The Way You Feel About Money Matters

What is your first memory of money? Think about it for a minute. Let the sensation of that time in your life wash over you. How is that memory making you feel? Is there anxiety in the pit of your stomach or is it a tender moment that brought a smile to your lips? 

For me, it was the summer of 1996. At the tender age of seven, my parents were already trying to instill both the importance of money and creative problem solving. Instead of handing over an allowance, my parents encouraged me to figure out how to earn the money necessary to purchase the toys I wanted. And in the summer of 1996, I really wanted a Super Soaker. So, I devised a strategy. My mom was hosting a yard sale and I figured that I could hawk Krispy Kreme donuts to all the neon-jog-suit-wearing shoppers who came to riffle through my family’s old wares. I pitched my entrepreneurial idea to my dad, who agreed to stake me in the business by purchasing the donuts. 

Smash cut to a few hours later and I’d sold out of the glazed bites of heaven and I was counting up my quarters. My dad sauntered over and asked how much money I’d made. “Thirty dollars,” I proudly stated while thinking maybe I could even buy two Super Soakers. “Well, it cost me eight dollars to buy the donuts you sold and you had your sister work for you, so you should pay her six dollars. That means your net profit, is sixteen dollars,” he told me, while taking the money off the table. 

Like most seven year olds who just had $14 taken out of their hands, I felt very, very wronged. But this first money memory sits ingrained in my psyche and sent the message that there was more to both work and finances than just the simple transaction of selling a product. 

Money is more emotion than math

It’s not always pleasant to mentally journey back through your financial history, but it also can hold the keys to your current money anxieties and misunderstandings.

Money is often positioned as a mathematical, rational thing—but it’s not. Money is emotional. The way you interact with money today is largely a byproduct of the blueprint you were given in your childhood. This isn’t to blame anyone’s parents. Parents do the best they can with the information they had at the time. But also, your family dynamics certainly laid the groundwork for your psychological relationship with money. Did your parents have open conversations with you about finances or were you chastised for asking how much they made? Did money cause fights between your parents or, later on, between you and your parents? Did you feel uncomfortable about your family’s financial situation around your peers? 

Growing up in a financially chaotic household could mean that you, as an adult, make financial choices that invite that same sort of chaos into your life. You could have moments of saving up and getting on the right track, but a simple act of self-sabotage like overspending and draining your cash reserves puts you right back into that chaos that feels familiar and, dare I say, comfortable. 

It’s not always pleasant to mentally journey back through your financial history, but it also can hold the keys to your current money anxieties and misunderstandings. Taking inventory of how your family’s financial blueprint impacts your current behavior can help you start to put systems into place to protect yourself from your instincts. 

Tactics for handling your money triggers

If overspending is an issue for you, then take some time to track not just how much you spend and what you purchased, but how you were feeling at the time. It’s not a quick solve, but seeing patterns in when you turn to shopping or spending for comfort can help lay the foundation for making change.

Seeing patterns in when you turn to shopping or spending for comfort can help lay the foundation for making change.

Tempted to keep raiding your savings each month for those YOLO FOMO events and purchases today? Try moving your savings account to a completely separate bank than your checking account. This out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach helps remove the temptation, plus it usually takes one or two business days for the money to move. Also, your savings account should be earning at least 2.00% APY!

Anxious about running out of money? Start by setting a goal for your emergency fund that’s a high enough number to appease some of your fear. Then, focus not only on how to spend less, but ways to earn more. So much of personal finance advice is about cutting down every little luxury from your life, but your energies would be better spent on learning how to negotiate and brainstorming ways to bring in another stream of income, even if it’s highly variable. 

Ultimately, forgiveness is a huge part of building a healthier relationship with money. You need to release your past mistakes and stop beating yourself up for money choices in the past. Those are out of your control. It’s time to focus on what you can do now to enact lasting change.

For more tips on managing your spending, head here to read our readers’ favorite money hacks.


Erin Lowry is the author of Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together and Broke Millennial Takes On Investing: A Beginner’s Guide to Leveling Up Your Money. Her first book was named by MarketWatch as one of the best money books of 2017 and her style is often described as refreshing and conversational. She has written for Fast Company, Cosmopolitan, and Refinery29, and regularly speaks at universities and conferences around the country. You can connect with Erin on Twitter @BrokeMillennial and Instagram @BrokeMillennialBlog.