When my husband and I celebrated our first Christmas in our new home, we bought the perfect Christmas tree and set it up in front of the window. There it sat, bare of ornaments for several days. We were each waiting for the other to begin. You see, when I was growing up my Dad always put up the lights and my Mom, brother and I decorated the tree. In my husband’s family his Mom strung the lights and the kids decorated. We had different expectations because we were raised differently.

Similarly, the attitudes each of our parents had about money more than likely shaped those money attitudes we hold ourselves, today. Regardless of whether we grew up in a lower income, frugal household, or a wealthy, free-spending one (or something in between), we learned spending patterns from our parents as well as certain money “messages” such as:

  • Money doesn’t grow on trees.
  • I work hard; I deserve to spend money on myself.
  • I don’t spend much time with the children so I’ll make it up to them with expensive gifts.
  • Always save for a rainy day.
  • You have to put in a good day’s work to get a good day’s pay.

As the years pass, and you gain experience in the world and meet others who have more – or less – money than you and have different family “rules,” you continue to develop different money behaviours that may still be in line with what your parents taught you – or may be the complete opposite.

Meet William and Benjamin

When Will and Ben were growing up, their father worked at lower paying jobs and was often unemployed. Their mother picked up occasional part-time work. Money was often especially tight so it was spent only on the bare necessities. The brothers ate starchy, low cost meals and wore clothing from the thrift store that was usually too small or too large. No “frivolous” spending was allowed.

After graduating from university, Will and Ben each obtained well-paying and secure professional jobs.

Will continued living his parents’ lifestyle. He ate cheaply, wore inexpensive clothing and rented a small, sparsely furnished apartment. He spent very little on entertainment and friendships. What he did have, however, was an enviable portfolio of very conservative investments. His greatest fear, even though it was unlikely, was losing his job.

What money means to William is security, stability, building a nest egg, and having peace of mind.

On the other hand Ben totally rebelled against his parents’ money attitudes. He is free spending and generous with his friends and family and often rewards himself with expensive clothing, merchandise and trips. He is a risk taker with his investments, which sometimes works out for him, but he often faces large losses.

For Benjamin, money represents luxuries, respect, enjoyment of life, being generous with loved ones, and having experiences.

Does how you spend your money align with your values?

Do you say that your family is the most important thing in your life, yet put in twelve-hour days, six or seven days a week at work? I’m sure your children would rather have good memories of their parent instead of a big house and lots of toys.

Are you grinding it out at a boring job you hate because of the great pay?

Do you try to keep up with the Joneses with an expensive house, auto, electronics, etc. even though it’s draining you?

Is money a means to an end – or an end in itself?

Our relationship with money – and how we earn and spend it – says a lot about who we are. Is it relating the real you?

What does money mean to you?

Are you happier when you’re saving or spending?

Can you spend or give money away easily, or are you unwilling to part with a cent?

Do you always want more no matter how much you have? How much is enough?

Do you spend money on others but never on yourself?

Do you value today’s consumption over consumption in the future?

Are you unwilling to take a chance, even to obtain possible rewards? Or do you embrace risk?

Final thoughts

Money is more than simply the coins, paper or plastic used to acquire goods and services. It is linked to unconscious, complex emotions, feelings and behaviours. Each person’s financial behaviour today is based on past observations, experiences and what they were taught.

Dig deep down and discover what money really means to you. Your definition of what money means will affect every decision that you make that has a $ attached to it.

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