Have you ever thought about why you believe what you do about money?
I mean, aside from knowing you need it to pay bills, have you ever really dissected your approach to money? Your thoughts? Your expectations?
What we believe about money is based on many factors, but one that often gets overlooked is the impact of family.
If you think about it, money is just one of the many topics that gets shaped by family. It’s likely that your initial view on relationships, different cultures, foods, or politics also took its form in your household.
This makes perfect sense. After all, it has long been proven that family has a tremendous influence on our personality, and general beliefs.
So, if our upbringing likely influenced our initial values on money, can you imagine just how many of our financial decisions have been impacted by this?
The list is probably longer than you care to think about.
By now, you might be thinking, “yea, but we never talked about money growing up”.
That might be true, but here’s the thing….
You didn’t have to. You absorbed through observation.
How was money handled in your household? How was it earned? Was it spent or saved? Did the topic of money trigger stress?
What type of lifestyle did you become accustomed to? Which financial habits did you pick up on just by observing?
Whatever you saw, or didn’t see, impacted you. You were a witness to how your family interacted with money and those experiences became a framework for how you view and treat it.
The question is: how did you interpret those experiences?
Even if you never got a direct lesson on how to save or invest, you likely were influenced in these areas:
How You Choose to Financially Help Your Family
I’ll never forget the Thanksgiving when some long-distance cousins from out of state appeared on my parents’ doorstep. Unannounced.
They were “passing through” and trusted my parents wouldn’t slam the door in their face. They were right.
Being the nice folks that they are, my parents allowed them to spend the holidays with us.
My parents fed them, liquored them up, entertained them, and made them feel right at home.
They never asked for any money, and the extended family members never offered.
You may have a similar story of your parents lending a hand to a family member in need.
If you have been in this situation:
- What did you take from witnessing the situation?
- How did you interpret it?
- How has it impacted the way you support your family?
- In what ways is your approach similar, or different?
Maybe that didn’t happen to you at all. Maybe there’s just unwritten expectations.
For example, there could be an underlying expectation in your family that financial success of one is to be shared by all.
If you were to get a raise, would you be expected to give some to your family?
Do your siblings look to you to carry more of the financial burden because you can “afford it”?
For a lot of families, this is exactly the case. In fact, in some cultures, it’s evident to the point it presents a barrier to building wealth.
The concept of the “Black/Brown Tax”, for example, is a challenge that impacts many people of color. If one family member succeeds, the unspoken rule is that they literally share the wealth with their family.
None of this is to say it’s bad to want to support your family. You just need to understand what’s behind your desire to do so, and ensure you can financially support that decision.
There is no right or wrong answer here, you just need to decide for yourself what makes the most sense for your situation.
Whichever way you choose to support your family, keep this in mind:
- It’s a lot easier to help others when you are in the financial position to. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
- Boundaries are important, especially with family. It’s ok, to lend a hand, but you still need boundaries. Establishing boundaries will set expectations up front, and keep you from getting taken advantage of.
- Helping feels great when it’s coming from the right place. If you feel you need to help out of forced obligation, that can lead to resentment.
What Feels “Normal” To You
What did it feel like-financially-when you were growing up?
Was it always tight around bill paying time, or did you live comfortably?
Was money a topic that was surrounded by stress, indifference, or high regard?
The level of financial comfort you experienced can influence how you currently live and what, if anything, you are willing to change.
As an adult, living paycheck to paycheck can feel perfectly normal if that’s how you’ve always lived.
On the other hand, some may interpret the lifestyle they had as a child as motivation to provide a different life for themselves.
The way you interpreted your upbringing may have even impacted your career choice, and/or work ethic.
Even if your parents didn’t have a lot of money, what you may have picked up was the spirit of the hustle. Not being afraid to do what’s necessary to provide.
Regardless of how you grew up, it’s important to recognize the role it had on your money mindset.
It can be easy to fall into the “that’s all I’ve ever known” mentality, but you can re-establish your own standards at any time.
If you want to break through your current mindset, consider this:
- Challenge what “normal” means. Look around your life and evaluate how much of it is a result of replicating what you grew up with. If you are content, great. But if you aren’t, make changes. Just because you grew up struggling doesn’t mean you have to now. You can redesign your life.
- Leave the past where it is. The past is the past, you are not obligated to repeat it. Lock in to the type of life you desire, set goals, and break down the steps necessary to achieve it.
- Be prepared to take new risks. If you want different results, you need to make different decisions. Some of those decisions may be contrary to the way you were raised. You will have to weigh that.
Your Lifestyle Choices
Everything from what you choose to eat, the type of car you wish to drive, frequency and choice of vacations, and even the size of your house, has been influenced by your upbringing.
Maybe that childhood house was too small so you now want something bigger.
Or, after seeing your parents put money into repair the family car every few months, you now refuse to buy used cars.
How you perceive comfort and quality is often related to your past experience.
This doesn’t always go in the way of wanting an upgrade, though.
Millennials, for example are trending towards minimalism. Compared to what our parents had, downsizing and embracing the concept of less “stuff” and more purpose is becoming the norm.
Factors such as student loans, and an uncertain economy play a role in this trend, but for many millennials, they just simply want a different life than what their parents had.
And that’s ok.
So, before continuing your purchase behaviors, think about the following:
- Do you really want it, or think you should? Just because your family purchases a certain type of car, widget, or thing, doesn’t mean you have to. You don’t even have to buy the “thing” at all. Always prioritize your values above all else.
- How will the purchase add value to your life? Never forget the core element of financial well-being which is being able to spend money on what makes you happy. If what you are buying will have little to no value in your life past the initial gratification, re-evaluate.
- Consider the broader view of your life. Where your life is headed is different than what your parents experienced. The world is changing and we are no longer defined by our “stuff”.
Your Willingness To Talk About Money
Was money ever talked about in your household?
Did your parents openly discuss when things were going good or bad, or did they avoid the topic like the plague?
What would have happened if you asked? Was money a “grown folks” topic?
For many generations, money was a taboo topic.
Just like religion and politics, money was never to be discussed, referenced, or asked about.
That’s actually still the case for a lot of families. A 2014 survey found that 18 percent of Americans say that money is still a taboo topic in their family.
On the positive side, that means for 80% it’s not taboo. On the other hand, while it may not be taboo, it still may be a topic many are uncomfortable with sharing.
But why is that?
Just not used to it? Fear of being measured against others? Lack of confidence in understanding personal finance?
Regardless of the cause, avoiding the topic altogether isn’t healthy.
Avoiding the topic of money can lead to a feeling of financial indifference. Or worse, money becomes an “out of sight, out of mind” problem that doesn’t get addressed until it gets REALLY bad.
Talking about money with those you trust can be beneficial.
I was fortunate that in my household, money was not a topic to be avoided.
We were always encouraged to speak up if we needed help, and we were never fed delusions of the household financial status.
This no doubt impacted my openness about money and it’s something I encourage people to consider.
Through sharing your experiences with those you trust, you can gain insights into what went wrong, and right. It also opens the opportunity to hold each other accountable.
So, what can you do to become more comfortable with talking about money? Try this:
- Talk about money! I’m not saying you should blast your financial details on social media, but you don’t have to be fearful of the topic. The more we discuss money with our friends and family, the more we can provide support, share information, and help each other climb.
- Join a financial literacy community. By now, there’s countless online communities, Meetups, Facebook groups, forums, blogs, and other ways to engage with others on the topic of personal finance. You can join one and start getting comfortable with learning and sharing among others of a similar mindset.
- Embrace honesty. If your co-workers ask you to lunch but you know you are trying to stick to a budget, say that! You don’t have to lie or feel embarrassed that you want to improve your financial situation. And you never know, your honesty just might inspire others.
You should call your family and thank them for what they passed on to you about money.
Unless it totally screwed you up. In that case, hey, now you know.
No but really, while you may or may not have ever received direct lessons on money, you had a front row seat to more than you may realize.
For better or worse, you picked up a bunch.
If you haven’t done it before, this is your opportunity to scan back over your life and see how those experiences influenced you.
I hope most of it was positive, but it’s also possible your financial foundation had cracks in it.
Either way, you can’t change the past but you can make the most of this opportunity to give it all new meaning.
Keep reflecting, learn from your experiences, and keep growing.