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.”
Get started with a free financial assessment.
Get started with a free financial assessment.
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.
3. What was your family's financial status?
Did you consider your family to be rich or poor? Why? Once you have your answer, the next question to ask yourself: "What does being rich or poor mean to me?" This will help you to define what true wealth means to you. Does having large sums of cash make you wealthy? Or is being wealthy synonymous with being happy?
4. What were your parents' spending and saving patterns?
Growing up, my mother never spent money on herself—everyone else's needs and wants always came before her own. Now that I look back, I realize that her self-deprivation made me feel less valuable; if she didn't deserve treats, neither did I. So I did the opposite, becoming a compulsive shopper to prove that I was deserving.
Family money baggage is a serious thing. We tend to take the beliefs about money instilled in us from our parents and carry them with us for a long time, if not always.
5. When did you start earning your own money?
Did it make you feel independent, powerful or uncomfortable? And how do you feel about earning money today compared to when you first began as a kid?
Most of my clients say that they felt independent and empowered. For the first time, they were free to make their own choices. It wasn't about the money—it was about the emotion. For many of us, how much we earn determines our sense of self-value. Could it be that when we were children we were more focused on how we felt versus the cold hard cash? If you are happy with your earnings, rock on! If you aren't, what would it take to make you feel better?
6. What career messages did you receive?
Were you encouraged as a child to dream big when it came to choosing a career or were you told to play it safe? I have several clients who are artists, and many of them struggle with the limiting belief that fame and fortune come after death (see: Van Gogh and Gaugin)—that during this lifetime they are doomed to starve. How is your career or vocation valued?
7. What do you expect from money?
One of my personal affirmations? "I want enough money to do what I want whenever I want!" I want money to give me the ease of choice. From there, everything else can fall into place.
If money weren't an issue, what would you do with your life? By taking money out of the equation, you get to the heart of what you really want—and then you can figure out how to get there.
Christine Mathieu is a Financial Life Planning® Advisor and the author of "From Wisdom to Wealth: Insights to Creating Your Path to Wealth."