Hands up if you secretly find that some of your adult behaviours seem to share an uncanny resemblance to those you have observed in your mum or dad? For many of us, helpful and unhelpful patterns relating to the way we work, eat, love, fight, parent or even cook are passed down from generation to generation. It’s no surprise then that our relationship with money is also heavily influenced by the financial commentary we heard, or even unspoken practices we observed, in the home in which we were raised.
Whether we are painstakingly frugal, spend beyond our means, make frequent unnecessary purchases, hide what we spend, or create super detailed spreadsheets to control and account for every dollar, the way we think about money is largely learned, and can therefore be unlearned.
The key to changing our thoughts and behaviours is to firstly identify what our current beliefs and actions are around money.
Do you consider yourself a spender or a saver? What do you believe is worth going into debt for? Is it important to invest in shares or property? How do you feel about renting versus owning? How much money is needed in case of an emergency? Should you or your partner primarily manage the purse strings? Do you adhere to a budget? Do you exhaust all earnings pay-cheque to pay-cheque? Do you know where your money is spent? Do you hide purchases?
The next step to unlearn unhelpful financial patterns it to honestly assess how these beliefs and practices impede the way we live. If they affect our sleep, create ongoing stress, shame, guilt or discomfort, lead us to keep secrets from loved ones, or prevent us moving towards our goals, it’s time to devise new money habits. In simple terms, the way to reduce any problem behaviour is to consciously and actively stop engaging in it. Although this is often easier said than done, in the financial domain, this may mean getting rid of credit cards, depositing earnings into a savings account you cannot easily access, or being fully transparent with a trusted loved one about how you will change your spending patterns. When we make our intentions clear, measurable and public, it becomes more difficult to continue to practice past behaviours that hold us back.
As is the case with any behavioural change, making the conscious and deliberate choice to do things differently is paramount. Although often well-intentioned, it’s rare for us humans to make long-lasting change to please someone else. Ultimately we need to own our decisions and be accountable for the associated changes.
Accept there may be blow-outs, splurges, and hiccups along that way, but that’s no reason to revert back to the unhelpful patterns you once practiced.
Most parents did the best they knew how with hopeful and well-meaning intentions, but as an adult, possibly with a family of your own, it is now your responsibility to drive your financial choices and outcomes. While this can create short-term struggle, and even vulnerability, the long-term benefits will usually outweigh the temporary pain. But don’t be fooled, even with a renewed and healthier relationship with money in place, money remains a loaded issue for many of us. In years to come, no matter what financial template you pass down to your kids, chances are they too will need to do their own emotional and financial audits to work out which patterns work best for them. And that’s OK too.