Money on the Barrel: Taking a Financial Leap of Faith

About my sabbatical, people ask me: “Aren’t you worried about money?” Answer: Not really, not anymore. But a year ago, I was full of anxiety about it. I told myself things like:

  • “I’m miserable but I can’t afford to take a risk”
  • “I need time off but I can’t stop earning”
  • “It’s crazy to close a business with no Plan B – I’ll have to sell everything and live like a student!”

But I did take a risk, I am taking time off, and I did it without a Plan B. No, I did not win a lottery or become independently wealthy. Instead, I changed my relationship with money.

A mysterious partner

I grew up among people who had simple, honest ways of thinking about money. When I was 10 years old, my grandfather gave me some financial advice. He said, “Money on the barrel, Maria.” In the early 1900s a big barrel served as a cash counter in the General Store. He was saying: if you want something, you pay for it. If you sell something, you get paid for it. Put your money on the barrel – do not ask for or give credit.

When I turned 12 or 13, my parents gave me an allowance, explained that anything I wanted that was not a “necessity” of life or school had to be purchased with that allowance, and taught me how to budget. This has been helpful in keeping me out of debt.

But none of those lessons prepared me for RRSPs, stocks, corporate tax, and investment. Money seemed to have a life of its own – it grew and contracted, it was exchanged for intangible things, it made some people rich overnight and others nearly destitute just as quickly. There were different types of money, too – pre-tax, post-tax, equities, bonds …

I understood how people worked for money, but how money itself worked was a mystery.

Re-evaluating the relationship

Mysteries can be exciting or fearful. I began to avoid money. When I did think about it, it was in an anxious way, like in slow months when I wondered if I’d be able to make payroll, or when my personal cushion was thin and bills were due.

I began, a few years ago, to examine my beliefs about many things, and that eventually extended to my finances. This year I started to think about my relationship with money. That led me to interview a variety of “Money People”. I talked with them, found out who they were, and assessed their relationships with money. For most of them, money is a challenge to be dominated. In fact, I used to think that’s exactly what I wanted in a Money Person.

The financial guide I chose this time fits with where I am now – someone who has the kind of relationship with money that I want: productive, creative, thoughtful, and fun.

By figuring out my relationship to money, I realized that I could turn it into the relationship I want.

Thinking about money as a partner in my life changed my outlook. When I was fearful of money, money didn’t work for me – it just scared me. Today, it’s interesting and even exciting. Instead of fear and anxiety I’m feeling trusting and calm. Money’s going to be there for me, because I’m finally going to be there for it.

What’s your relationship with money?

If money was a person in your life, what kind of person would it be?

Is this the kind of person you want in your life?

How would you describe your relationship with it? Attachment theory can be a useful place to start thinking about that.

Is this the kind of relationship you want to have?

Start defining the relationship that you want to have with money.


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