How Your Childhood Affects Your Money Today

And what you can do about it

Posted Jun 02, 2016

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Source: Istock

Do you toss and turn at night worrying about money? Or are you a great saver and rarely let money stress you out?

Well it turns out that the genesis of your current beliefs and habits goes all the way back to your childhood.  Your past holds the secret key to unlocking the reasons why you are either stumbling or strutting in your money life.

I call it your “Money Imprint”—the lessons you learned early that formed your hardwired operating system and your “normal”. And let’s face it, we don’t question normal very often.

In fact, if you can decipher those money messages from long ago with your mature, non-child mind, you just might uncover some very helpful insights into your behavior.

Think about your earliest memory that concerned money. Maybe it was putting pennies in a piggy bank, spending your allowance, going with your mom or dad to the bank to open a savings account. What do you first remember about money?

And then look to each of your parents. What lessons did you learn from them? Think carefully, because those lessons may have been buried in day-to-day behavior vs lessons they consciously tried to impress on you. They might have never talked about money at all and you now equate money with secrecy. Or shame. Or they might have dropped casual bombs that made their way into your thinking: “Rich people are greedy”; “Money is the root of all evil”; “Always look like you have money”.

What was your experience with money? Maybe you received an allowance and your family taught you about making savings and spending decisions. Or did you have no allowance and your parents simply provided what they wished you to have? Consider how you interacted with money as you grew up.

Did you consider yourself rich, poor or somewhere in between? Did you feel privileged? Did you feel like your friends, extended family and classmates had way more economic status and comfort? Did that make you feel better or worse than others?

Was money a source of conflict or worry? Was worry a part of your experience growing up? Why? Was their an event that triggered a change—say a death, divorce or job loss—or do you recall money always being a source of conflict or worry?

All these experiences imprinted your brain with your beliefs about money and formatted how you operate today. If you grew up with the notion that it’s vital to show the world that you are successful, chances are you might spend more than you should in order to live that imprint. If you grew up understanding that money is a tool and that gratification can and should be delayed until an appropriate time in the future, chances are you make decisions that support financial security. 

So does this mean you’re stuck with whatever you took away from your past?

Not hardly.

When your money beliefs don’t support you and your values in the adult world, it’s time to construct a new set.

You start by understanding that just because your child-mind absorbed a message doesn’t mean it should be part of your life now.

Let me show you what I mean.

Old belief: I use money to show others that I am successful.

New belief: I use money to create long-term security for my family and me.

Old belief: Money equals worry.

New belief: I need to have a better understanding of my money so that I can find peace of mind.

If your money beliefs have become intensely problematic, you might consider working with a therapist who specializes in Cognitive Behavior Therapy to help you build new habits that support the life you crave.

Just remember: you are not chained to past beliefs that only serve to prolong and support misery. The ability to make changes lies clearly—and strongly—within your power.

(For a complete Money Imprint questionnaire from my upcoming new book “The Feel Rich Project”, Career Press, June 2016)

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