Understanding the how & why’s of your money story can help you overwrite it and cultivate your own truth.
I love a good story! I love being engulfed in the plot, the suspense, the joy, and even the heartache that characters feel. Sometimes though, those feelings get pretty intense. They get dark, the get personal, like really personal.
No matter what anyone says, your money story is personal! It’s one of the most personal things about you. I have always said that your relationship with money is a core relationship because it’s one of the few things that are with you for your entire life (the others being your relationship with food and the relationship with yourself).
See, other things and people come and go from your life. But those three things remain constant, and you interact with those narratives daily. So it stands to reason that you better have a good relationship with those three themes.
Let’s dive into your relationship with your money story. Let’s see if it’s serving you or holding you back, and if it is hindering you, let’s go through how you can change your money story. Make it one of your choosing, one that will help you reach your financial goals and live a life of abundance!
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What is a money story?
Your money story is your personal narrative about money. It makes up your beliefs, opinions, and feelings about money. It affects your financial decisions (even when you don’t see something being based on finances).
Your money story usually is long seated, started, and developed as a child. It is influenced by your culture and traditions and typically “lives” in your subconscious mind.
Thrive Global states, “The subconscious mind is the powerful secondary system that runs everything in your life… The subconscious mind is a data bank for everything, which is not in your conscious mind. It stores your beliefs, your previous experience, your memories, data banks. Everything that you have seen done or thought is also there.”
Why is knowing your money story important?
Doing this work is hard, but it will help you understand why you feel the way you do. Hopefully, it will connect the dots. Then you can uncover whether you do indeed feel this way or if you were only taught to feel this way and just blindly followed it.
For example, I have a friend that whenever she gets cash, she immediately spends it. That same day it’s gone, no matter what. She laughs a bit about it, but me being a nerd, I asked her about it (we’re close friends, and we talk about everything together, she was very comfortable). After a bit of back & forth, it seems that when she was a child and got money from her parents for something (i.e., chores, a birthday present, etc.), it was common that her mom would “borrow” it, and that money would be gone. So saving it wasn’t a possibility. Either she spent it fast, or it was gone.
Now, of course, she knows logically that she is in complete control of her money now as an adult. But that logic has a hard time transcending how she feels about her money, and she still struggles to save money even though she makes a good income.
Now that she’s uncovered this, she can process it for what it is, not just that she has terrible impulse control with shopping. Or that she “sucks at saving money.” Once you know the truth and the reason behind things, you can see them for what they are, and if you wish, you can change them.
Now, not all money stories are bad. Your childhood could have instilled in you a deep joy about money, a sense that your hard work will be rewarded.
The start of your money story
Your money story starts in childhood, as most of your other long-held belief systems. The only way to uncover it is to think and process your memories, the personal stuff again.
Jean Chatzky is a personal finance columnist and financial editor of many prominent news pieces, like The Today Show, AARP, and founder of her own digital empire HerMoney, all while being a NY Times bestselling author. So a big deal. Here she breaks how your money story develops.
In her book, Women With Money, she stresses that these core memories aren’t the things that our parents tried to teach us above money, but the little nuances that we observed, things running in the background of our everyday lives. What we witnessed became our truth.
Chatzky helps us vocalize these memories by having us answer these questions (from Chapter 2 in Women with Money)…
- What was the feeling about money like in the home where you grew up?
- What was the feeling like about spending money?
- What was the feeling like about saving money?
- What was the feeling like about giving money away?
- What’s your earliest money memory?
- What messages did your mother pass down to you about money? (Note: messages are different than lessons like how to balance a checkbook.)
- What messages did your father pass down to you about money?
- Do you remember hearing your parents talk about (or fight about) money?
- Growing up, did you have more than/less than/about the same as your peers?
Yes, these questions are complex, uncomfortable, and we’ve probably never thought about these things before. If those questions were a bit vague, I’ve taken them and niched a few of them down…
- Did your parents fight every month after the credit card bill arrived?
- Did payday mean that you got a great dinner that night?
- Was the Christmas season sad and disappointing?
- Did your parents buy you anything you wanted?
- Did you get an allowance, or did you have to earn it by doing chores?
- Did your older sibling take money from your mom’s purse without her knowing?
- Did you have to sell things in your house to avoid something terrible happening?
- Was money talked about at all, or was it a taboo topic?
- Did your parents talk about how much things cost or how much money they earned?
- Did a parent shop and then hide their purchases?
- Did you feel that you had “as much” as your friends in school?
- When you bought something as a child, what was your parent’s reaction to your purchase?
After answering the above questions, evaluate your answers based on the following questions…
- How is this affecting me today?
- How is this helping me?
- How is this hurting me?
What impacts your money story?
Your money story isn’t only impacted by your parents & your cultural norms.
People’s feelings about money, along with scarcity & abundance, usually fall into four primary attitude buckets. These scripts were developed in a 2011 research study by Brad Klontz and his research team. The four belief systems are…
- Money avoidance – People believe that they do not deserve money. They may believe that wealthy people are greedy or corrupt. They often think that there is virtue in living with less money. Money avoidance can be associated with trying not to think about money. These kinds of thinkers may ignore financial statements. Money avoiders may sabotage their financial success.
- Money worship – People feel that money is the key to all happiness, that it can solve any problem. “This mindset leads people to believe that money is the end goal. In the quest for accumulating wealth as rapidly as possible, people are left with an empty void since there will never be “enough” money to meet their ever-changing wants. Money worship takes retail therapy to heart by seeking to buy new things to bring a sense of happiness, purpose, and meaning. The problem is money can’t buy happiness, and this habit ends up leaving people miserable and in debt.” (source)
- Money status – Closely linked to money worship, money status confuses net worth and self-worth. A perfect example is the “Keeping Up with the Joneses” mentality. People overspend to maintain a lifestyle they can’t afford to impress others.
- Money vigilance – This script involves people approaching their financial lives with swift practicality, logic, and thoughtfulness. Money vigilance tends to mean people view money as a byproduct of hard work, discipline, and frugality. This script is considered the most financially stable and healthy of the four. Yet, money vigilance can sometimes lead to fear over one’s financial future, leading to anxiety and a lack of balance between spending and saving. (source)
Your internal narrative also impacts your overarching money story., specifically your money mindset. Now many think that your money story and your money mindset are interchangeable terms, but there is a distinction as your mindset is only a part of your money story.
A person’s money mindset is a set of beliefs and your attitude about money, but it’s focused around a sliding scale, so to speak. At one end is the scarcity mindset, and at the other end is the abundance mindset, and we all fall somewhere in the middle.
With scarcity, you feel there are limited resources, and if someone else gets part of it, then you get less, like pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. Yet with an abundance mindset, it’s like a buffet, there’s always more. More will come your way; be it now or later, it will come.
Obviously, we all would like to have a mindset of abundance, but that’s easier said than done; more on this later.
Another piece of your money story is any limiting beliefs you carry about money and your interactions with it. These are commonly called money blocks.
Limiting beliefs are thoughts, opinions that one believes to be the absolute truth. They tend to have a negative impact on one’s life by stopping them from moving forward and growing on a personal and professional level (source).
Some common money blocks are…
- I’m bad with money
- There’s never enough money for everything
- You have to work hard for money
- Money can’t buy happiness
- I don’t make enough for it to matter
- I should only spend money on my family, not on myself
- I don’t deserve to have more money
- Only money will make me important
- It’s too hard to save money
- As soon as I get it, it’s gone again
- Only bad people want more money
- People only hang out with me for my money
- Everyone thinks I’m an idiot because of my debt
Getting past your money blocks takes time and careful thought. To do this, it helps to put your logic hat on. Ask yourself, is this 100% true? Most of the time, the answer is no. Another tactic is to find contradicting evidence to the limiting belief.
This will seem clunky and awkward at first, but as with anything, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Pick your money block apart, piece by piece, exposing it for a lie, acknowledge the lie, and forgiving yourself for believing it in the past. When this thought comes up again, slam it down fast for the lie, and reframe it. For example –
Money block – “I’m not good with money.”
New truth – “I need to learn more about how to budget my money. To get rid of my debt and save for the future. It will take time, and it may be confusing, but I will keep at it, and every week it will get a little bit easier.”
Women’s money stories
No shock, I am a female. So my views come with that natural bias. If you are a woman or identify as female, you may have a natural bias towards how you feel about money. Whether or not we like it, it’s there, and it was placed there by our society and culture, specific to being a female.
Women’s history with wealth
Let’s go over some US History regarding women & money – and trust me, it’s fascinating! Some of the more poignant dates that The Guardian reports that…
- Mississippi, 1839: The state allows women to own property in their own names. It is the first state to do so.
- US, 1848: Married Woman’s Property Act is passed in New York. It is later used as a model for other states. For the first time, a woman wasn’t automatically liable for her husband’s debts; she could enter contracts independently; she could collect rents or receive an inheritance in her own right. She became, for economic purposes, an individual as if she were still single.
- US, 1963: The US passes the first legislation requiring equal pay for equal work, but it would need to be expanded in 1972 to salespeople, executives, administrators, etc. (This area still needs work!)
- 1974: Equal Credit Opportunity Act passes in the US. Until then, banks required single, widowed, or divorced women to bring a man along to cosign any credit application, regardless of their income.
- US, 1981: The last vestiges of a husband being able to keep a wife in the dark (at least legally) vanish, thanks to Kirchberg v Feenstra. A husband is told he doesn’t have the right to unilaterally take out a second mortgage on property held jointly with his wife.
Some of these dates are so shockingly recent, and I can’t even begin. Words fail me… momentarily.
So what is the overarching theme of those dates? Well, it was that women either weren’t capable or weren’t to be trusted to handle wealth on our own. Even though we loudly call BS on that, there are parts that we unknowingly perpetuate today.
Women’s current money culture
I love reading, I’m a proud nerd! I was reading Jamie Kern Lima’s book Believe It. You know who she is, right? The founder of IT Cosmetics, who in 2016 sold her company to L’Oréal for an astounding $1.2 Billion, and she became the first female CEO on one of L’Oréal’s brand in their 108 yr history! She is a BFD. Her book is fantastic, focusing on how to believe in yourself no matter what.
She devoted the entirety of Chapter 15 to the topic of women “shining our light” and how we tell our “stories” to each other (sometimes unknowingly). She mentions money specifically, so I am going to focus in on that.
To get the essential parts to you as succinctly as possible, I did quite a bit of trimming and reshuffling of her text. To make it flow & fit for use in this post, but all the words and intent are her own.
“I was taught to feel uncomfortable talking about my actual success without feeling boastful. And I was definitely taught that you never discuss financial success and that anything to do with wealth should be kept as private and discreet as medical records. I was raised to think that people who broadcast their own success are arrogant, insecure, and pretty much total jerks.”
The Chapter continues to a few years ago when she was approached by a writer doing a story for Forbes on their America’s Richest Self Made Woman list.
She continues, “Why was I so torn between feeling proud to on the list on one hand (was that my ego?) and so embarrassed, mortified, and basically ashamed that I might come across as arrogant or showy on the other? We’re taught to be modest, to minimize big wins and small wins. We learn to hide our habits and abilities.”
Yet, as women, “We bond over gaining weight, falling off diets… We learn quickly that when we share complaints over how we can’t button our jeans, then other women relate and connect with us right away. We bond over our perceived problems and weaknesses, not over our victories.”
“For the sake of ourselves, our sisters, our mothers, our aunties, our stepmothers, our grandmothers, and our daughters, we need to change this. We need to celebrate her victory as if it’s our own. Remember the idea of scarcity – that if she gets a seat in the boardroom, that means I didn’t get it? We think that if she wins, it somehow means that I don’t? The opposite is actually true.”
“I had a HUGE epiphany! A legit WHAT have I been doing moment.”
The truth is that “The more she succeeds, the more space and opportunity there is for me to succeed. The more we celebrate our own victories and her victory, the more examples are out there for other girls and women to see!”
“I realized that there is huge power in other girls something seeing me, a self-made woman who started with virtually no money, on the Forbes RICHEST Self Made Woman list! Because when we see that something is possible, it’s so much easier to imagine it for ourselves. To create a true cultural shift, girls and women need to see self-made women who have achieved great business and financial success.”
With our money story and our money mindset, “If you think about it, people-pleasing, which on its face is polite and likable, can be seen as a culturally taught form of keeping you small. How can you rise to the top if you’re constantly pulling yourself down?”
“God made you with a light inside of you destined to shine.”
So the next time someone says, “Your vacation pictures looked amazing! Can I ask, how much was to go? How were you able to save up for it?”
Don’t shy away from shining your light! Be positive, encouraging, and with the heart of a teacher, and tell her…
“It was hard, but we stopped dining out for four months, and we sold a bunch of items laying around the house that we didn’t need anymore! It was totally worth it to go on that trip!”
You’ve always had the power, my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.Glinda the Good Witch – The Wizard of Oz
How to change your money story
Overall, take heart, if you don’t like your money story, you can change it! Know that change takes time, and it’s not a linear curve. Sometimes you take two steps forward and then one back. Or once you overcome one money block, a different one will rise to the surface. This is normal; it should be expected, but keep at it!
Steps to changing your money story
- Commit to learn – if you change nothing, then nothing will change. The best place to start is to keep learning about the topic. Read books, listen to podcasts, join Facebook groups. Don’t put pressure on yourself to act. Just observe.
- Understand your starting point – if you don’t know where you’re starting from you’ll never get to where you want to go. Now that you’ve observed and are familiar with the terms, situations & issues, you can start to label your starting point. Identify your specific money mindset, your money scripts, and any money blocks you may have. (Usually, labeling yourself or your traits isn’t a good idea, as it’s limiting, but in this case, it’s necessary).
- Look at your options – when you’re in the middle of all the books and have listened to lots of different people, you will see trends and themes in your story. Start compiling info on possible action plans that you could take. For example, if having debt is an issue you’d like to deal with, then there’s the debt snowball method, the debt avalanche method, consolidation, bankruptcy, etc. You may also want to dig into how you got there in the first place and seek counseling.
- Make a plan & take action – this includes the steps to change what needs to be changed (SMART Financial Goals i.e., pay off credit cards), and the other “work”, such as…
- Practice the Law of Attraction – this is that you will attract into your life whatever you focus on. So if you think doom & gloom is ahead, guess what, it will be, because that’s what you will see.
- Use positive money affirmations – to help shift your money blocks. These are incredibly helpful to get your mind trending in the direction that you want it to go. Not sure about the specifics? Check out 250+ money affirmations to catapult your wealth! If the above list of money affirmations doesn’t have something that’s really “you”, then make your own by taking your money block and write the opposite (as in the exercise above).
- Celebrate your successes – this can be a challenging step, but it’s a necessary one. After all, what are you doing all this work for if you don’t recognize it!
- Know when to tweak – yup, there will be things that don’t work, and that’s okay. Be proud that you tried something, analyze what went “wrong,” and try a different approach, tactic, or method. The important thing is to keep trying! Remember, every new attitude shift, every new action taken is a vote for the type of person you want to be! Keep voting for yourself, and don’t stop!
At the end of the day
Even though our money story was created for us, be it helpful or limiting, and society may not be on the side of growth. We still have the choice! The best choice may not be the easy choice; it rarely is. Yet, with any other worthwhile goal, it will take consistent and deliberate work.
Changing is hard, but so is being miserable and broke. As they say, choose your hard.