Money Stories - Introduction
My father called me a few weeks ago, rather perturbed. He had just received results from an Ancestry DNA kit. While the expected percentages of Irish ancestry appeared, he was shocked that his German and Dutch heritage barely made a blip in the report. He was baffled and frustrated. He kept saying, “but my grandmother was a Wagner from Alsace-Lorraine!” Seventy-one years of certainty eliminated by a mere saliva test.
My father’s experience is not uncommon. Americans have been flocking to the 23 and me and Ancestry tools to discover their backgrounds. These ancestry DNA test results can undermine our sense of self, as so many people consider their ancestry a blueprint of who they are and how they operate in this world.
Imagine if we could get a financial blueprint to help us understand how we interact with money. How did we learn about money? What was our earliest experience? What drives our behavior? These money stories are financial blueprints. All of us have money relationships that have been with us since we were very young. There are endless tips online on how to improve our financial lives, but knowing our money stories can help us understand how we got to our current financial situation. Our early experience with money, whatever the situation, likely made an impression that has stayed with us. Thus in order to navigate the complexity of our financial life, we need to uncover our money story.
I manage financial considerations for most of my family members and my younger brother’s story is especially interesting as it happened later than usual.
“I was 21 years old and working for the summer at a top-rated, beach resort restaurant in my hometown – a great place to make money for college. I was working in the kitchen as a chef on the line. My girlfriend at the time had some large items she wanted for college and I borrowed a van from the restaurant’s bookkeeper to make the trip. Unfortunately, we got into a serious accident and the van was totaled (though fortunately we both survived). I had to come up with $6,000 to make the bookkeeper whole – basically all the money I made that summer. I had to take out another student loan to cover my college costs during the school year.
It was a stressful situation from which I don’t think I ever really recovered. To this day, and no matter how well I’m doing, I feel close to losing it all.”
My brother used his money story to his advantage. Five years later, he graduated from law school and came to me with his projected salary. He sat down and made a very exact, lean budget, which he committed to maintaining. He sacrificed living in a nicer area in order to pay down debt and save. At 32, he bought a city condo and now has a substantial portfolio. For him, the anxiety of that moment formed his blueprint. He didn’t ever want to be in such a stressful financial situation again.
My brother’s money story is just one of many. But it raises the questions we all need to ask ourselves as we navigate our finances:
· What is my money story?
· Was it a positive story? Or a negative story?
· How does the story impact me today?
Over the next blog posts we will examine different money stories and the psychology behind them.