experience genuine joy and excitement for other people’s success.)

10. Do Not Give Up After Failure. (View failure a chance to improve and that failure only occurs when you stop trying.)

11. Do Not Fear Solitude. (Enjoy and value the time they spend alone. They use their downtime to reflect, to plan, and to be productive.)

12. Do Not Feel the World Owes Them Anything. 


13. Do Not Expect Immediate Results. (Do not expect immediate results and understand their business and life plans are complex and take time. They are “in it for the long haul.

In my view, this is a list of learned social skills and falls under the category of emotional intelligence. All of these points could easily be applied to how to manage money, and what (in part) is needed to accumulate wealth and live a balanced life.

One of the deficiencies with managing money is the lack of understanding of the character development behind reasonable and effective plans – spending plans, investment plans, debt management plans and retirement plans that are affordable and viable.

Children, young children, watch every move their parents make. They see what the parents buy, how much they spend, where they shop and how they care for their families. Money management really begins in the home along with early cognitive development.

The Noveau Riche is a group or class of rich people who acquired their wealth quickly through something like a lottery ticket win, or someone who made their fortunes within their own generations. Sociologically, Noveau Riche refers to people who previously had belonged to a lower social class that experienced rapid social mobility – up the socio-economic ladder – and exhibit vulgar or unrefined characters and culture – people who lack the worldly experience and the values of Old Money – of inherited wealth.

For example the long term prognosis for lottery winners isn’t too good. According to a 2010 study by researchers at Vanderbilt University, the University of Kentucky and the University of Pittsburgh, the more money you win in the lottery, the more likely you will end up bankrupt.

In an instant gratification culture, people want everything fast. The notion that you must work hard and develop the emotionally intelligent skills needed to succeed have been eroding.

Hard work is an ethic that in many respects drives history forward. Through our labour we learn – about life, for example, how to solve problems – family and relationship problems - to co-operate, to negotiate the best outcome possible –  to give as well as to receive; to accept less than more; to be patient; to be courteous and friendly rather than belligerent or aggressive; to show up (for work and for life) on time; to face adversity with courage and strength; to listen – to others, to understand their perspectives but also to disagree without anger;  to constantly grow and learn – to always give our best and be true to our word.

While learning the many lessons of life, we absorb and apply these values to money - how to make it, how to spend it, how to succeed, how to be kind and generous – or the opposite.

We can’t just abstract the money issues outside of the home and treat them as a separate unconnected matter – especially later in life and expect a quick fix. We must get a better handle on the emotional intelligence side of cognitive development – in early childhood. In other words, children need to learn manners and respect – for others, for parents, for authority, for money and property. They should value every penny and learn to hunt around for the best deals. They can learn about a well-balanced diet by shopping with their parents every week for vegetables, fish, fruit, dairy products, protein (meats, poultry and tofu.)

They can learn to co-operate by helping their parents. They can learn to get the best value for their money by shopping around (being a good consumer.) They can learn to like vegetables and fruit as well as fish, meats and poultry – long before they become obese or addicted to fast food. They can learn to cook at home and make breakfast, lunch and supper an important family event, not just a feeding frenzy to gobble down a handful of carbs while watching television.

Social skills and our emotional intelligence, or the lack thereof, will determine just as much in life as a full slate of grade A’s or C’s. As money is so integral to our culture and well-being, it’s time to take that topic a bit more seriously.

Maybe we can apply some of these principles of life this year at Christmas with our Christmas shopping and in 2014 for a new beginning with our financial, emotional and physical health.

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