We are often told by personal finance experts that money should only be viewed as a tool to reach our goals, with no emotions attached to it. For many of us, money is a symbol of past financial mistakes that cause feelings of fear, shame and guilt that follow us throughout our lives. If your parents struggled with money, it can feel as though they doomed you to have a horrible relationship with your finances as well. With that feeling comes a sense you can never reach your financial goals. Thankfully, your relationship with money doesn’t have to be a futile struggle, but it does take effort to turn that relationship into something healthy.
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Continue reading below for advice on changing your attitude and relationship toward money.
Remember that you are more than your mistakes.
Most of us have repeating patterns that appear. Often, those patterns are reactions to the way we grew up. If your parents were constantly talking about how you can’t afford certain things, then you might have a scarcity mindset that leads you to save everything you can for tomorrow, without living today. If your parents spent money without ever saving for the future, you might have conflicting emotions of wanting to spend that way too, while also feeling like you want to change that behavior but not knowing how.
Let go of the past.
You’ve heard the old saying that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Although that can be true in your financial life as well, you don’t want to spend so much time reviewing the past that you forget to look toward your future. Finding that balance of past and future can be tricky, but here is a method to help you work it out for yourself.
Determine the facts.
Set aside time during your weekly financial check-in to reflect on some of the money mistakes you have made in the past. It can be as simple as a missed credit card payment and the resulting fee haunting you from years past, or maybe you had a house foreclosure or car repossession. Whatever your money mistakes were, write down the facts of the situation and include the date, where you were living at the time, and any other pertinent information about what was happening in your life.
Reflect on the emotions.
Once you have your list, think about the fear, shame or any other negative emotion that comes up for you as you look back at each situation. Write those feelings down next to the mistake, and keep a running tab of how many times each one appears.
Spending time actually looking at the problems you had, and then reviewing the emotions that surface from those facts can help you identify the larger issues that repeat in your life.
Discover recurring themes.
As you review your list, see if multiple recurrences of the same problem and the same feelings appear repeatedly. That can be a clue into how your relationship with money developed, and what you might need to change.
Once you have your list, find someone you trust, such as your partner, mentor or a therapist/ counselor to talk about the things that come up for you. Work with them to develop strategies to help you break these patterns. For some people, that might be doubling down on a budget to track your spending. For others, it could look like setting aside money for a true want, instead of a need, in order to help you start to break the scarcity mindset.
Money issues can be deep-seated and convoluted, so a professional counselor specifically trained in emotional stress around finances might be a good option to support you on this journey.
Look to the future.
It can be easy to look at that list of mistakes and think you are failing at money, but that’s not true. Everyone makes mistakes—financial and otherwise—and getting locked into those mindsets can be detrimental to your future growth.
After you’ve processed your list with someone else, think about what a healthy, new relationship with your money would look like. Complete the exercise by writing down the things you think would make you feel confident around your finances. That might look like:
- Knowing your specific retirement number, so you are positive you’re on the right track for your financial future
- Setting aside a small portion of your budget strictly for investing in a field that you’re interested in and want to experiment with, like Crypto or other emerging ventures
- A vacation fund that allows you to prepay for all expenses so you don’t have to feel guilty about the credit card bill at the end of your trip
Change takes time.
Your relationship with money didn’t turn sour overnight, so don’t expect that one or two reflective exercises or a couple of sessions with a therapist is going to fix all of your emotional blocks around money. This work can take time, and although it can be frustrating and painful, it is ultimately worth it. Continue to check in with yourself on the practical matters like how your brokerage and retirement accounts are progressing, but also remember to check in with how you’re feeling about the situation, and if anything keeps recurring for you.