How We Learn About Money

When were you taught about money? Probably you weren’t. Many of our financial habits emerge from the messages we absorbed growing up. We observe how family members behave around money and believe this is ‘normal’.  As you’ll know from other experiences, these early ‘lessons’ are incredibly powerful and hard to unlearn. Childhood events are greatly magnified and dominate our thinking, often unconsciously.

If, for instance, you grew up in a household where the breadwinner held all the power, there’s a good chance this still affects your beliefs – either you strive to earn more money than your partner or feel relegated to a lower status. Through working with clients, I’ve seen repeatedly that intellectually we understand that money shouldn’t equal power (especially in a relationship), but emotionally we return to such ideas when we’re stressed or anxious. As few of us are willing to talk openly about money, these unhelpful self-limiting beliefs remain unchallenged.

Some people, especially women, believe that they don’t deserve to have money. Perhaps they grew up with a mother who struggled to make ends meet and there was never any spare cash to save. When those children become adults themselves, they have no idea what to do with extra money. It’s much easier to get rid of it by spending. This restores them to a familiar situation in which they feel more comfortable – one of having no money.

Of course, we can emulate positive habits from our parents, too. As a child, I learned the importance of saving and long-term planning. This has benefitted me enormously, as financial stability provides us with choices and eliminates many distracting worries. Less helpfully, I also learned that spending money on myself was unwarranted extravagance. Although squirrelling away some of your income is an excellent habit, it’s important to also enjoy life and pursue fulfilment. Financial wellbeing means experiencing a healthy relationship with money. Hoarding is no healthier than compulsive spending.

Here are some questions to ask yourself

  • What are your key money memories and how do they influence you now?
  • What did your parent(s) tell you about money? Has this led to any self-limiting beliefs?
  • What do you tell yourself about your relationship with money now? How would it feel to let go of those messages?

Once you’re aware of those influential messages, you can start challenging them. You might be familiar with this principle of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT): our thoughts cause feelings that trigger actions. If you think you shouldn’t have money, you might feel ashamed, and then act by getting rid of it. Equally, the thought that money is scarce could make you feel anxious. The potential result is stashing away every spare penny and avoiding opportunities.

We like to think of ourselves as independent grownups, but our tiny selves are lurking within and influencing our thoughts, feelings, and actions. It’s impossible to have an unemotional relationship with money. However, if we understand those emotions better, we can use them to our advantage and achieve lasting positive change.

Image © Ranta Images –

Catherine Pope

I'm a financial coach who loves Victorian novels, technology, and big books about pensions.

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