From the historical perspective of the creation and meaning given to money, to the current value placed on it by complex forces of governmental agencies and economic policies, all of us carry conflicting beliefs about wealth, money, and prosperity. If all this was not enough, most people have family histories, as well, that are to some degree dysfunctional about money.
As I discussed earlier this week, do you remember what you were first told about money? Do you remember family members telling of painful experiences due to the Great Depression or the challenges of being new immigrants?
Was your family wealthy? Middle class? Or did the wolves prowl on your doorstep? Was there a difference between what your family believed and said about their economic status and what was really true? For instance, many people may have grown up under the shadow of the Depression, so parsimony and fearful frugality were the rule in their families, despite the fact that all was actually quite comfortable by most peoples’ standards. If not understood and healed, experiences with poverty can sometimes contaminate all future serenity about how much is “enough.”
Conversely, other people grow up with families who refuse to live within their means, perhaps feeling that they need to maintain a certain lifestyle that they are not, in fact, able to support.
And while we’re considering the early lessons you got about money, what did your parents teach you about work? Were you expected to make a living in the family business? The family business, in this day and age, can mean much more than a quaint retail shop. It can be the assumption that, say, like your father, you will go to an Ivy-league law school, or you’ll become a doctor, since everybody in your family has “always” been in medicine.
Studies have shown that in most military families, there is enormous pressure for the children, especially the boys, to enlist when they are grown. And in some families, it may have been taught that girls were never expected to work outside the home, since “nice girls” don’t do that.
Other attitudes about money may have been even more personal. I remember my grandmother confiding in me that a woman “always needs a little money of her own.” Naturally, today I would agree for many reasons. But I also know that her advice (which actually defied conventional wisdom and was rather rebellious in her day) was based on her own experience that women sometimes need money for an emergency escape from an abusive relationship (as she had, sadly, experienced as a young woman).
Consider, then, what she might have felt about that money she kept in her personal (possibly secret) bank account. Do you suppose that money felt fun or happy to her? I doubt it. Instead of representing security, I would think instead it was a constant reminder that she could find herself in precarious circumstances that might require running for her life.
Even years later, long after that marriage ended, every time she checked her balance book, or added to it, or took a little out, it was an encounter with survival fears, and haunting memories of a tragic relationship. For while she shared with me this hard-learned lesson, the fact was that the man who had sadly taught it to her had been dead for many years before I was even born.
This weekend, I hope you’ll spend a little time examining your own thoughts about the money you save, that you work for, that you spend. How has your family history affected your attitudes about money and spending habits? Your feelings about having it (or not having it)? Where do you believe prosperity comes from? What do you really believe about rewards for work and earning?