How Women Can Build a Healthy Relationship With Money

By Annemijn van der Bijl

Kate Levinson, PhD, a psychotherapist and couples counselor, published Emotional Currency: A Woman’s Guide to Building a Healthy Relationship with Money, in 2011, and she has led “Emotional Currency” workshops on women’s emotional and physiological relationships to money since 2000. Throughout her book, Levinson discusses and analyzes several stories that women have shared during these workshops, and she engages the reader by asking specific questions about the emotional aspect of money in our lives and why we feel the way we do about money. 

To start thinking about your own feelings about money, Levinson asks the reader to write a “money memoir,” which consists of your personal history and present life involving money with a focus on pivotal events/experiences, which are then further analyzed throughout the guide. The questions I found particularly interesting and caused me to stop and think were:

  • “What is your first memory of money from your childhood?”
  • “How old were you when you first realized what money was?”
  • “What are a few of the exchanges you recall concerning money between you and your mother, and you and your father?” 

Contemplating these questions is designed to help you make new connections with your past, as well as create new mental connections between your past and your current behavior regarding money. 

Goddess Juno Moneta

Of particular interest was Chapter 4, which goes into depth about women and money. I was surprised to learn that the word money comes from the name of the Roman goddess Juno Moneta. She was the protector of Rome, guarding over the finances of the Empire, and coins were minted in her temple. It's interesting that the Romans bestowed such an important responsibility to a goddess rather than a god in a society that was highly patriarchal, Levinson writes. She further explains that “the primary influence on how women relate to money is the society’s primary focus on masculine principles (independence, competition, aggression, and separation) and its frequent dismissal of feminine principles (generosity, sharing, nurturing, and caretaking). Again, Levinson asks specific questions to unlock your own emotions about money, such as, “What messages did you receive in relation to women and money: making it, spending it, saving it, sharing it and giving it away, and investing it? How is it different for you to negotiate a money matter with another woman versus negotiating with a man?

Emotions and Money

The second part of the book explores your feelings about money. The topics that the books explores that I found the most eye-opening are fear and confidence, as well as shame. Most women experience fear when it comes to money, Levinson writes: “Fear that we don’t have enough money to survive, as well as fear that we won’t know how to manage the money we do have. Confidence in our ability to find the best solution for us and to find our way through difficult decisions and conditions, however, is a major antidote to fear. This kind of confidence doesn’t necessarily make all our fears go away, but it calms our fears and supports us in taking the necessary steps to move forward.”  

Of all the emotions intertwined with money, Levinson states that shame is one of the hardest to tolerate. "Feelings of shame are always evoked in situations involving competition, power, comparison, judgment, and disconnection." Women are especially susceptible to feelings of shame due to the long tradition of female subordination in Western and Eastern culture. Feeling that there is something "wrong" with us, or being thought of or seen as “less than,” is deeply embedded in some women's psyches.

Shame Versus Pride

One antidote to shame is healthy pride. Shame is evoked when we are stereotyped, objectified, patronized, judged negatively, or oppressed. Healthy pride comes from being seen—and seeing ourselves—for who we really are. It also comes from being appreciated—not as a mother, or a wife, or a woman; not as rich or not rich—but as an individual person. "Healthy pride comes from the acceptance of who we are, with an appreciation for both our inherent worth and our humility," Levinson writes. 

My biggest takeaway from this book is that forming a healthy relationship with money is an ongoing process in our emotional lives, and it doesn’t happen overnight. “What a healthy relationship looks like varies from person to person, but it is a general sense of well-being," Levinson adds. "It involves an ability to deal with, cope with, and adjust to life’s stressors. It may include episodes and periods of despair, fear, anger, conflict, and sadness." Having the resiliency to find our way through these episodes and return to equilibrium and well-being is what can help build confidence in your ability to manage money wisely. 


   

Annemijn van der Bijl is senior manager in the audit practice at KPMG LLP in Norfolk, Va., and a member of HFMA's Virginia-Washington, D.C., Chapter.