Only Human with Joan Axelrod-Contrada: ‘Money, it’s a gas’: Exploring both sides of the coin when costly bills surprise us

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For the Gazette

Published: 02-08-2024 1:34 PM

Every time I hear the classic song “Money” by Pink Floyd, I think about my complicated relationship with the almighty dollar.

Who hasn’t felt pushed and pulled between the seductive power of our currency and its ability to crush us? Not surprisingly, the song explores both sides of the coin.

The 1973 tune begins on a celebratory note, describing money as a “gas,” boomer lingo for “fun.” Upbeat sentiments, though, give way to more ominous ones about money as the root of all evil. Employers refuse to share the wealth. Everyone wants their slice of the pie. No one wants to give it away. Money no longer seems like such a gas.

Indeed, finances rank high as sources of stress in our lives. According to the American Psychological Association, 72% of people report feeling the pain. I came across this statistic in the course of dealing with a string of my own financial headaches.

Remember the expression that bad luck comes in threes? Although I’m generally not superstitious, my string of money hassles definitely fits into that pattern.

First, I got hacked by someone pretending to want to help me with an unauthorized withdrawal from my PayPal account. Next, a painful gum infection resulted in news that I needed an expensive crown. Then I found out all four tires on my car needed to be replaced.

Just as I was getting a breather, I got hammered with another set of threes, which began when sewage backed up all over my downstairs bathroom. Yuck! Next, I got a letter from the Registry of Motor Vehicles, informing me that my auto insurance company had canceled my policy. What? Then, in the course of supposedly resolving that matter, I learned that I’d need to pay three times more for home-owner’s insurance.

Ka-ching. Ka-ching. That’s the ring-a-ding-ding of an old-fashioned cash register, one of the sound effects in the Pink Floyd song. It’s also the feeling of stress that comes from having to spend money on necessities that not only give us little joy but also make it harder to splurge on something fun like a trip to the Caribbean.

Granted, it could have been worse. Fortunately, I had enough money in the bank that I didn’t need to choose between, say, food and auto insurance.

Initially, I regarded my string of hassles as a fluke. However, by expensive bill number five, I had to admit that I was the common denominator in all the occurrences. My car-insurance woes, for instance, stemmed directly from failing to allow myself enough time to renew auto-pay in the wake of setting up new bank accounts after getting scammed. One failed payment, and the Registry of Motor Vehicles was about to strip my car of its license plate. Those folks don’t mess around!

To relieve my stress, I turned to Google for answers and unexpectedly got myself some free financial counseling. Yes, the Internet is a goldmine! It turns out that we all develop unique approaches and emotional responses to money based on our experiences. Psychology experts call these our “money personality types.”

As a member of the baby boomer generation, I rebelled against the materialistic values of my parents and, so, not surprisingly, developed a financial personality commonly described as “indifferent to money.” Like all categories, this one comes with both pros and cons. On the positive side, I’m not constantly chasing costly cars and caviar. On the negative side, though, I tend to be startled by unwelcome expenses and financial headaches.

Of course, the fix is to plan for them and get help from people better equipped than me to navigate the byzantine meanderings of our material world. Fortunately, I’ve been able to tap my hippie spirit to cobble together a support system much like I did when my husband was sick. I reached out to friends and acquaintances, did research, made phone calls, and scheduled appointments with caring professionals (shoutout out to the socially-conscious investing firm Ostberg & Associates).

If you’re looking for no-cost financial counseling, check out the excellent article “Where to Find Free Professional Financial Advice” from U.S. News & World Report. Its tidbits include services from your local bank as well as pro bono counseling from the Foundation for Financial Planning.

It’s all about helping you feel more in control. Pink Floyd’s songwriter Roger Waters confessed to coveting a Bentley, but he also championed a more equitable world. Our magnificent minds help us see both the bright, sparkly and the dark, jagged sides of money. While we might not be able to single-handedly narrow the gap between the haves and have nots, we can keep our own stress levels in check. And that’s priceless.

Joan Axelrod-Contrada is a writer who lives in Florence and is working on a collection of essays, “Rock On: A Baby Boomer’s Playlist for Life after Loss.” Reach her at