What Money Story Are You Telling Your Kids?

What's your money story?

What’s your money story?

When I was about six years old, I remember going to school wearing knee-high socks with worn-out elastic. They kept falling down around my ankles and my mother taught me this trick of gathering the excess sock material at the top, twisting it around into a little knob and tucking it into the top of the sock.  It held for about 30 seconds before my socks would be drooping around my little ankles again.  I had to keep wearing these socks because, at that time, we didn’t have enough money to get new ones.

I’d completely forgotten about this until I was working through some exercises on childhood memories about money. It really surprised me but, as I thought about it, I realized that it made sense. I struggle with an underlying emotion of “I don’t have enough money” in life and I can now see how the origins of this started early in my childhood. Even though my parents were able to move us into a comfortable financial position later, this early emotional fear is still bouncing around my head with ongoing repercussions.

It has been eye-opening to me how much emotion influences your personal finances. When I first started paying attention to our finances, I thought it was all going to be about numbers and logic.  If you do x, then you will see y result. But it turns out logic is only part of the picture and emotion is a huge influence. And half the time you don’t realize that there’s this background program running that’s driving the choices you make!

Zee and I try hard to never say “We can’t afford that.”  We’ve read that it’s better to communicate the message that we are choosing not to spend our money on something. For example, we’ll tell them we are saving for our summer vacation and that’s why we are not going to dinner. But we do find ourselves arguing over some decisions.

Eileen Gallo and Jon Gallo in their book, Financially Intelligent Parent: 8 Steps to Raising Successful, Generous, Responsible Children, have a chapter called “Get Your Money Stories Straight.”  As in a lot of things to do with relationships, opposites do attract and often parents have very different money stories and money styles. Arguing over whether to give a child an allowance, for example, can often be driven by your different money stories.  The Gallos recommend that you take some time to understand your own money story and your partner’s. Some of the questions they suggest asking are:

  • What are two of your earliest money memories (e.g., the first important purchase you made)?
  • What did you learn from your mother about money?
  • What did you learn from your father about money?
  • How did these parental messages affect you as you grew up?
  • What are some of your family stories about money (the type of stories that are told when your immediate or extended family gets together – the time Dad was incredibly cheap or the big fight over Grandpa’s will)?
  • What did your mother or father or both do with their money that you particularly admired?
  • What did they do with their money that you found offensive or unethical?
  • What kind of financial education did you receive when you were growing up? Was it helpful? Would you change it in any way?
  • What were the big emotional issues around money in your family when you were growing up? Are there any themes that persisted and still affect you today?
  • Do your current attitudes and values about money differ from your parents’ attitudes and values? Your siblings’? Your spouse’s? If yes, how and why?
  • How do you feel about your own affluence? What are the primary emotions that come to mind?
  • What messages about money do you think you’re sending those close to you, such as a spouse or children?

You can find out more about this exercise in these great blog posts by the Gallos:

Couples and Money: Understanding Your Relationship With Money – Part I

Couples and Money: Understanding Your Relationship With Money – Part II

Couples and Money: Understanding Your Relationship with Money – Part III

Operating on the belief so brilliantly captured by Ghandi – Be the change you want to see in the world – I’m hoping that Zee and I can talk more about our different money stories and how they might be impacting our children.

What was the money story that your parents shared with you? What’s your earliest memory about money?

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