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The Psychology of Making Money


By Elaine Cassel

As if we did not have enough self-help psychology books, or maybe because the self-help experts have run out of topics, the latest entry into the "heal yourself" genre are books on getting over the fear of getting rich. That's why we aren't, you know. Rich, that is.

Suze Orman, guru of greed psychobabble, stretches psychodynamic and cognitive-behavioral perspectives to tell us how to get over the fear of being wealthy. The Courage to Be Rich: Creating a Life of Spiritual and Material Abundance (Riverhead Books, 1999) is based upon the premise that fear, denial, and self-fulfilling low expectations make up a poverty of mind, so to speak, that accounts for the low balances in our checking and savings accounts. To Orman's way of thinking, those of us who are not among the throng of new millionaires have only our neuroticism to blame. The same neuroticism that keeps us from dazzlingly happy romantic relationships.

Orman believes that how we earn and spend money (as well as how little we earn, and how much we spend) is rooted in individual psychology. Perhaps our parents made us feel that money was "dirty," or perhaps we feel guilty that we have more than our parents. Maybe we are afraid of the success that "being rich" brings. Maybe if we were wealthy, we would not have so much to complain about. Maybe we do not want to be happy. To use the relationship analogy, she says that money is "attracted" to people who are "attracted" to it.

Perhaps there is some truth to what Orman says. But there is a danger in thinking that wealth is ours if only we want it badly enough. The recent spotlight on the high risks, high stakes world of day trading occasioned by the spree killings of day trader Mark Barton in Atlanta, Georgia, is a darker side of the "dare to be rich" phenomenon.

Once you are ready to let go of the hang-ups that keep you poor, check out the "day at a time" guide to wealth patterned after the quasi-devotional books flooding the market (which have their precursors in the daily readings genre of Alcoholics Anonymous and Christian devotional tracts). Wealth Happens One Day at a Time: 365 Days to a Brighter Financial Future by Brooke M. Stephens (HarperBusiness, 1999) has a thought for the day for reluctant millionaires. Stephens, like Orman, encourages us to explore the psychological roots of our exclusion from the millionaire's club, as well as the origins and dynamics of poor money management. Her 365-day planner purports to be a guide to a better financial future. That future begins with replacing negative attitudes with positive aphorisms. For each day there is an "affirmation" to guide us (Day 175 is "My joy in life comes from inside, and not what I have!") along with a plan of action ("Reassess why you spend so much time shopping.").

These are some good suggestions and advice in these books. But the fact that they are in print is more significant than their advice, which too often is simplistic—or silly. However, they are proof that psychology, or pseudo-psychology as the case may be, permeates every facet of modern life. Though cognitive and behavioral perspectives are important to the authors' premises, psychodynamic principles are at the heart of their analyses and advice. Proving once again that Freud is not dead. He has been reincarnated as the sage of financial security.


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