Money is necessary in our lives. It provides the roof over our head and the food we eat. Beyond those basic needs, however, our individual money experiences can differ dramatically. Some of us have more money at our command while others have little money to command.
The bigger difference, however, is how we relate to money. It’s not a subject we often consider. When you think about money, what are your feelings? Does money give you a sense of power? Does it make you nervous? Do you prefer to avoid the subject of money altogether? Our emotions, even our sense of self-worth, have links to money. Whether aware of it or not, we each have a relationship with money.
While money is necessary, it doesn’t buy life satisfaction. Money is a tool. Money buys us the bed on which we rest, the food we need for our sustenance, a car for our transportation and clothing for warmth and modesty. You choose your bed whether deluxe or practical. You choose your food whether for pleasure or nourishment. The car you drive may represent status, speed or economy. Your clothing may be fancy or plain. While money acquires the goods, our personal emotions may play a role in our choice.
For some, life enjoyment and money are inextricably linked. For their entire lives, their emotions, personality, and sense of self-worth can drive their financial well-being.
Where does this come from? As children, we were more or less aware of money depending on our family’s openness on the subject. In some homes, only the adults are included in the financial dialog. In other homes, children are told of the family financial condition – sometimes in detail, sometimes in approximation.
Starting in their earliest years, children mimic family customs, often accepting them as their own. However, children do not adopt one family trait at a time. Instead, they receive a complex bundle of messages, absorbing everything they see and hear. Each child interprets the many incoming messages in their own unique way.
In an economically challenged family where the parents have a generous personal style, the child may adopt a generous or a tightfisted relationship with money. In a wealthier but demanding and disciplined family, a child may adopt an extravagant or a controlling relationship with money. We cannot forecast how childhood experience will alter adult behavior.
Furthermore, money messages can come from television shows, advertising, computer games, friends and acquaintances. Our personality shapes the messages we receive in ways that become the foundation of our relationship with money.
Money management is not taught in the U.S. Much of our ‘money sense’ comes from observation as a child – how our parents managed their money, how money was used by our families and our friends’ families. Our unique personality frequently colored what we saw, making us more or less likely to follow behaviors.
Some of us become ‘star-struck’ about money, basing economic decisions on what other people own. Some of us become controlling about our money, using it to gain favor while others may use it as symbols of status.
How can we make sure our sub-conscious isn’t driving our money choices? Awareness and self-monitoring are the best tools for protecting your financial decisions. Keep a log of your answers to these questions.
- Make note of the financial decisions you’ve made that represent you at your best. What makes them your best? How do you continue the behavior?
- Make note of the financial decisions that were mistakes. Look also at what led to a purchase with only short-term satisfaction. What drove the choice? Was an inner need involved?
- What are your personal buying habits? Are you impulsive? If so, why? Are you slow and cautious? If so, why? Do you have a hard time making a purchase? If so, why?
- Do my financial decisions reflect the life I want?
- Do my financial decisions change my future? How?
Your answers will help you make better decisions in the future. Then, every month, review your financial decisions. Your goal is to be the master of your economic destiny. That may mean you’ll need to best a few long-held but unconscious behaviors.