Are old money messages piloting your kayak?

One of my findings from some recent workshop participants was that many of us grow up with the same “money messages.” Money messages can be either implied or direct. They can range from “Money doesn’t grow on trees,” to “You can’t take it with you!” I find during workshops that if I cover the walls with these money messages, as participants read them, the messages often elicit memories of specific people in their early lives. Often these people are authority figures like a parent, minister, or teacher. Therefore, messages get conveyed to us at a very early age.

It is important to recognize how ingrained our money messages are, because they often go unquestioned. When we turn our money decisions over to long held money beliefs, we allow our choices to go on autopilot. We may think we have sufficiently analyzed a decision, when in fact we have done so only after unconsciously putting the facts through our belief filter. While this helps us become more efficient at decisionmaking, it can sometimes lead to decisions we regret.

One of my own examples hangs in my garage. It’s a kayak. One of my money messages is, “You don’t always get what you pay for.” My autopilot reaction to this message is to buy the cheapest thing that I think will get the job done. When I went to buy my kayak, I wasn’t setting out to race. Further, I was going to use it in Florida, land of lazy alligators and sultry, swamp-fed rivers. So I bought the cheapest model, what my serious (like, Olympics-team-serious) kayaker friend calls, “a floating bathtub.”

One recent Saturday morning, on an unusually low Suwannee River, my floating bathtub and I were presented with, of all things, rapids. Clumsily navigating the limestone rocks and water, I attempted to skirt an oncoming wave. With no keel to follow my paddle’s direction, instead I watched the wave devour my bow and jump in my lap like a spoiled dog. Thank goodness the sun was out. Maybe if I had anted up for a kayak with a real keel, I might have enjoyed a drier outing. Now I appreciate what a little more money might have bought.

The better we know ourselves and our money messages, the more likely we are to make better informed, more balanced, and rational decisions when it comes to spending, saving, investing, and sharing money. Walking away from the workshop, several participants said they felt a lot more prepared to face their financial futures. What money messages might you be operating with? And what can you do about it next time? Post your comments here to share or email me privately. I look forward to hearing from you.

Holly Donaldson

Holly P. Donaldson, CFP® writes and consults on the psychology of money. Her fee-only, product-free financial planning practice focuses on increasing financial self-efficacy for those seeking a financial navigator to help them make good decisions. She is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch." With a fully virtual practice in Seminole, Florida, she primarily serves clients located in the Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater areas. Holly will also work with clients who are a good fit located elsewhere in the United States.

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