Clean Out Your Money Scripts
Many of us this time of year go through our closets, clean out the old clothes and get ready for a refreshed seasonal wardrobe.
When doing this, have you ever come across a piece of clothing that you bought a long time ago and have worn too many times over the years? Maybe it was originally stylish and comfortable, but it’s definitely seen better days. Perhaps, you loved it even though it never fit well. It might be hard to get rid of because it’s been with you so long, but deep down you know it’s not serving you.
That’s sort of what money scripts can be like. Scripts are unconscious beliefs or values about money you pick up from your family, friends and life experiences that drive your attitudes and behaviors. They may not be based on any sound facts or reasoning, but they become beliefs or habits that may or may not work for you.
Inspired by Aspiriant’s Money Tale$ podcast, we invite you to do a little spring cleaning of your money scripts. This entails asking deep questions of yourself and others in your family and challenging the taboo topics around money. By taking time to reflect on your past, you can uncover patterns you may have developed over the years and determine if they’re serving you well. If they’re not, this is a great time to start replacing them with more useful money perspectives.
Unpack your past
On Money Tale$, we always start from the beginning. When our guests talk about their early years and family stories, often the money experiences of their youth influence financial ideas and decisions they’ve made as adults. These foundational messages, passed down from past generations, become pivotal to our future financial decisions — for better or worse.
As you look back to your childhood, you may discover that your parents (or other adults who raised you) were the strongest influence on your beliefs and values around money. There were likely other influences as well, such as extended family, neighbors, teachers, friends, your neighborhood and, of course, omniscient popular culture. These influences may have reinforced the messages your parents relayed … or conflicted with them, leading you to draw your own conclusions. For some, carrying on their early childhood money beliefs without question is a traditional path to follow. In our experience as wealth managers, we’ve seen how remaining on that path risks missing the opportunity for personal and financial growth.
To examine early money scripts you’ve learned, consider these questions:
- Was money discussed openly in your home? What messages did you receive?
- Was there a goal to educate the family about financial matters such as budgeting and investment?
- Were values about money conveyed through expectations, such as receiving an allowance, contributing to your faith community, or getting a job as a teenager?
- Was there joy, stress, anxiety or other strong emotions around money in the household?
This process of looking to the past can be particularly effective when talking with siblings, cousins and other family members you grew up with as they can help fill in the memory gaps and shed light on specific episodes around money in your shared upbringing.
Why does Grandma keep cash in a home safe? Because she remembers her dad running to the bank during the Great Depression and coming home in tears. To this day, she doesn’t trust banks, which she has made clear to everyone over the years.
The conversations may not always be easy, but they will be informative. Recalling your younger self forms the story of how you learned to manage money and your feelings about it — either by accepting what was around you or by rejecting what you observed growing up.
Tell your money tales
We started the Money Tale$ podcast to help bring to life healthy money conversations. We know that by talking about money, we create opportunities to sort through the noise and learn the vocabulary and skills we need to effectively understand, evaluate and financially plan for what’s most important to us.
Every week, we hold conversations with different guests on Money Tale$, always starting at the beginning. We have many great stories to inspire you to craft your own money playbook. For example:
- Paula Pretlow’s story begins as a poor black girl in Oklahoma. She was raised mostly by her mother who pushed the kids to excel in the just desegregated public schools. Paula shares what her relationship with money has been like over the course of her life, including her experience as the breadwinner of the family, and ultimately as a single mom. Following a career in investment management, she currently serves as a director and trustee on several boards.
- Joe Gagnon is an entrepreneur and author of “Living The High Performance Life: An Average Joe’s Guide To The Extraordinary.” He grew up in a working-class family, where every penny counted. Joe talks about being intentional with life’s choices and how that plays into financial decisions that have allowed him to achieve a lifestyle that is very different from his childhood.
- Elizabeth Lesser, a bestselling author and cofounder of Omega Institute, grew up in a household where money is evil — something you weren’t supposed to think about, talk about or show off. This caused a lot of conflict for Elizabeth during her adult years, and she describes how she’s done a lot of work with meditation, yoga and psychotherapy to tune into herself and who she wants to be.
Reorganize your future
To reimagine your future, commit to ongoing conversations with your immediate family and those whom you currently share finances, like Paula, Joe and Elizabeth did. Include children if you have them. Focus on attitudes as well as actions.
Life changes within the family are often reflected in the finances. And too often, families push aside the topic of money until a crisis happens (or still never talk about it). Ideally, the process of unpacking your money scripts should be an ongoing practice, with the door always open for more discussion. Have conversations on a regular basis, at least quarterly or even monthly in the beginning. Everyone in the family should feel welcome to offer topics. To lighten the mood, consider planning a special family meal or a fun activity, like hiking, for the conversations.
Once you’ve assessed and explored the present, brainstorm ideas and create a playbook as to how your family can shift behaviors and attitudes to support individual — and collective — values and goals.
By being proactive and tackling sensitive topics in an open, patient and non-judgmental manner, you and your family can reap the benefits today and feel organized for the future.