You and Money – What Does It Mean?

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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  1. Beth on April 12, 2016 at 6:17 pm

    What I love about this post is that it shows that even children raised in the same house can have entirely different approaches to money. So much depends on personality and other influences. One of my siblings could be Benjamin, the other Will! Oh the friction and judgment that ensues…

    • boomer on April 13, 2016 at 5:43 pm

      @Beth. Even the same person can switch behaviors. I grew up in a lower income household. My clothes were bought a couple of sizes too big so I could “grow into them” and I still wore them when they were too small. Eating low cost starch, fatty food turned me into a chunky kid who was not too attractive in a dress a couple of sizes too tight. When I earned my own money I turned into a “Ben” buying whatever I chose – especially clothes. Ironically, when I married a spender, I turned into a “Will” and I’m much more conservative about spending now.

  2. Paul N on April 13, 2016 at 3:01 pm

    Not that this really ever seems to work, I like to use the oxygen masks on airplanes analogy. When the mask drops you need to save yourself first before you put one on your three kids. If you don’t you all perish.

    In this strange new world I see a lot of parents forgoing their own futures because they “save” their kids over + over. I really hope for their sake, that it gets reciprocated down the road when they get older, lose their jobs or have a reduced salary, and have to live on less than a $1000.00 a month pension (and still have a mortgage).

    I feel you have to strike up a balance in life and plan and live for today, plus the short term future, and the longer term. You need to deal with all three possibilities. Plus be flexible. I might not buy that new corvette but that used G37 that is 15% of the cost of the vette, could be a decent compromise. Just be smarter about planning and your life’s purchases.

  3. Shandel on April 13, 2016 at 3:16 pm

    Great post! So true.

  4. NZ Muse on April 13, 2016 at 3:16 pm

    I identify a lot with William. Security and peace of mind are paramount for me.

    (My blog post from today is actually about this!

  5. KC on April 15, 2016 at 8:27 am

    I’d have to say that as an only child, I exhibited both behaviors.

    Growing up in a household with really no part-time jobs or only 2-week summer jobs made me feel restrained from time to time when it came to wanting certain items but was unable to get.

    When I started working, I had all this money coming in that made my feel rich and happy that I wasn’t relying on family anymore for money and did spend quite a bit as long as my rent was paid. When I got laid off and only had half the money coming in combined with parents unable to help pay for my bills due to emergencies of their own right at the same time (Murphy’s Law, eh?), it was a bit of a wake-up call especially when I realized that I was now on my own and had to go into debt just to have a roof over my head and had to go to the run-down grocery store for cheap food.

    Now, I’m pretty frugal because I’m seeing the future more clearly such as no pension plan with a disability and don’t like seeing my money being parted for fear of not having a buffer on hand but do allow a splurge every now and then.

    I think we all go through both phases similar to the siblings in different stages of life.

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