money myths

Early Saturday morning after several bouts of tossing and turning I decided to go to the living room and grab my laptop for a little flow-of-consciousness writing in bed. It was still dark outside, but I could make out certain figures—like the sleek, white outline of our cat Danny Boy sitting pretty on our floor and the plumper, furrier one of Lyla about to pounce on him. Something else caught my eye on the way back to bed: a penny lying on the rug. Before picking it up to put into our penny jar, I noticed myself squinting to try to make out which side the penny was on—heads or tails. I felt for the outline of the imprint, hoping to feel the sides of Abe Lincoln’s head. Then I realized how silly this was; why was I standing in the dark, barefooted and squinting to try to figure out whether or not this penny was heads up? It was because of a powerful mixture of money myths I was taught from childhood: “see a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck” coupled with a dash of “only pick up coins that are heads up”.

These myths and many others are deeply rooted in our culture. Myths and rituals we have created and passed down for ages breathe life into money and make it a very powerful and sometimes mysterious force in our lives. How to attract money, how to keep money, why some people seem able to save beyond their means and others turn out poor with a million dollar salary—mysteries and myths pervades every type of transaction money brings into life.

Power of Money Rooted In Our Sayings

The power we have given money is rooted in many common sayings. When parents want their children to stop pestering them to spend more, they might exclaim “money doesn’t grow on trees.” People with extra money in their wallets or account often blame spending choices and impulses on the fact that the currency was burning a hole in their pocket. Babies born into wealthy families (or non-wealthy families who are intent on spoiling) are said to be born with a silver spoon in their mouths, which denotes they will not have to work for anything for the rest of their lives.

Rituals to Heed Money’s Power

There are rituals that have percolated down through the ages we are supposed to adhere to in order to increase our wealth. For example, my grandmother will never gift a purse or wallet without including a penny in it for good luck in the wealth department. A Victorian rhyme many women still adhere to on their wedding day “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue and a silver sixpence in your shoe” includes putting a piece of money in the bride’s shoe for future wealth. In China, the number 8 is used for prosperity, wealth, and success, which is why the date for the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics was chosen to be August 8, 2008.

Mythic-like Figures Who Bestow Money in Mysterious Ways

Most children look forward to the Tooth Fairy, a fairy that bestows money on us while we sleep if we leave them our baby teeth.  Let’s also not forget about the shoe cobblers (Leprechauns) who work hard and save all of their gold in big pots. If you catch them, they are supposed to grant you three wishes for their release (presumably you would get the pot of gold as well).

Let’s face it; money is such a strong force in our lives that we have created all kinds of myths and rituals that revolve around how to find more of it, and how to keep it once we do find it. Even people who do not believe in many things generally participate in some sort of myth or ritual surrounding money perhaps without knowing it as they are so deeply embedded in our culture. Myths and rituals in and of themselves are generally not bad. They can be fun, comforting, and bind together family, friends, and generations with common ground. However, I argue that perpetuating money’s power and mystery with rituals and myths brings about feelings of helplessness when it comes to our own money. Instead of focusing on how to manage our money and learning its mechanics, somewhere over the last several thousand years we decided it was more prudent to learn how to satisfy the money gods and forces.

I know I am not immune to following money rituals passed down to me or even ones that I have learned on my own. At a free Feng Shui consultation at IKEA two months ago I learned that you should close off all of the open drains in your home when not in use to stop your money from literally going down the drain. I would be lying if I didn’t admit I closed three drains in our home that day. Hey, who really knows? Perhaps I just saved us a boatload of money. This, and other examples above, is generally harmless to participate in. The problem arises when we put too much belief into them instead of into ourselves, and diminish our own role in our lives and in our ‘luck’.

20 replies
  1. Money Infant
    Money Infant says:

    I live in Asia and never heard that Feng Shui drain thing. Now I have to go out and buy drain stoppers for all my drains 🙂

    The only ritual I can think of that I do with money is to make sure the money in my wallet is always organized. Same bills all together in ascending order and all facing the same direction. I guess I am a bit OCD :p

  2. Evan @ Smart Wealth
    Evan @ Smart Wealth says:

    I was with my wife at the casino and as we were leaving holding hands I got pulled back because she decided to stop because she saw a penny on the ground. I looked at her and said please don’t pick up that dirty penny, and as we were walking away she says “it’s ok, it wasn’t heads up anyways”. Everyone has their superstitions I guess =)

  3. John @ Married (with Debt)
    John @ Married (with Debt) says:

    Interesting stuff, especially since most money systems collapse. Can’t wait to read the next installment.

  4. Matt @ RamblingFever Money
    Matt @ RamblingFever Money says:

    I am liking your writing style more and more Amanda as I read more of your stuff. Wonderful observations in this one. Looking forward to the sequel.

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