Life at Cleo

Money health, mental health, and the stuff in between

We can’t change habits if we don’t understand them – Finding out why we feel the way we do about money is essential to making better financial decisions in the long run. 

'Cleo x Spill' text

We can’t change habits if we don’t understand them – Finding out why we feel the way we do about money is essential to making better financial decisions in the long run. 

Have we built the most devastatingly funny and personable money app there is? Yes.

Are we experts in mental health? No.

So, we spoke to Spill Psychotherapist (and our new favorite money mentor), Graham Landi on how money and our mental health can intertwine.. Safe to say we’re feeling enlightened. This is part one, keep an eye out for part two coming soon.

Can you explain a little bit about how mental health can affect financial health and vice versa?

When we experience any kind of mental health problem, we become disconnected from ourselves and the world around us. We let go of things that make us feel grounded and one of those things is financial stability. 

On the flip side, our inability to manage money can cause mental health issues. Anxiety might make us behave irrationally, which worsens the problem. If we feel stressed, anxious, or depressed we tend to self medicate. That might mean drinking too much, going out more or buying something to make ourselves feel better. Sadly though, this is all just digging a deeper hole to escape from an emotion we don’t want to feel. 

Money is obviously woven into the fabric of our lives, so this two-way street exists of struggling financially when we’re also struggling emotionally.  Good mental health comes from a feeling of inner value and stability and mishandling money undermines both of those.

Yikes. How do we stand a chance of breaking that cycle when we’re in it? 

Let’s take anxiety as an example, we know there’s a lot of that around at the moment.

The thing that makes anxiety so difficult to manage is that our instinctive responses to it are the things that don’t work. We either want to distract ourselves from it, or push it away and ignore it. Both of these just make anxiety more powerful.

The one thing that tends to help is the thing that feels like the worst possible thing to do. That’s to tolerate it, to sit with it.

Really, the answer to all issues around emotional health is that – you have to walk through the discomfort in order to get somewhere better.

OK so no shortcuts there, damn. Why does money equal shame for so many of us? Why is money such a taboo subject?

The biggest factor is that we define ourselves by it. If I have less than you, I feel like I'm worth less. It’s about how we measure our own value in terms of financial worth or - and this is important - perceived financial worth. People spend money on fancy cars or go out more than they can afford to make others think that they have more than they do. There's a lot of shame tied up in that. 

The other thing about shame is that we inherit it. When I was growing up, my parents didn't talk to me about money. We don't talk to kids in schools. Money is this big secret, and anything that’s secret is shameful.

We worship it, but we don't want people to think that we do. We created money to be in the service of us, but actually we're in the service of money, and that's why we're shameful about it.

There’s also this social scarcity mindset of ‘I don't have enough’. 

We value material wealth way more than emotional wealth and we think that stuff outside of ourselves will make us happy. And the truth is it doesn’t.

So let’s dive into childhood more (eek). How can money in your childhood affect your attitude to money late in life?

So in childhood, we hear phrases like ‘it's rude to talk about money’ and ‘We can't afford it.’ 

Although it’s totally fair to tell children that you can’t afford something, we have to be careful not to shame kids for asking so that it doesn’t become a source of shame and disappointment if there isn’t enough. We create this power around money that it doesn't deserve from childhood.

We might also hear parents arguing about money when we’re young, so we see it as a source of stress. 

If money felt like a painful scarcity when we were kids, we can sometimes go a bit mad with it when we’re older and have money, compensating for what we didn’t have. 

It’s also massive in how we learn boundaries. If we’re shut out of talks about money, it can become an emotional boundary. Having boundaries that are too high means that no one can get to you later in life. 

The converse is true of course – so if money is plentiful when you’re a child and are given everything you want, you can feel very entitled when you grow up, which leads to a pretty disappointing life.

We tend to pass on messages around money down through generations. The thing that stops it is someone saying ‘actually, that didn't really work for me.’. I'm going to ask myself whether the messages I'm giving to my children about money are healthy. 

Stay tuned for part two! 

Still have questions? Find answers below.
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