Growing up, my grandmother was a master seamstress, and I always had beautiful clothes without ever having to pay for them.
My taste for fine garments didn’t change as I got older, but it was a shock when I had to begin paying for them myself. I can still hear my mother telling me, “You have champagne taste on a beer budget.”
I could have taken this as a warning to not spend money that I didn’t have. Instead, it felt as if I’d been told that I was no longer deserving of the finer things in life, which sent my sense of self-worth into a downward spending spiral. The consequences: $8,000 of credit card debt—along with disappointment, anger and blame.
As children, we begin to form our beliefs and attitudes about money through value-laden messages that are passed on to us by our parents, grandparents and society. In my work as a Financial Life Planning® Advisor, I call these “money memories.”
What Money Memories Can Teach Us
Delving into our money memories helps us to gain insight into the things that have consciously and subconsciously influenced how we think and feel about money—and how we handle finances.
In order to move forward and navigate life with greater financial confidence as adults, we must look back. After all, a belief is nothing more than a thoroughly practiced thought.
By asking yourself these seven questions, you’ll begin the process of self-reflection—and learn a great deal about the ways in which you handle money today.
1. What is your earliest money memory?
My own is of receiving an allowance. My sisters and I completed our chores and did what was expected, yet there was a point in time when we were no longer compensated. The work continued; the payments stopped. I realized many years later that my penchant for intermittent work, and a lack of a steady paycheck, echoed this experience. I thought that my work wasn’t good enough for steady payment, so I didn’t make it a priority.
What can you learn from your own earliest money memory? Is there a connection that can be made between this memory and a current behavior?
2. How was money used in your family?
Was it mainly used to reward, punish, survive, impress, control, help others, have fun, buy love, reach goals or something else?
I have a client who grew up having only positive experiences with money. She earned an allowance (and sometimes a trip to the ice cream store!), and her parents donated to their church and community on a regular basis. By having no financial struggles or hardships as a child, my client developed a positive, constructive view of money—and a strong foundation for wealth.