You may have heard people in the personal finance space discussing their money stories—the impressions we gain about money from our parents in our early years—and how those stories impact our adult lives. It can take time to parse out all the elements of your particular money story, but the benefits can help you see your blind spots and take significant steps forward on your money journey.
Listen to this week’s episode of the rich & REGULAR podcast about money and relationships, and continue reading below for tips to determine your own money story.
How do you write your money story?
Writing your money story can be intimidating, but we all carry these stories around with us, and they unconsciously influence our spending and saving habits. It’s good to know your internal narrative so unconscious childhood memories do not control you.
When you’re just starting to look at your money story, consider blocking out an hour or so of your weekly financial check-in appointment to think about the messages you received about money growing up and how you may still be carrying those messages around. You may need to return to this exercise over several days or weeks as things occur to you and memories resurface.
Write down your history.
Start by sitting with your journal or a blank text document and write down whatever comes to mind. Note that we’re not looking at the financial lessons your parents may have provided, like how to balance a checkbook or use coupons, but the unconscious messages about money stress, fear, joy, or resentment surrounding finances you remember from your childhood.
Look at your past.
As you sit with your journal and reflect, use some or all of the following questions about how you grew up to get your memories flowing:
- What was the general feeling about money in my home?
- What did payday feel like each month?
- What did the end of the month feel like? Scarcity or abundance?
- What message did I get from my mother about money?
- What message did I get from my father about money?
- Did my parents fight about money?
- Was there unspoken tension if one parent spent money without telling the other?
- What was the message about spending in my household?
- What was the message about saving in my household?
- What was the message about using credit in my household?
- What kind of judgments were made about people with different money habits than my family?
Apply to your current situation.
Once you’ve written all your thoughts on the questions above, start looking at how those beliefs shape your current financial situation. Review your journal entries for common themes and repeated words to find patterns. From there, can you extrapolate your childhood memories into how you currently view money?
If scarcity was a common theme in your home growing up, you might still be playing out that scenario by overbuying food that you unconsciously leave to rot in your refrigerator or spending everything you have because having money in savings somehow feels wrong. If you grew up with penny-pinching values, you may have a hard time spending on things that aren’t strictly necessary and miss out on some joys life offers.
After reviewing your past for common themes, ask yourself these questions about your current financial life:
- Does how I grew up affect my life now?
- Are the beliefs I grew up with helping me?
- Is my money mindset hurting me?
- What do I currently believe about money?
The past affects the future.
Once you see how your money story has influenced your past and current money decisions, you can also see how you can change it so that the negative lessons don’t continue to affect you. After you’ve let your previous answers settle in, spend some time, perhaps on a different day, to write down your answers to the following questions:
- What does having “enough” look like for me?
- What emotions do I want to replace my unhelpful feelings about money?
- How can I create a feeling of abundance and safety in my life?
- How do I want my children to feel about money (if applicable)?
Consider working with a therapist or counselor to discuss the events that have come up for you since many of our childhood memories can be confusing and hard to reason out on our own. If you do these exercises with your partner, be sure to check in with each other throughout your conversations to see how you’re both feeling and whether any painful emotions arise.
Remember your worth is not your net worth.
Figuring out where you came from, financially speaking, allows you to see where you want to go in the future. You might have some bad habits that need breaking or old fears that need to be addressed so that you can move forward with confidence on your money journey.
If you’re in a relationship, doing this exercise can be an excellent first step to help you understand where your partner is coming from and why they may feel or act a certain way. These exercises can be uncomfortable, whether you do them alone or with your partner, but remember that being uncomfortable is the first step toward growth.