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Why It Is Perfectly Normal To Stress About Money

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Money Stress – The Human Reaction

Money can be a huge source of stress; that is a truth that is very hard to get away from.  Money causes fights, can split up couples and can truly make or break you.  Having a budget is a great way to reduce the stress about money.  Even with a budget, if something goes wrong inevitably that will lead to stress.  But money hasn’t always existed so why is it a natural reaction to get stressed out when money gets tight?  Why does logic escape us leaving us fighting back freak outs and dealing with migraines?  I have a theory.

The (Bare) Necessities of Life

I remember back in my grade school days learning about the necessities of life.  My teacher talked about 4: Food, Water, Shelter and Love.  These days I’d consider my cell phone a 5th.  I don’t know if I completely buy into love being an absolute necessity – but it sure makes life better.  Plus if you listen to the Beatles it’s all you need!  Oxygen is also pretty darn important but for the most part that is readily available.

For my theory, all I need to focus on is the food, water and shelter requirements.  While lists differ depending on your resource, almost every list includes these 3 items.  You need food to give you energy, water to keep your systems going and shelter to protect you from the elements.  Unless you build yourself a cabin in the middle of the woods, have a natural spring and a knack for hunting, in this modern age all these necessities require the same thing – money.

The Importance of Money

So what I’m thinking is that we have these natural survival instincts built into our DNA as human beings.  In the present state of the modern world, money is required for the vast majority of your basic survival needs.  When money starts to run out, or if there is something that threatens our ability to pay our rent/mortgage, buy groceries and access clean water our animal instincts kick in.  I’ll touch on the animal instinct a bit later since I have a crazy adjacent theory to this one.  As a personal finance blogger, and a resource for many of our friends and family regarding money I hear a lot of frustration over people dealing with stress regarding money.  “Why do I always get so worked up when having a money talk?”  Maybe it is simply because you are human.

So If It’s Natural, Why Do People Want Me to Calm Down?

My theory on why people stress about money goes to a base survival instinct.  There are a lot of people who lose track of what they still have when dealing with losing what they used to have.  If you have a forum to be reading this blog post things aren’t going all that bad for you financially.  You may need to get creative sometimes, but you’ll be able to eat, you have access to water and shelter in some form or another is attainable.

So when you start to stress out about money, I think the solution is to focus on how you are to still able to eat, drink and have a roof over your head.  Not in comparison to those less fortunate but just for your own survival.  It isn’t easy, but if you take some time to breathe and maybe make a mantra out of it, your nerves may just cool down.  While your animal instincts are powerful, you also have the benefit of logical thought which isn’t necessarily inherent in animals.

That Bit About Animals

While I was thinking about writing this post, I had a secondary thought.  It was inspired by our cat.  Last night Sarah and I went out with some friends and we were gone for about 6 hours.  Normally we feed our kitten around 6:30pm, but we were leaving around 4:30 so she was fed early.  When we came in the door a bit after 10:00pm, she freaked out.  It was a very common pet reaction, incredibly happy to see us and acting like she was alone for days.

Then I started to think about what we are to our pets, and the similarities between what money is to us.  In the raw world, animals are able to fend for themselves.  There is a circle of life…and it moves us all.  Animals eat their prey or plants – there are streams to drink from and plenty of places to hide away for shelter.

When you have a pet, you have taken away their ability to fend for themselves and replaced it with providing them with everything they need to live (including love).  So when you leave, you are taking away their means to secure food and water.  Maybe pets are a bit stressed out when you are gone – essentially you’ve made them go broke.  When you return it is a huge relief to them.  I’m sure it’s also because they love you and are happy to see you, but I really wonder if there something more raw than that going on.

Some Other Supporting Thoughts

Sarah and I have paying off our mortgage as a pretty high priority.  Even when it is a better financial return to pay into RRSPs or sink money into a TFSA we are apt to put lump sum extra payments on our mortgage.  The instinctual basis of this may be that having a paid off mortgage will make keeping shelter as a secured resource easier even if money becomes an issue down the line.

We built a small raised garden bed in our backyard – maybe part of that was to have a (relatively) free resource of food.  Luckily water isn’t as much of a concern for us as it is pretty available.

I think sometimes we get in our heads and forget that we are animals.  We have base needs, and have natural instincts to make sure we fulfil those requirements.  Our ability to learn, create and use logic has kept us alive through some tough times but at our core we are no different than the lions, the tigers and the bears (oh my!).

So I don’t encourage you to stress about money – but if that is where you tend to go naturally don’t beat yourself up over it either.  You are only human, and human is only animal.

Do you react to tight money situations by getting really stressed?  Comment below about how you deal with the stress.


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