Review: Emotional Currency

Every Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal finance or other book of interest. Also available is a complete list of the hundreds of book reviews that have appeared on The Simple Dollar over the years.

Emotional CurrencyEvery once in a while, I’ll choose to read a personal finance book that’s clearly targeting women, like this one is (the subtitle of this book, Emotional Currency by Kate Levinson, is “A Woman’s Guide to Building a Healthy Relationship with Money”). I’m a guy, of course, so I’m not really in the audience that these books are shooting for.

So why do I read?

First, I try to look at the book through the eyes of my wife. What value would she find in this book? Is it something that I’ll drop on her bedside stand when I’m finished with it?

Second, I look for ways where the book obviously points towards the specific audience. What does this book say specifically to women that’s different from more general personal finance advice that applies directly to both men and women?

Money as Emotional Currency
Levinson opens the book by arguing that we use money to placate our emotions as best we can. We cover our worries by taking care of our basic living requirements. We handle our cravings. We handle our desire to help others by giving to charity. Simply put, we use money to handle what we feel emotionally, either by alleviating our negative feelings or causing positive feelings. The challenge is that, often, we can reach a point where we use our money to alleviate even the tiniest emotion with money, buying ourselves countless things because we somewhat want them, and that can result in financial problems (a much deeper worry than whether or not to buy a specific item we vaguely want).

Writing Your Money Memoir
When you start considering the idea of money as emotional currency, you begin to see how complicated it can be. Emotions can push us in opposing directions all the time. It is that complex knot of emotions that can leave us confused and can lead us to making money mistakes. Levinson encourages people to work through all of this by starting a “money memoir,” which is in essence a journal about money issues and your relationship with money. What are your experiences with money? What did you learn about it when you were young? What did your parents do? What significant interactions have you had with others with regard to your money? Levinson offers a ton of specific advice here on making this happen.

What Shapes Your Relationship to Money?
Self-worth. A sense of abundance and deprivation. Safety. Autonomy and dependency. Envy. Greed. These are all aspects of who we are and they each have different impacts on all of us. These factors shape how we think about money and how it relates to our lives. The deeper we reflect on our own natures, particularly in these areas, the healthier our relationship with money becomes. Why are we envious of others? Why are we greedy? What about our self-worth?

Women and Money
I was expecting to cringe when reading this chapter, but the issue of gender differences and money was handled quite well here. There are big cultural differences between how men and women handle and interact with money, let alone some biological differences (which you can see in differing values and behaviors). Again, Levinson takes the approach that reflection and thought on these issues can lead to a greater understanding, and that greater understanding can lead directly to stronger money decisions.

Fear and Confidence
Levinson spends this chapter (and the next two) focusing specifically on emotions that create a great challenge for good money usage. We often use money to try to avoid our fears and boost our confidence (think about buying clothes to look good in the eyes of others, for one). Quite often, though, that money doesn’t really help to solve the problem we’re hoping to solve. So often, we’re judged by the things we can’t control or by aspects of who we are that we can control without spending money that, frankly, spending loads of money on the narrow things we can throw money at don’t help at all.

Shame and Pride
Are you ashamed of your money situation? Are you proud of it? Why do you feel either way? Moderate pride is perhaps the most healthy state, where you don’t feel a need to constantly “show” others the financial rewards that your life holds for you. Instead, use that pride to channel yourself to be a better person.

How you use your money is often an expression of love. When you give money to others, whether as a gift or as a charitable donation, it’s often done as an expression of love for other people. How do you decide how to give, though? It’s never an easy question, particularly when you have a lot of things you care about. Levinson walks through this thought process deftly.

Healing Your Relationship to Money
While going through the issues raised in the previous chapters, you’ve likely found some issues that are in a damaged state for you. How do you heal? Levinson walks the reader through some self-help steps in this chapter with the intention of moving toward a healthier balance for a certain issue.

Is Emotional Currency Worth Reading?
The book’s focus is on our emotional connections to money and how a fraying of that connection can result in serious financial hardships. Most of the book focuses on making those damaged connections clear, largely trusting that once those damaged connections are clear, fixing them is relatively easy (since the book spends limited time there). In other words, the book focuses on diagnosis and trusts that the mountain of personal finance help out there can help with fixing the problem. I like that approach as it creates a more thought-provoking book.

Although this book seems to target women on the cover, I tend to think that’s mostly just marketing and a sense that emotional issues are just “women’s business,” a marketing direction that I don’t like. I found value in this book, and I think you will, too.

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Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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