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4 Ways To Take The Ego Out of Money Decisions

“Prosperity depends more on wanting what you have than having what you want.” ~Geoffrey Abert

Nothing has the power to mess up my finances more than my own brain—or, more precisely, my ego.

According to Eckhart Tolle, the ego entails the habitual and compulsive thought processes that go through everybody’s mind continuously. Left unchecked, this constant ego monologue prevents us from focusing on the present moment. Instead, we get caught up in worrying about what happens next.  Or, in my case, what I want to buy next.

My Ego Challenges

As a financial planner, you would think that I would have mastered money challenges! But the reality is, I have struggled as much as the next person because I allowed my ego to drive my decisions for almost five years.

When you’re a new financial planner, it’s easy to get caught up in creating the image of a successful planner—in fact, my first manager told me it was okay to go into debt to get a “successful” wardrobe!

And it doesn’t stop there; I bought the “right” car, the “right” house in the “right” neighborhood; and before long, I was exhausted from maintaining appearances. I may have looked like the perfect planner, but I sure didn’t feel like one.

I never enjoyed my successes, because I was too obsessed with getting the next thing on the list.

I finally realized that no amount of money would ever be enough to feel happy, regardless of what my ego told me. And so much money was going to maintaining appearances that I never felt truly prosperous, even though I was making more money than I ever had before.

That was the point at which I sold a successful practice and struck out on my own.

I decided that if I wasn’t happy with what I had, I needed to reboot. I don’t think everyone needs to take such drastic action; most people can simply bring more awareness to their decisions and start to course-correct as they go.

The reason I changed everything so dramatically—sold my business and my home and moved to a completely new city—was that I not only needed to get clear, I needed to recuperate. Letting my ego drive my life choices and burying my true self had made me physically sick, with hypothyroidism and adrenal burnout.

It took me another 5 years to heal and really understand what was going on—why I made the money decisions I had made, and what really felt like my own choices, versus the choices made by my ego.

The Four Ways To Tame Your Ego

You don’t have to be a slave to your ego. Whenever it rears its head, try these four steps to getting back control:

1. Become aware.

You can tell that your ego is present in situations when you feel yourself becoming stressed, defensive, outraged, offended, and angry. Your ego is telling you that there is a deviation from the ideal scenario, and you have to fix it!

Instead, remind yourself that perfect isn’t the goal anymore, and you’ll never “be” the ideal scenario if you want to be authentically you.

2. Stay present.  

When you focus on the future, you’re making things up. You actually have no idea what the future holds! Financial happiness depends on your ability to disregard the worrying activity of the ego and stay present in the moment.

There was a time when I was trying to survive on very little money. One day, I was waiting for payment to come in the mail that was going to cover my expenses for the next week, and I couldn’t go grocery shopping until I opened the mail.

When I did, the payment wasn’t there. But rather than freak out, I brought myself back to the present moment: How much money did I really need right that very moment?

I realized that bills weren’t actually due for another five days. And, I had lasagna in the freezer and plenty of staples. I didn’t actually “need” to go grocery shopping—which meant that the check didn’t “need” to come that day.

Once I realized that, I was elated that I could have so little money in my bank account and yet feel so secure in the moment.

3. Focus on the essence.

Letting go of the “should” in your life—the specific structure or action the ego wants—allows you to focus on the essence of what you want instead of the form.

When I was looking for my first apartment out of college, initially I was obsessed with the idea of living in NW Portland, because that was the “cool” place to live. But when I looked at apartments there, they were noisy, old, small, and crowded—which was completely the opposite of the apartment living experience I had been dreaming of.

I realized that when I pictured my new place, it was somewhere quiet, green, serene, open, airy, and away from the hustle and bustle of business. So if I had rented an apartment where I was “supposed” to want to live, I would have regretted that decision.

By focusing on the experience I knew I wanted to have first—the essence of my desire—I was able to find an apartment about ten minutes away that made me much happier than I would have been living in the noisy downtown area.

Buddha believed that the origin of suffering is attachment to transient things—which not only include the physical objects that surround us, but also ideas. Abraham Hicks says you can have the essence of anything you want, but it rarely comes in the form you expect or want—but if you allow it, the result is better than you could have ever imagined.

4. Manage expectations.

The moment you become aware of your ego’s expectations around situations, the less power it has over you. I often notice it “leaking” when I am driving; if I am getting frustrated with other drivers, I know that I am buying into the way things “should be” instead of accepting “what is.”

When this happens, I take a close look at all of the areas of my life to see where I am letting my ego create expectations for me.

There is no specific object or thing, position, or status that you need to help define who you are in this world, or that in and of itself will help you achieve financial happiness.

The moment you let go of that, the real you is free to explore a life uniquely suited to you, and better—definitely more affordable—than you could have ever imagined.

How has your ego interfered with your money?

Photo by Ecstatic Mark

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About Mindy Crary

Mindy Crary (MBA, CFP® practitioner and financial coach at Creative Money) helps you become a lot more educated (never inundated) about not just your money — but the whack job behind it. Check out Creative Money and sign up for free classes and more valuable money tips.

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  • KatyCowan

    This is such a great post Mindy and one that reminds us why chasing material wealth can cloud our vision. It’s so important to appreciate the experiences and moments in life rather than transient materials. We’re not likely to look back on our lives and remember all the things we purchased. Instead, we’ll remember all those things that were free – experiences, loved ones, things we learnt along the way…

    This is a great lesson that we all go through – and sometimes forget and go back to – but it’s one that relates to us all. Particularly in such a material/consumerism-led world. When I think about what makes me happy, it’s financial security – i.e. having a small, manageable home, keeping monthly budgets low and not buying anything I don’t need. It makes life easier and less stressful. Because the simpler our lives become, the better.

  • http://twitter.com/mindycrary mindycrary

    @KatyCowan:disqus, you’re so right! I always feel so much more zen when I have a consistent routine of simply living my life, or building on experiences with my loved ones. I always marvel over the things that previously held so much important in my life–especially when I am packing it up to give to Goodwill :o)

  • ChristieH

    Mindy – love your grounded approach to finances and ego! I’m taking these two phrases with me for the week ahead… “perfect isn’t the goal anymore” and “Financial happiness depends on your ability to disregard the worrying activity of the ego and stay present in the moment.”

  • http://twitter.com/mindycrary mindycrary

    Thank you @3488c8580a971febf99f95ae4846d3bc:disqus for commenting! I love that you picked out two things as your weekly mantra, that’s a great idea!

  • http://www.facebook.com/lesleyreidcross Lesley Reid Cross

    Love this, Mindy. My family chose, over a year ago, to make a move that would put us in a position to have more expenses temporarily. A move that took up all the “excess” and then some in our budget. Temporarily has turned out to be lasting a bit longer than we expected and it’s so easy to fall into the trap of worry…of ego…and even planning what it will be like when…. And I have found that coming into the present moment is incredibly helpful. Being aware…not ignoring our money, but giving it loving attention….knowing that all is well right now and that there are gifts for us in the place we are..and knowing we CHOSE this and loving what we chose. Thanks so much for the reminder.

  • Shaun

    In the words of the master:
    “what i want is what i’ve not got but what i need is all around me.”
    Thanks for the post Mindy. I appreciate your perspective.

  • http://twitter.com/mindycrary mindycrary

    Thank you @734e6f49429ba673b2b31a55ec5568e0:disqus! And in the immortal words of Sheryl Crow, “It’s not having what you want | It’s wanting what you’ve got.” :o)

  • http://twitter.com/mindycrary mindycrary

    Oh, @facebook-1112312062:disqus I LOVE your comment! And the idea of giving it loving attention the way we would anything we want more of in our lives–without judgment or resentment. That’s awesome.

  • http://twitter.com/Miss_Kimberlina Kimberley

    Wonderful post Mindy, I can tell that I’ll be referring to this time and time again when that little voice inside starts to get me anxious about my financial future. I love that you said “letting go of the “should” in your life – it really hit home for me and is something I’ll be focusing on doing more of. Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/mindycrary mindycrary

    Thanks so much @twitter-56903881:disqus! Yeah, quit “shoulding” all over yourself, sin’t that a saying? :o)

  • KatyCowan

    I just don’t understand sometimes how we accumulate so much stuff! It’s the age of dumb consumerism and I certainly think there’s a change in the air as people realise ‘stuff’ just drags you down, hurts your wallet and doesn’t bring happiness. We’re actually on a mission to avoid buying anything else and are downsizing – something you’d expect most people to do when they’re retiring. We are trying to make our lives as undemanding as possible so we don’t have to work so hard to maintain an expensive lifestyle we don’t need.

    The thing that strikes me as most interesting Mindy – is if we don’t buy into consumerism or the trap that we need to ‘look’ like we’re financially successful (i.e. drive the right car, have the big house etc.) then we can actually be truly successful because we’re more financially stable, independent and not on a constant treadmill to fund a consumer lifestyle. To be successful is to be happy, in my opinion – happiness doesn’t depend on what car you drive, the clothes you wear or the house you own. It depends on having a simple life. No stress, no worry, no debts and more time to enjoy the experiences in life.

  • David

    Oh yes, expectations. Especially those pesky Unmet expectations. I’ve been working on this for a while. Very succinctly put, thank you Cindy. A present moment learning process, de-conditioning those deep habits and patterns. I sometimes view it like a ship, big one, ocean liner or tanker. It takes a concerted effort to turn that behemoth around. Slow and steady now.

  • David

    Mindy.. apologies :-)

  • http://twitter.com/GlowingBalance Merja Willock

    Great advice Mindy! As a perfectionist I often find it difficult to let go of my ideas and how I want certain things to turn out without thinking that maybe the time is not right for this right now, or it will turn out even better if I don’t try to force it. However, by practicing being in the present and trusting my feelings I have been able to let go of some of those shoulds that so often just make me feel frustrated and angry. Just like that Abraham Hicks Quote says “you can have the essence of anything you want, but it rarely comes in the form you expect or want—but if you allow it, the result is better than you could have ever imagined”. It is difficult but already being aware and taking small steps from wanting to allowing is a great start.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cathybrownsykora Cathy Brown Sykora

    Everyone should read this post. Realizing that possessions don’t define us can be a life changing event for most of us. Resisting the urges to compete with ourselves or others to project an image can be even bigger.

  • http://twitter.com/mindycrary mindycrary

    Thank you @facebook-829107041:disqus – I couldn’t agree more :o)

  • http://twitter.com/mindycrary mindycrary

    Great point @twitter-407136939:disqus and I love your distinction between wanting and allowing!

  • http://twitter.com/mindycrary mindycrary

    You’re totally right @David! The more I question those expectations, the more I realize there is very little I can’t live without – but you’re right with your imagery, it’s a behemoth!

  • http://twitter.com/mindycrary mindycrary

    Happens all the time :o)

  • http://twitter.com/mindycrary mindycrary

    So true!

  • http://twitter.com/Steph_Watanabe The Girl Who Knows

    Such a great post Mindy ~ your story is something I can deeply relate to, thank you for being so transparent!
    I never really thought much about my ego’s involvement in my money drama, but now I’m starting to see how it rears its’ little head all the time. Thank you for enlightening me and giving me a few “a-Ha!” moments this morning.
    Definitely some great tips to put into practice. Cheers!

  • http://twitter.com/mindycrary mindycrary

    My pleasure @twitter-14763029:disqus! I am glad your ego has a little head and not a big one, makes things easier :o)

  • http://theonramp.com/ Amber Goodenough

    Wowie! This post is a doozie! I am guilty of falling into the same traps as everyone when it comes to money. What helped me change was living out of a suitcase for a year. I lived over seas and I knew if I accumulated too much stuff I would have to leave some things behind. It really forced me to examine each purchase and see if it was really necessary. I spent money on fun experiences instead of stuff and it was wonderful. But I know that I still have to let go of some ego stuff. Great post!

  • http://twitter.com/mindycrary mindycrary

    Wow @ambolino:disqus what an experience that must have been! I dream about doing that, but I would miss my kitties too much :o)

  • http://theonramp.com/ Amber Goodenough

    I know, my kitties are with a friend since I’m in Europe again for the foreseeable future It’s hard but she posts pics of them on facebook. Not the same but good to know they are in a loving home.

  • http://twitter.com/mindycrary mindycrary

    Wow, I need to get someone in my life who loves my kitties as much as I do! And they love too!

  • Diana Cachey

    Mindy, great job. You covered the bases thoroughly. SO much to learn here and also to be reminded OVER and OVER. Thanks so much.

  • http://twitter.com/mindycrary mindycrary

    Thank you for commenting @bc69afa81a47f87c15bef0cff6f2fc80:disqus I appreciate it!

  • http://www.MyMiBoSo.com/ Sabrina

    Really great post Mindy! I LOVE how you tap into so many beautiful principles from Buddha to Abraham Hicks to Byron Katie and shine the light of love on money! Brilliant!

  • http://twitter.com/mindycrary mindycrary

    Thank you @MyMiBoSo:disqus! It’s all related, isn’t it? I/we just have to remember :o)

  • http://www.facebook.com/vanessa.lowry Vanessa Lowry

    Thanks for the reminder to “focus on the essence.” I find myself getting so specific about what something SHOULD look like, I sometimes forget the essence is really what I want.

  • TB at BlueCollarWorkman.com

    Deleting “should” from your head is great for money and everything else! I used to get REALLY caught up in the “shoulds” and it’s not really helpful. My wife should’ve had dinner ready. My kids should stop fighting. I should be making more money. My boss should stop yelling at people. Should should should. It’ll destroy you!