Artha: My Difficult Relationship with Money

This post is going to be long, complicated, and messy. Pretty much reflective of my relationship with money.

I don’t know why I have such a difficult time with the concept of money. One of the goals of Hindu life is Artha: wealth and prosperity. Not just monetarily, but prosperity in lots of ways. It’s good to build abundance. Yet I feel crushing guilt over trying to do that.

I want money. I’m scared of money. I’m scared of not having enough. I’m scared that trying to get it makes me a bad person. I’m afraid of becoming greedy or miserly. I’m afraid I’ll always be tightening the purse strings and unable to splurge or enjoy things in life. I want to have enough money to be able to relax.

A lot of these issues started for me with Roald Dahl. I know people think he’s the most awesome children’s book writer, but I hate him and I hate his books. They have a powerful message about how only poor people are good people.

In the fourth grade we had a unit where we read a lot of his books. My mom noticed that I was getting really moody and easily upset. One day I completely broke down and sobbed about how we couldn’t be good and moral people because we had money. My family was firmly upper middle class. Not hugely wealthy, but definitely enough. “Even Jesus only loved poor people,” I wailed. (See: Did I Start Out Christian?)

It didn’t take long for my mother to realize where that idea was coming from. It was definitely the Roald Dahl books. I stopped reading them, but my relationship with money ever since has been rocky.

All through my life I’ve had a difficult time parting with money. Hoarding it makes me happier than buying stuff or going on trips, etc. It never feels like there’s enough.

This year I’ve experienced more challenge than ever before.

When Brad and I got together we were earning about the same amount. Not a lot, but definitely a solid amount for single people in their twenties. Together we moved into a larger apartment (it is actually a better deal than the previous apartment, more square footage for not very much more money). But we chose that apartment based on our double income. Then before we even moved in, the company Brad worked for decided they didn’t want retail locations anymore and even though he was great at what he did, they let him go. Before that I had a plan to get all his credit card debt paid down completely within the year. Now there’s very little to put towards it after basic living expenses.

I never anticipated being a breadwinner. For this year and the one coming I’m supporting the both of us. It’s a really good experience for me to have! It’s an interesting perspective to be providing for my little family of two.

It hit me during the wedding ceremony that one of the seven steps was a promise to support each other in getting artha. We are supposed to be building wealth and when we have wealth and resources then we can share and uplift others. Gathering wealth doesn’t have to be a selfish thing. I really need to internalize that. There is enough. Wealth can build exactly like love does. It can expand and overflow and keep everything moving. If I had more money, I would be doing more to help others (I did discover a great way to support charity, though. I collaborated on a couple of book projects and I run the income from them. All the money earned by sales of those books goes to charity. That way I can give but it never comes out of our family budget!)

For some reason I can understand and feel comfortable with my boss paying me to sit at a desk in an office. This is how things are done, right? Yet there are millions of people making livings in other ways. Teachers, priests, artists, entertainers, firefighters, decorators, chefs; they all support their community and make money not sitting at a desk in a cubicle. Why do I not feel like I deserve to be making compensation from the work I do on projects that I’m passionate about? I hate to ask people to spend their money. Knowing how much I hate parting with mine, even if I have a product I think is valuable, I hate asking people to pay for it.

But art matters. I love having video games and novels and tv shows and graphic novels and blogs exploring life and beautiful pictures and crocheted hats and woodwork crafts. I’m happy that people make a living at these things. The passion and love shows through and it lifts me up. When I have a little extra money, I’m happy to support the creation of artistic things that I like. Why do I have so much trouble believing that others are also willing to pay a little to support the artist whose work they enjoy?

There aren’t enough desk jobs to go around as it is. Those of us with passion for arts may as well make the world a better place with our art and have support at the same time. This reminds me of how beggars are viewed very differently in America and in India. In America people think (or say), “Get a real job, you lazy bum.” In India (at least historically), the beggars were often holy men whose constant meditation and prayer was uplifting the whole community. It was a blessing to be able to give to these holy men; to feed them or give them alms. I’m not sure how true that is anymore, though.

I’m the one calling myself a lazy bum. Every day. And yet I’m working an office job and writing this blog and writing the premium blog and running an ebook publishing company of romance novels. I actually am working really hard. I just don’t give myself any credit for it.

I think sometimes I don’t value the things I have talent for. Because I’m good at writing, it feels like being good at writing isn’t anything special or important. I fail to realize that people who are not as good in writing enjoy having stories told for them. How many centuries have bards been in existence? Societies always have story tellers, right?

For some reason the extreme frugality thing makes me feel better. It’s like feeling in control in the situation. I get a rush from little coupon victories and from shaving little bits off our electricity bill. I read frugal blogs (why are they ALL Christian moms?) and obsess over how to save pennies off our grocery bill. Not a bad hobby to have, in general. The feelings of fear and guilt connected with money are what need to go.

We have enough. Really we do. We’re getting by and there’s so many people in worse situations than ours. Brad is in graduate school now and by next year he should have no trouble getting a job that makes him really happy. I’m finding creative ways to add to the money coming in. We’re certainly not in danger of starving to death.

Oh man, this writing thing really is like therapy. It’s nice to explore this and really face these issues that I have. Clearly I still have a long way to go in developing a healthy relationship with money. But talking about it and bringing the issues out into the light is a really good start. I’ve been focusing this Navratri on spending some time with Ma Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, asking for help sorting through it all.

I appreciate that the Hindu way of life supports worldly success and celebrates the balance of wealth and charity and all good things in life. Hinduism supports doing well in every area of life: spiritually, physically, emotionally, financially, etc.

Did you know that you just being here and reading my blog helps support me? Without clicking anything or buying anything, just being here helps me out financially. I work many hours a week crafting posts that I hope you will find valuable and helpful and I really appreciate you coming by to read them!  

{Today on the subscription blog, a discussion of Chapter Two of How to Become a Hindu. And be sure to sign up for the FREE live chat Friday.}

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About Ambaa

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • Alankar Sharma

    अर्थानामार्जने दुखम् अर्जितानां तु रक्षिणे |
    आये दुखं व्यये दुखं अर्थः किं दुखभाजनम् || — नीतिसारः

    धन का अर्जन करने में (कमाने में) (और फिर) कमाए हुए की रक्षा करने में दुःख होता है, कमाने में दुःख होता है और खर्च करने में दुःख होता है, धन क्या है दुःख का कारण है |

    One cannot earn or retain wealth without undergoing suffering. There is suffering in earning wealth as well as in spending it. Is not wealth the home of suffering?

    • Ambaa

      Aw darn! That’s not encouraging! :)

      • Andrea

        “I don’t know what they want from me
        It’s like the more money we come across, the more problems we see”

        - Notorious B.I.G.

        Wisdom throughout the ages does not change ;)

      • Kevin Osborne

        God is awareness of all. We have limited focus as drops of water in the sea of God. We can see only part of the whole. Attention on money, therefore, reduces one’s total attention, and in a way, oneself because we exist in this place as our attention on stuff.
        I suspect your real problem is with hubby, though. A suggestion is to look around that.

        • Ambaa

          I’m not sure what you mean by a problem with my husband? I’ve had issues with money and struggled with it for years. I don’t think my husband has anything to do with that.

          • Andrea

            Yeah, wow, what an assumption

          • Kevin Osborne

            Analysis of what you wrote. I sure do not have to be correct.

          • Ambaa

            I just don’t really understand what you mean at all. O.o

          • Kevin Osborne

            Sorry I keep trying to write a full reply and my computer keeps screwing up.
            Let’s just say in order to understand something one is not fully conscious of one can take the path of what one is conscious of. You wrote a lot about your husband above. Maybe looking around there will be fruitful. Maybe not.

          • Ambaa

            Okay :)

  • 5w_haul

    its funny you compared beggar(bhikhari) and a bhikshuk because they are totally different

    • Ambaa

      Could you elaborate on that?

      • Andrea

        Some things don’t really translate across cultures. The mendicant ‘bhikshuk’ who has forgotten this world and only lives for God is not really a concept we have in the West. There is no structure to create or support such a state. Perhaps there are monks that take a vow of poverty and spend their days praying but they often live in walled-off communities and their daily needs are taken care of by a wealthy church, not the kindness of strangers. You only need to look as far as the sad story of Jonathan Ferrell to see what happens to people who end up on other people’s doorsteps asking for aid.

        There is a difference between the ‘bhikshuk’ and the people who beg because they are poor and unable to find or do work or are unwilling to do so. So the wandering saint and the beggar on the side of the road may look similar because they are both relying on others for their sustenance but they are really different things.

        • Ambaa

          Yes. Definitely agree!

        • Kevin Osborne

          Bartleby the Scrivener, by Melville is an interesting take on this.

          • Ambaa

            I don’t remember that story very well. I remember hating it in school, though! :)

    • HARRY

      @ 5w-haul, it’s brilliant the way you pointed that out, but, you should have explained the difference. One does it out of choice and one has no choice, I will explain what it means.

      Bhikhari is a beggar who does begging because he has fallen on hard times it could be due to his fault or it may not be, but he is forced into the circumstances that he is in, where a Bhikshuk is a term that is used for a monk who is chaste and he has taken the vows of poverty by choice and will live his whole life on this principal. The day when nobody gives any alms they do oppvas. I think Andrea has hit this on the head.

      • Ambaa

        But, is it not true that it is a karmically good act to give money even to the bhikhari?

        • HARRY

          That’s 100% true as long as s/he doesn’t miss-use it and it’s their to support their life and it’s not wrong to ask for help when one needs it either.

          Hinduism also states that taking a non Dharmic path is more wrong then being a Bhikhari. So you are right on that one.

          • Ambaa

            Would it be on their karma if they misused what I were to give? For example, my father is willing to give to even those who might be trying to scam him or use his gift to non-pure purposes. But my father’s karma is clear because he gives without expectation (which seems like, as Krishna said, acting without attachment to the outcome). So if the person doesn’t use the money to support themselves as they said they would, that only hurts their own karma.

          • HARRY

            YES, I can’t say that I am an authority on Hinduism, But this is my view, and I have read this somewhere, but don’t remember where, ( losing the memory, too old ) under the concept of Sanatan Dharma, we are still responsible for our action. We have collective responsibility in what happens surrounding us, which is directly due to our action, if you see my point.

            Lets say for example, if you to lend money to someone, and they go and buy a gun and end up killing someone with it, then it will affect their karma, due to the rule of karma, but at the same time, it will also affect yours as well, even if you didn’t know about it, because it was your money that made it happen, and as I said, that under the rule of Sanatan Dharma you and I have that collective responsibility to exercise caution in what you and I do, so yes, it also affects ours as well. This was an extreme example, but in reality, you and I are not exempt in what we do, therefore you and I always must exercise caution in what we do.

            Therefore losing money to someone like that is not the worse part, but it’s what about to happen with it that has bigger implication in term of Sanatan Dharma.

            If you look at the article that you have posted about fifty meals in a day, where you have placed a link by Himalayan academy, which states that, even tho you didn’t participate in the killing of an animal, but just by buying the meat you also have to share the collective blame what karma has offers, because you participated in the act of killing that animal indirectly by purchasing the meat of it and it had to suffer for it. By saying this I am not making people who likes meat feel bad about it and I am not a judge, but that’s the way it’s stated. And everythings has it’s price and everybody has to pay including my self.

            I’ve got the feeling that you are going to throw another question at me for some reason.

          • Ambaa

            Not at all! That’s very informative and a little scary! I haven’t thought much about my responsibility in the actions of others. The meat example makes a lot of sense.

          • HARRY

            So when somebody offers you a loan then losing the money is least of their problem, therefore they must have a lot of trust in you especially if they know the implication of their faith. Wink

          • Ambaa


  • Kevin Osborne

    The entirety of unconscious existence is being happy or unhappy with the balance of motion one sees.
    Conscious existence is knowing the above.