7 Ways Money Memories Can Affect Your Finances


Positive ThinkingGrowing 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.

  • Ana

    My earliest money memory is selling homemade “buckeye people” around my neighborhood. I was very fortunate to associate saving with being positive and rewarding from a young age. My mom is the same way, still won’t spend money on herself. And I’m pretty much the same way now except I always say I will, once I have a little extra money, which never happens lol. 

  • Aj8821

    I have such great memories of enterprising endeavors that my friends and cousins and I undertook – lemonade stands, toy rummage sales, and doing chores for money.  I began babysitting at 14 and working at Dairy Queen as soon as I got my driver’s license.  My parents never made me work, but it was something I always liked because it made me feel independent.  The knowledge about careers and the world of work was invaluable.  I’ve almost always had more than one job and felt I could work to meet my goals by earning the money myself.

  • Jill

    My father used money to control and punish when he didn’t feel loved.  If we wanted or needed anything, it was a chance to prove that we loved him by not needing him to give it to us.  Really fucked up stuff.  Sad, too, because he was a high six-figure earner and we could have had so many amazing experiences together, but instead I’m still saddled with lots of undergraduate student loan debt and bad memories.  With my wedding coming up, and him not wanting to support that financially, him feeling unloved because I want support, etc., really makes it all so apparent.  I’ve had money issues my entire adult life, working myself to the bone but never making enough to really live on.  You think they are connected?  haha…  hmmmm…

    • evr

      My father is similar, always made 6 figures but never gave enough in child support, wanted to short change my college education (fortunately mom made sure I went to the best school anyway), and always made sure that I was struggling to get by and never had the clothing I needed for special events or interviews, or even socializing. When I had emergencies and needed money, he always made me feel like I was stupid and didn’t deserve it. He even tried to make me take jobs that are WAY beneath my level, when I was capable of getting great jobs even in the tough economy, and fortunately I listened to my gut. Once I realized that he was a dangerous money manipulator, I decided to cut out my involvement with him. As a 20-something living in NYC, I refuse to go to him for any financial needs, or any life advice at all for that matter. It’s all my responsibility, so through my own self-education, mistakes, and successes, I’ve been able to live the way I want to live without the insane stress of abusive parents. 

    • R. L. Hwang

      My mom is always so afraid of my “white” boyfriend is after their money. The truth is I see myself supporting their retirement. As for the wedding, Jill, here is my thought…You see, in Taiwan the groom’s family pays for the wedding and in US the bride’s family pays for the wedding. So being with my “white” boyfriend I know I am not going to have a big white wedding. But at the same time I would rather have a big beautiful life-long marriage than a three-hour long wedding. Wedding is a beautiful memory (which is important), but marriage is what I will live with the rest of my life. I see wedding as the first step a couple takes toward their life-long partnership, so whatever we can afford is whatever we can get (let it be a backyard BBQ or Las Vegas elope, the point is I got the man). I also say, I will have a nice big vow renewal when we hit 30 year mark. What do you think?

      • Frankly

         R.L. – worried about your ‘white’ boyfriend ?

        I’m a white guy and I’m not even married to my Taiwanese partner who’s been making me happy for the last 22 years – a different Chinese told me that Taiwanese women ‘never let go’ – so far that’s working for me !

        • R. L. Hwang

          Good for you guys, Frankly! It has to do with my mom’s upbringing, that was the era when young GI’s heading in/out of Korean war through Taiwan, impregnated girls, either disappeared or took their money.  I respect my mom’s experience but I don’t agree that completely. It still could happen….to everyone regardless of nationality or ethinicity. Anyway, Wish you guys well & stay happy~~

    • SarahLee

      With such a beautiful event in your life to focus on (your wedding), I am struck at how much hate pours out of you.  While none of us can change our past, we all can choose to stop living in it.  If I could share one thing with you it would be that money does not buy love.  My parents married when they were too young, had us when they were too young, and while my childhood was far from perfect I would never say I missed out on amazing experiences because we were far from a 6 figure income family.  I had a stay at home mom who sacrificed and scrimped and saved and loved us in ways money could never buy.  Birthdays consisted of homemade cupcakes and ice cream on a stick while we made up our own games outside for entertainment.  We had one vehicle that my father took to work and mom took us on the bus to all kinds of amazing adventures-swimming at the lake, museum, fairs, picnics in the park, and my favorite-we would ride our bikes to the library every week as a family.  My grandfather brought fresh beach sand every summer for the sandbox, we had rope swings tied from trees, bonfires, jumping in leaves in the fall, Christmas caroling and sleigh rides…  Today I choose to live a simple life, below my means.  I live in a bank repo that you will never see in a Better Homes and Garden magazine, I have a beautiful garden every summer and can whatever I get from 100 tomato plants, green beans, zucchini, cucumbers, blueberries, raspberries, apples and pears.  I make my own laundry soap to extend the life of my tired water well,  and I hang my wash outside in the summer to lower my A/C bills by not heating up the house.  Life with less has given me more than you could ever imagine.

    • Christine

      More than likely they are very much connected Jill…if you are open and willing to doing the work, you can transform your relationship with money into one of health and happiness! Your father’s “truth” doesn’t have to be yours…

  • R. L. Hwang

    My earliest money memory (also childhood memory) was sitting in the dark livingroom, looking at my parents screaming at each other in the master bedroom in front of that green vinyl closet because my dad gave all his pay check to his mom and left my mom with nothing. I was crying and the livingroom was so big and so dark. My boyfriend and I are taking financial planning class because I am determined NEVER put my kids through that fear again.

  • http://twitter.com/kgal1298 Suspicious ^^^

    Thank you. I get so mad when people say you can’t blame your parents for your money problems…because they may not be the entire reason since we do control our own spending as we get older, but they sure as help teach us how to handle money and that’s why I think there needs to be more financial teachings to kids because otherwise why else do you think this country is on the end of a student loan bubble that’s about to burst? It’s not because of their amazing spending habits. Anyway I got lucky sure money was about survival for me, but along the way I started to read more about finances because my mom where as wasn’t great with money did teach me I should be successful and aim high in life and somehow at the end of it all I ended up having a mildly okay grasp of money. Granted I’m still trying to clean up earlier mistakes, but at least when I’m ready to retire I wont worry about having to work. That’s for sure. 

    • http://www.thatmoneygirl.com/ Christine

      We can blame others (our parents) or we can see them as our teachers. Examples of who we want to be or not. Remember, they had a set of parents too…each generation passes down what they know. So recognized the positives and be grateful. Recognize the negatives, then forgive…and create new beliefs and behaviors that are more in alignment with who you are and what you want.  And I completely agree with you regarding financial education…there absolutely should be a curriculum for children, starting at a very early age and carried through college years. Imagine the difference! 

  • http://twitter.com/mendymarit Mendy Marit Mal…

    Love it! I used to sell my Lisa Frank’s creations at elementary school. But I never saved. Saving it’s a brand new field for me  (thank God it wasn’t hard); I guess it’s because my family always got a big income and spend it all, and always went to the bank to cash a check or withdrawal money, bu not to save.

    Taking money out of the equation makes you really think in what you want. 

    • Christine

      Bingo Mendy! Taking money out of the equation WILL make you see what is truly important! Money, and our relationship to it, is one of our greatest teachers! 

  • RichardD

    Saving and learning how (plus why) to save early is important. I purchased an ebook – you are worth millions you just don’t know it for my 15 yr old daughter. It teaches children and teens more than self worth – but how just a little money common sense can add up to a better financial future.

  • RebuiltGearbox

    When I was a kid, I was made to have a paper route at age 7, I was allowed to keep a few dollars a week from that but chores were unpaid responsibilities. We ate and generally lived like paupers, but lived in a big, well kept house with my mother’s room full of great furniture that no one was allowed to even walk through, her beautiful clothes, her new Camaro every few years…appearances were everything. Meanwhile, I begged to eat at friend’s houses to avoid another supper of Beanie Weenies.
    I was a big kid and lied about my age to get a job at a gas station at 14, where they taught me mechanics and welding. I was working as a welder by 16, living on my own. As an adult, I’m very non-materialistic, own what I need plus a few luxuries for entertainment, and am happy. People have been surprised that I’ve got enough money saved to have much more, but can’t understand why I would want to. Never really thought about it before, but I guess my attitude for money is exactly opposite of how I was raised.

    • CrankyFranky

      I guess you’re describing the middle-class experience RG – I heard described as important for society in developing judgement – enough money if you choose – wisely

      people who grew up poor often blow any cash quickly to return to the familiar – people who grew up rich often starve themselves to afford rare opulent parties – only the middle-class tends to minimise their expenses while carefully saving for the future

      I grew up with a well-paid father and war-widow mother – having carefully invested and monitored over many years I have enough cash to buy a new Rolls Royce but choose to drive an 22 year-old Honda – I could appear a lot more impressive but prefer to know I’ve got money for my future – as I tell my students – the guy in the suit and shiny new car ? – often a commission salesman in debt with negative equity – the guy in shabby shorts and t-shirt sweeping the path outside a shop ? – typically the owner.