When you consider the powerful influences over your financial life—if you’ve ever done that before now—maybe you tick off the books you read, television shows you watched, college you attended, neighborhood you grew up in. Those are all real and potentially made an impact on you. But the most powerful force in your financial life to this day is quite possibly something you’ve never really considered.
Some experts call it your money story. Others call it your money script. Essentially, it’s the impact your childhood had on your core memories of money. But your money story does not comprise the things your parents or the people who raised you tried to teach you. Your money story starts earlier, around age three or four. It crept into you as you watched, listened, absorbed. Every day. It was the fact that there was—or wasn’t—tension in the air on payday, at holidays, at bonus time.
In the looks your parents shot each other when one wasn’t pleased with the way the other handled something. A child’s first view of how something is handled typically becomes, in their minds, the way something should be handled. (Although sometimes it flips and becomes the way something shouldnotbe handled.)
But no matter what your environment was like, chances are pretty good that your parents didn’t talk much about money on a regular basis. That made what you witnessed (or thought you witnessed) your truth, even if it wasn’t quite your reality.
“A child’s first view of how something is handled typically becomes, in their minds, the way something should be handled … or not handled.”
Most people—if they’ve considered their money story at all—have just scratched the surface. They’ve thought back enough to run an if‑then scenario that goes something like: My father was very controlling about money. Therefore, I’m going to be a penny-pincher for the rest of my life. It’s a start. But it’s time to go deeper. The first thing to understand is that children learn in one of four ways.
Imitation:Children see something happening and they do it, too.Listening:They hear words and believe those words are in fact true.Specific experiences:There was an incident at school or at home. Perhaps you remember a huge argument every month at bill-paying time. You may grow up feeling that you don’t want to deal with money because money creates arguments.Absorption:Children tend to absorb the emotions of their parents.
I tell you this because, as we go through the series of questions that come next, I want you to think (and journal!) about not just what you were told—but what you heard, saw, thought, and felt. I want you to be introspective. Don’t censor yourself. Whatever bubbles to the top is very likely the truth.
The money questions
- What was the feeling about money like in the home where you grew up?
- What was the feeling like about spending money?
- What was the feeling like about saving money?
- What was the feeling like about giving money away?
- What’s your earliest money memory?
- What messages did your mother pass down to you about money? (Note: messages are different than lessons like how to balance a checkbook.)
- What messages did your father pass down to you about money?
- Do you remember hearing your parents talk about (or fight about) money?
- Growing up, did you have more than/less than/about the same as your peers?
Now, you tackle three follow-up questions:
How is this affecting me in my life today? Maybe you still feel the tension. Whenever you’re faced with any substantial money decision—whether it’s figuring out how much is reasonable to spend on renovating the bathroom or whether to take the job you don’t really want but that pays more than the one that makes you happy, you get tied up in knots. You can feel it in your gut. It makes it difficult to moveforward.
How is this helping me? Perhaps the fact that money causes you to shut down has stopped you from making some unfortunate decisions. Maybe you were willing to let your employer default you intoa mix of investments for your 401(k) that were appropriate for your age, rather than choosing them yourself—and that turned out for the better.
How is this hurting me? Let’s go back to that job decision for a moment. If you recalled—or just had a feeling—from childhood that the tension in your home tailed off in years when your parents
were more flush, then perhaps you opted for the position that paid more, even though it didn’t make you quite as happy.
Or, maybe the ramifications are simpler and more straightforward. Perhaps the tension
means it just takes you an insanely long time to shop for anything—because you have trouble making decisions. That’s an issue to be dealt with as well.
And this is just one example of how it might play out when you begin to follow the breadcrumbs. They’ll always lead you to a place of learning.
Excerpted from the bookWomen With Moneyby Jean Chatzky. Copyright © 2019 by Jean Chatzky. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.
The Vault at the Girlboss Rally is where women talk openly about money. On Saturday, June 29, we’re hosting IRL workshops to help you understand and manage your personal finances. Then, on Sunday, June 30, we’re hosting one-on-one and group Money Therapy sessions to get your most pressing money questions answered. In order to reserve your spot, register now at.