Whether we like it or not, a lot of our behaviors, habits, and preferences come from our upbringing. Some of us grew up in a household that ate fruits and veggies every day, while others grew up on fast food or lots and lots of cereal. Some of us had a “traditional” family with two parents and maybe a few siblings, while others lived in separate households or with other guardians. And of course, there’s a huge spectrum in between — the point is that we all have different experiences.
Whatever your childhood looked like, it’s part of who you are now. One of the biggest things you carry with you into adulthood, though, is your family’s “Money Story.”
What’s a Money Story?
Essentially, a money story is your total experience with money. It’s how you think about money in your head, how you work for money, how you spend it and save it, and how you talk about it. Because money touches virtually every aspect of our lives, it’s really important that we get to the root of our family’s money stories. This way, we can see what we’ve taken from our childhood into adulthood.
For some of us, these money stories are great. They’ve taught us how to work hard, save well, and have a positive relationship with money. For others, the opposite is true. And for some (maybe the majority) our money stories are “not bad, but not good either.” In fact, most of us aren’t really raised with transparency around money at all, so we end up trying to find our way as adults.
That’s why we think understanding money stories is so important. Because when you know what you were “taught,” even subconsciously, about money, you will be better able to work through it to find a newer, better relationship with money that works for your life.
What is YOUR Money Story?
The first step to addressing your money story is to figure out what your money story actually is. To do that, you can ask yourself a series of questions:
What did you learn about money from your parents or family? Did they teach you how to use money or was your education mostly gained from watching them?
What do you remember about finances in your childhood home? Did it seem to be present, or was money tight?
Do you remember your parents or family fighting about money? Discussing it openly?
What “category” would you place your family in? Lower class, middle class, upper class?
Were there any big financial events in your family, like a big raise or a job loss? How was that handled in your family?
As an adult, have you noticed anything about how your family interacts with money? Do they save all of it, spend a lot, or talk about never having enough? Or do they seem to be fairly stable with money?
Now that you’ve got those answers floating through your head, it’s time to figure out how that money story is affecting you. Of course, take all the time you need to come up with clearer answers to the above questions.
Then, you can ask yourself:
Do I do anything with money that is similar to my parents or family? Do I think this is a positive or negative behavior?
Do I discuss or think about money the way I’ve heard my family discussing it?
What’s different about how I manage, think about, or discuss money? Do I think this is a positive or negative difference?
Would a different money story/background serve me better with money now?
Does my relationship with money or my money story connect with my money values?
If I had kids, what would I do the same or different when talking about money?
All of these answers will give you an idea of whether or not your money story is serving you. You’ll also hopefully get a clearer idea of what you like or don’t like. For example, your parents may have taught you how to save money for a big purchase, but you also saw them fighting about money a lot. The saving skills they passed down are great for you today, but the tension over money in relationships isn’t something you want to bring with you.
These are big questions, but they’re worth it — especially if you’re tired of being in the same money loop (“There isn’t enough!” or “Why can’t I stop spending?”) or the same fight with your spouse. From here, you can choose a new money story and change your life.
It’s Time to Decide What Story You Want to Tell
One thing is clear: all of us have a money story. Some of them are great, some of them aren’t, and some of them are in that cloudy gray area. But whatever your story is, you get to decide what to keep. Maybe you love how your parents taught you to keep extra cash in your checking account for emergencies, so keep doing that. But maybe you didn’t enjoy that they spent a lot of money on clothes or cars; you don’t have to do that.
The beauty of being an adult is that you can decide how to work for, spend, and save your money. Best of all, you get to create a new money story that makes you feel happy and fulfilled.
If you want to do the deep work and rewrite your money story, our Everyday Money Workbook can help. In it, you’ll get guidance on fresh ways to approach your finances, sections that focus on communication, values, assessment, and goals, and tips to get your money story on track.