Artha: My Difficult Relationship with Money

Artha: My Difficult Relationship with Money October 10, 2013

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.

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{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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