And… why does it not feel as great as it sounds? 

You just inherited 3 million dollars. Or maybe the company you work for just went public or you sold your business for 5 million. Or perhaps unbeknownst to you there was a $1 million generational wealth transfer that just landed in your lap. Whichever the case, you’ve just come upon more money than you’re used to having and being responsible for. This is known as Sudden Wealth. 

Let’s back up for a moment.

It’s not unusual to live by a certain set of rules or beliefs about how the world works. That’s how our brains are wired. The only way to navigate this world is to have some locked in beliefs: doing what is right, being fair to others, looking both ways before crossing the street, dessert after dinner (that one may be reversed for some of you), showering every morning. We don’t usually even think about these things from day to day, we just hold them to be true. 

Then you go camping and you can’t shower for a week and your belief that you should shower ever morning to stay clean is tested.  

That’s what can happen with sudden wealth. You grow up with a unique set of beliefs about money that drive your behaviors and these beliefs get tested. A few very common “money scripts” that people in the U.S. have are that you must work hard to earn money, you must save your money and rich people are greedy. Now that you’re “rich,” you don’t have to work. Are you a bad person for not wanting to work? Did you take advantage of people to get this wealth? Do you deserve the wealth when so many hard-working people have very little? (Hint hint – if you were a good person before, you are a good person now!) 

It’s not uncommon for these beliefs that have driven your behavior since childhood to cause you stress and anxiety. An unexpected windfall doesn’t happen to everyone, and everyone has their own unique journey through Sudden Wealth. 

There are often four reactions to Sudden Wealth.

  1. You feel nervous that it’s not real and that it could vanish at any second.
  2. You feel anxious to start investing it because “rich people grow their money.”
  3. You feel guilty and want to give it away to friends, family members and charities.
  4. You feel comfortable and prepared to adjust to your new life and the new decisions that need to be made.

There’s no right or wrong way to move through Sudden Wealth. Take the time to work through your feelings whether they’re stress, anxiety, shame, guilt, excitement, relief or joy.

The key to a successful transition is to slow down and know that you don’t need to decide anything right now.

Instead, try these three things.

1. Journal your thoughts

You can try journaling to help you organize your initial thoughts and figure out what’s important to you.

Where should you start?

What resources do you need?

Where will you find those resources?

What are your money scripts that were handed to you from your family and the people who surrounded you as you lived your life?

Do those money scripts and beliefs still make sense in your current situation?

Do you need to figure out new money scripts that work now?

Who can help you navigate that process? 

Some people are on a life path that they are enjoying when they are hit with Sudden Wealth which turns them upside down. Do they continue on that path they loved? Are they supposed to do something else?

Some people are often hit with an identity crisis moment. This is a great time to slow down and do some soul searching about what is important you. What do you want to accomplish in your life? What will you be proud of on your death bed, when it’s just you that you need to answer to, no one else? 

2. Find your helpers

It is important to first note that you are not alone in this – no matter how alone you’re feeling right now. You were surrounded by people who were just like you with the same kinds of beliefs, lifestyle, and decision-making and now you’re different. And you can feel it. You’re not comfortable talking about your new problems which don’t make sense to your old community members. There are some problems that money will fix and some that cannot be fixed by money. Also, there are new problems that are created because of the money. You have new tasks and decisions to make that you didn’t before.  These issues are often not understood by everyone. 

Even though you may be feeling this way – you still have helpers. It’s important to find them because they’re the ones who are going to help you move forward. These people could be friends, family members, professionals or an online community. If they help you feel better and be more confident in your decisions, lean on them. If they seem to give you confusing or wrong suggestions, move on to other resources available to you.  

Know that you aren’t looking for someone to tell you what to do but rather people that can help you figure out what is best for you to do.

 3. Navigate your relationships

Finding helpers may feel difficult right now because your relationships feel different.

How did the people in your life react to this news? Did some seem angry or jealous of your wealth?  Keep in mind that their reactions have nothing to do with you but rather their beliefs. They may believe that someone’s net worth is equal to that person’s self-worth. And now they are feeling worthless compared to you. Try your best to be understanding of their feelings instead of getting defensive or giving them money to bring them up to your net worth – these are not solutions and won’t make either of you feel better.

Opening your heart, not your pocketbook, is the best approach with these family members and friends. Which can be hard if their reaction brings up some of your own deep-seated feelings. If you find you can’t have an open heart and that you have feelings of anger, fear, embarrassment, or guilt, you are best off walking away from the situation and working on your emotional well-being first. 

 It can also be hard when you are in relationships that have established expectations. For example, if you are dating someone (maybe even planning to marry them!) and they had more money than you did. The two of you might have had a standard way of making decisions and now it seems like there’s a “power shift” to you or your partner. 

Communication is going to be key in these situations. And, as outlined before, making sure that you both approach the conversation with compassion and understanding of the other person’s thoughts and priorities is key. 

What next?

We would be honored to be one of your helpers! Our president, Tara, has her Certification in Financial Therapy Level I and is ready to talk to you about this transition and all of the feelings, beliefs and difficulties that come with it. Schedule a 15 minute introductory call to get to know us!