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Are We Having Fun Yet?

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Ah, summer vacation. Many of us try to refresh ourselves with a week or more of travel, relaxation, or fun at this time of year. But there are others who can’t bring themselves to spend money on enjoyment. The possibility of pleasure from seeing new sights, visiting loved ones, or exploring a favorite hobby doesn’t even show up as an

acceptable choice on their radar screen.

After years of exploring clients’ money messages and money personalities, I know there are lots of people who are simply unable to pamper themselves. This column is for them–and for any of you who have a hard time enjoying the wealth you’ve worked so hard to accumulate.

Q: A client of mine for years, now widowed, would like to move out of her rather modest house into an upscale condo. But even though I’ve assured her she can afford it, she worries that she doesn’t have enough money. How can I help her see that the move is financially okay?

A: Before you can help her, you may need to know more about the reason for her worry. Did she come from a very wealthy family that discouraged ostentation, or from a very poor one where humility and frugality were valued? Or perhaps she’s reflecting her late husband’s reluctance to spend money on anything too lavish.

Once you understand the source of her resistance, you may be able to explore with her the pros and cons of choosing to move. Help her identify her goals and dreams, as well as the values she cherishes. If spending money on herself troubles her social conscience, you and she may be able to come up with ways she can contribute time, energy, and money to causes she believes in, without sacrificing her yearning for a more comfortable life.

Once you explore all these avenues, you may find her more open to relocating. You can then reiterate all the facts and figures (in writing, so she can review them over and over) to justify her being able to afford this move.

Q: Although my client has supposedly retired, he’s still putting in 40-plus hours a week of volunteering and consulting for his old firm. His wife wants him to slow down so they can enjoy more time together. Can I help him learn to stop and smell the roses?

A: I’d sit down with this client, by himself at first, to explore this issue more fully. Why is it important for him to fill his life with constant activity? Does his need to feel useful come from his parents?

You might also ask him a scary question: if his wife were to die suddenly, would he regret not having spent more time enjoying their life together? If he says yes, it may lead him to step off the treadmill and spend more time relaxing and savoring life with her.

All of us are creatures of habit, and fear doing what doesn’t come naturally. But growth, creativity, and intimacy come from stretching our capacity and adopting new behaviors.

Q: My client’s wife would like to take him on a small-ship cruise to celebrate his retirement, but he is opposed to spending on such “luxury.” His idea of traveling is very modest, even though they have more than enough money to go in style. Since she wanted the trip to be a gift to him, she’s very disappointed. Is there anything I can do?

A: You might ask your client to tell you more about his aversion to spending. Are money messages from his past telling him he’s “bad” or “selfish” to indulge himself? He may have grown up in an environment where denying oneself pleasure was a virtue or a necessity. Or perhaps he saw people overspending in ways that seemed disgusting, outrageous, or morally reprehensible to him. If memories like these are reverberating in his head, he will have trouble allowing himself to enjoy the pleasure of a luxury cruise.

If your client is willing to stretch his comfort zone, he may be able to graciously accept the gift his wife would like to give him. But as I’ve often said, people can be more afraid of new pleasure than of their old familiar pain. If the stretch is too much for him, she may need to find a more modest trip that he will be capable of enjoying. If she can let go of her mental picture of what celebrating with him would look like, they should be able to find a form of celebrating that nourishes them both.

Meeting in the middle this way doesn’t have to be painful. For instance, friends of mine invited their son and his wife to join them at a beautiful and expensive hotel in Quebec City. The parents knew their frugal son would be somewhat uncomfortable with this extravagance, even though they were paying for it, so they booked smaller rooms than they otherwise would have. When they told their son that they had gotten a reduced rate as a result, he relaxed and began to enjoy the prospect of more luxury than he usually allowed himself.

Q: After months of treatment, it appears that my client’s serious illness is in remission. His wife, who has been a stalwart caregiver, is longing to get away for a relaxing vacation with him. He says he’s too tired and wants her to go with a girlfriend instead. She has refused, but I sense she’s becoming resentful that she isn’t getting the relief she needs. These folks are good friends as well as clients. Is there a solution I can tactfully suggest?

A: In addition to being scared to leave her husband in case he takes a turn for the worse, the weary, giving wife probably believes it would be selfish to enjoy herself while he stays home, sick and depleted. I suspect that he feels bad about having been such a burden to her, and would actually be relieved to know she is getting the rest and rejuvenation she needs.

In this tough situation, your empathetic listening and mediation can be of great help. By urging both the wife and the husband to voice their true thoughts and feelings, you may be able to help the couple step back from their emotionally-charged deadlock. (Don’t hesitate to call on a couples therapist or counselor if you feel like you’re in over your head.) Encourage the two spouses to brainstorm ways that she can take time for some R&R, while he gets the help and support he may need in her absence. If she allows herself to go away for a short time to a spa or on a cruise, it may give her the nourishment she needs to continue nursing her husband through his medical crisis. Help her see that if she refuses to do this, she may end up exhausted, irritable, and depressed, which would be a far greater threat to the health of their marriage.

When your clients resist allowing themselves to enjoy pleasures that they’ve earned and can well afford, it could be a symptom of workaholism, an overfunctioning sense of responsibility, self-deprivation, or even martyrdom. Try to help them explore their old money scripts and self-limiting beliefs so that they can create new possibilities for fun, relaxation, adventure, and pampering. They will thank you for expanding their capacity to enjoy life, without compromising their deeply held values and their integrity.

Olivia Mellan, a speaker, coach, and business consultant, is the author with Sherry Christie of The Advisor’s Guide to Money Psychology, available through the Investment Advisor Bookstore at . She also offers money psychology teleclasses. E-mail Olivia at [email protected].