What Taking A Stroll Down Money Memory Lane Can Teach You
Childhood events shape how we relate to money as adults, and I always ask my financial therapy and money coaching clients about their first memory of money
These seemingly innocent experiences are a virtual goldmine of information, often creating a template for future beliefs, feelings, and behaviors regarding money. The memories I hear range in texture from traumatic to more benign. I'll share a few examples from my work with clients [all names have been changed to protect privacy] to illustrate the link between childhood experiences and present day behaviors with money.
One of my money coaching clients, Andrea, recently shared an early memory involving the painful way she received allowance from her father, who was quite rigid and parsimonious. On Saturday mornings he'd come home from a visit to the bank and give Andrea her the allowance. It's how he did it that is so meaningful. He would take each crisp, new dollar bill-crumple it a bit to ensure that none where sticking together-and hand each one individually over to her. She would be flooded with shame as she stood there, watching and waiting for her weekly allowance to be literally doled out to her.
When Andrea first came to work with me, she had a very hard time asking for and receiving money. As Andrea shared and released all the underlying feelings regarding these "pay days," and came to understand the messages she was holding onto about receiving money-messages that where not serving her-she was able to cleanse this toxic shame from her relationship with money and actually asked for and received a significant raise at her job.
Another coaching client, Brenda, experienced a very different type of interaction with money and her father. When Brenda was very young, her father worked as a janitor at a nightclub. He would arrive home early in the morning and give her the loose change and other trinkets he found on the floor of the club, remnants of the evening's revelry. They would spend cherished time together counting the money. Brenda remembers vividly the feel of the coins and the smell of the paper currency, and when they completed counting all of it the money would be dropped into a coffee can. These are fond memories for Brenda and to this day she keeps her loose change in a coffee can and has a strong preference for using cash versus credit cards or checks.
Contrast this with my client, Linda, who actually hates to carry cash on her. One of her earliest memories is of being sent to the grocery store down the block with a few dollar bills to buy some milk. She arrived at the store to discover that some of the money had dropped out of her hand along the way. She was in a complete panic, didn't have enough money to purchase the milk, and was yelled at for being "irresponsible" by her mom upon her return home.
So to this day, Linda struggles with trusting herself to carry cash in her wallet and has a preference for credit/debit card purchases. In our money coaching work, she is focusing on this trust issue with her finances, now realizing how this belief system also dictates her very conservative investment style. Not trusting herself is costing her the more abundant returns on her portfolio she could benefit from were she able to embrace a more diversified mix of financial products.
It's not unusual for childhood money experiences to include an element of loss, especially when you consider the absent-mindedness characteristic of childhood. Some other common feelings and themes that emerge include deprivation, envy, stealing, feeling independent or dependent, worry, ignorance, guilt, feeling controlled or manipulated, or injustice.
Viewed from the other side, one of my clients shared with me a story about telling her young son, exhausted by his relentless requests for an ice cream cone, that she didn't have any money to buy one. Her son, not deterred by this response, countered with "Just go to the wall and get some more." It took my client a moment to realize that he was referring to witnessing her withdrawing cash from the ATM! So here-out of the mouth of babes-is another example of how belief systems about money are formed from an early age.
Financially Smitten Call to Action for YOU today:
No surprises here…grab your money journal or a pad and pen and start reminiscing. Let your mind wander and see what arises when you think about money during your childhood, trying not to censor any thoughts that enter your mind. You may find that one particular memory feels the most significant. Use this one to mine for your insight gold. Try to recall the specifics of the situation.
Here are some questions to guide you on the journey:
- What was happening?
- How old were you?
- Are you alone or are there others there with you?
- Where were you?
- How did you feel?
- Is there a specific message about money you can distill from this memory… either one that you specifically heard or somehow interpreted?
Once you have explored this, now reflect on your current relationship with money and look for parallels, be they behaviors, beliefs, or feelings. Ask yourself if there is anything about this money memory that is keeping you "stuck in time" when it comes to managing your finances today. Is there any healing that needs to occur for you to leave this in the past so you can create the relationship with money that truly serves you today?
About the Author
As founder of Financially Smitten, Lora Sasiela, MSW, employs a proven blend of financial therapy, money coaching and personal experience to inspire women to approach their personal finances with consciousness, clarity, and confidence. Her dynamic coaching style, celebrated workshops, and information products, are inspiring a new generation of financial powerhouses who are kicking their fear, guilt and shame about money straight to the curb. Her work has been featured in national magazines such as Marie Claire and Glamour.