Ancestral Baggage Around Money: Find It and Deal With It

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Ancestral Baggage Around Money

This was a week for digging up old baggage:  ancestral baggage around money.

I’ve overloaded myself over the past many months, taking on project after project, pushing to create massive financial change in my life.  The workload has been disruptive to many other parts of my life, but there has been a feeling of “forced march,” as if the force were stronger than I am.

This, coming from someone who has addressed all the issues of financial peace  of mind and who has rebuilt her life after losing everything and (theoretically) coming to understand the topic of money well.

As I spoke with a friend I consult when I can’t figure things out alone, in my mind’s eye I started to see a long trail of people.  They looked as if they went back several generations.  I realized they were my mind’s image of my ancestors.

And the look I saw on their faces was that of struggle.  Struggle around money.  Hard work in order to make it.  Difficulty keeping it.  Lots of risk-taking (something my family euphemistically calls “adventure”).  And all the women outliving their husbands, who had not prepared sufficiently for their wives’ longer lives.  So, despite periods of great comfort, women ending their lives in struggle, trying to make ends meet.

Where Our Money Beliefs Come From

All the primary beliefs we have around money come from what we feel, see and hear as children.  In our earliest years, up until our conscious minds kick in at age 6 or 7 with concepts of right and wrong, true and false, we accept what we experience as “truth.”  So, unless we have a reason to revisit a belief as we grow up and consciously change it, we carry many beliefs forward that came directly from our parents and other figures of authority in our early lives (teachers and preachers, for example).

This means that if we find ourselves displaying money behaviors that are less than healthy, we can often go back to our childhood and identify where it came from.  If the belief around the behavior doesn’t make sense as an adult, it’s relatively easy to release the belief based on what we know today is true.

Ancestral Baggage Around Money

With my recent exploration of ancestral messages, I realized that we might also find some very old patterns driving our behaviors, so old they almost feel etched in our DNA.  That’s exactly what I was seeing this past week.

To understand that baggage better, I made up an exercise that turned out to be very helpful to me.  I’d like to share it with you.

To figure out if you’re being influenced by ancestral baggage that is making it harder than necessary for you to be successful with money:

  1. On your father’s side of your lineage, make a short list going back two, three or four generations, with your father’s, grandfather’s, great-grandfather’s names.  Beside each one, write a phrase or two of what you know about his work and life.
  2. Close your eyes and suspend reality for a moment.  Envision those various generations of men, with their wives, all sitting around a large table, maybe having Sunday dinner.  While it’s unlikely they’d be talking about money itself (because it was a taboo topic), they would talk about their work and their lives.
  3. Envision yourself as a child, sitting quietly with all your elders, being seen and not heard.  Listen beyond the words and try to feel what their financial lives might have felt like.  Let your imagination soar, even fantasize a bit, for about five minutes.
  4. Open your eyes and write down any feelings and impressions you might have captured around the different people’s attitudes towards work, money and financial peace.

Then do the exact same thing with your mother’s family.

What themes did you pick up on for each group?  Were the people optimistic?  Did money flow to them easily?  Was life all about hard work?  Did they have any choice in how their lives played out?  Did they feel in control of life or controlled by life?  Did they have a social “class” they felt they belonged to?  Did they feel they (or their children) could move up and out of that class easily?  Did “people like them” deserve to have comfort and ease?  If they came from another country, when did that break happen, why and how did that turn out for them?  A success or a disappointment?

How to Use This Information

Next time you find yourself acting with money in a way that makes no sense to you, and that can’t be explained by what you know you picked up from your childhood, take a look at what you discovered here about ancestral baggage.  See if it explains the behavior.

Or, if you are facing great resistance doing what you know you should (and want!) to do to make your life financially more secure, again check that baggage.

This ancestral baggage should be no more difficult to release than the beliefs you adopted from your parents as you grew up.  Look at each element in the context of what you know today.  Ask if it makes any sense to hold onto.  If not, use whatever little ritual or process you prefer to release it from your life.

And then move on.

One detail:  ancestral baggage doesn’t have to be negative.  It can also explain your incredible ability to break through obstacles, achieving despite all odds and finding it perfectly normal that you are enjoying full financial peace  of mind already today.

Let us know in the Comments section below if thinking about your lineage around money, going back several generations, could help explain some decision you’ve made or actions you’ve taken.


Bio: Sharon O’Day fixes financial lives. She is a tell-it-like-it-is money expert with a successful career in global finance, plus an MBA from the Wharton School. Today she specializes in getting entrepreneurial women over 50 back on their game so they can have more money, less stress and more joy. With her “Over Fifty and Financially Free” strategies, they take actions that lead to their ultimate goal: financial peace  of mind.

  • Susan Schiller

    I’ve been thinking about my financial DNA, actually, so this helpful exercise of picturing my parent’s ancestors sitting around the table is just what I needed!

    One grandfather lost his business, lost everything in fact, and spent the rest of his life in deep depression. One grandmother died young, her mother raising my mom… lots of abuse, divorces, and always moving from home to home. More, too… I feel like a detective solving a mystery… the mystery why the same types of scenarios are recreated in my life.

    A new family legacy is what I’m determined to create, and I’m grateful for you, Sharon, in leading the way. Thanks for your honesty in baring your heart with us, for letting us know where we can help support you, emotionally and spiritually.

    I ask God to do open doors for you that are above and beyond human means, to give you a supernatural boost, to give you peace, security, and overflowing love… to give you rest… to give you people close to you who will help refine you… to give you wisdom… and all that you need right now. All my love to you… I wish I could do more than send a hug online, and maybe one day!

    • Sue, you mention “the mystery why the same types of scenarios are recreated in my life.” Especially if you find them when you do your ancestral detective work, they’re back again because that is what is most familiar. And they provide the opportunity to break the cycle … and to keep it from replicating with your children. (Be sure to find a way to share with them what you learn. It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give them.) As for what you could do for me, watching you blossom is thanks enough!

  • Carla Van Walsum

    Hi Sharon! Am pleasantly surprised by your article! Sheree Diamond referred it to me, she knows my work. What you talk about is the Epigenetics, as can be revealed in the Family Constellation work, (No, NOT about stars) and shows hidden dynamics, blocks, transferred traumas that can hinder or block us in our current life. I do an ancestor meditation, you might have heard it, it was several times in online Tele summits. This meditation helps also to discover and heal the negative burden in our conscious and more sub-consciousness. Yes! Sheree and I in our Block Buster Breakthrough Bootcamp (http://www.the work with the Constellate method to track where the money beliefs are stuck…and replace them!
    And sure: ancestral influences can be very positive too! But since so many Americans are descendants from poor emigrants who were looking to find a better life, read more money, its most likely that poor- money conscious or scarcity thinking is present with many!

    • Thank you, Carla, for pointing out the link between the reason most of our ancestors came to this country … and the pervasive “scarcity thinking” we find in America. From my travels and from having been raised abroad, I know that other populations (as a whole) have a very different relationship with money. Thanks for sharing that there is another resource available in your and Sheree’s Breakthrough Bootcamps!

  • This is very interesting Sharon as I’ve never thought about it. My maternal grandfather was the only business man in my family, as he had several rental properties and he bred and sold Tennessee Walking Horses. I only knew him at this stage in his life, and I saw how joyful and easy his life was. My father was an engineer, working long hours, and always had something to complain about when it came to his work.

    The difference between the two is massive. I tried following my father’s footsteps for a few years, but I just wasn’t happy. When I was in my last year of college, I read Robert Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” and it forever changed my life. His attitude about money, wealth, and happiness was very similar to my maternal grandfather’s attitude towards money. He died when I was 11 so I never had the change to have a conversation with him about money.

    What I am thankful for is that my grandfather gave me proof that it was possible to have fun and to have financial freedom.

    • How lucky you are, Keri, to have had two such distinct role models to analyze–and for you to realize so early which one moves your heart and offers you the fulfilling life you want to lead. There is no room for judgment in the lifestyle people led, or lead today; we don’t know what they might have preferred but were unable to pursue for “life” reasons. The best part is that you are starting with a clean slate … yet with invaluable information regarding your options. How wonderful!

  • You keep surprising me, Sharon, last week it was Maslov’s pyramid and now we have our ancestral baggage to unpack and throw out (if need be). I will most certainly do that exercise and I already know many of the answers and patterns. Both sides of my family have been very hard working people, focused on their work and sharing with others less fortunate. The occasional black sheep was either put on a ship (19th century) to meet their destiny in the new country or forced to behave.
    Wonderful, thanks, Sharon and may we all find someone in our families who have passed on their wonderfully successful (not necessarily speaking about financial acumen) DNA to us!

    • What’s important for so many people, Barbara, is to know there is someone they can refer to as a role model for the life they want to lead. If what they see in their family lineage doesn’t support that, it’s important to know they have to look outside, through mentors and associates, for support as they go against the grain of the messaging they undoubtedly received growing up. No? 😉

  • Wow! Sharon you just keep getting better, like a fine bottle of wine! Working through this exercise I now understand so much about “me” and my actions surrounding money. It didn’t take long to realize on both sides of the family there was not an easy flow of money, ever. All of my family struggled just to make ends meet. There was never enough for extras, ever. Now I understand why my dad has said some of the things he has to me, hurtful, making me feel guilty for having extras now. The hard work is very intertwined in my DNA…hard-wired. So, accepting that I am letting go of that ancestral baggage and accepting the blessings of my hard work now and in the future. Thank you….

    • Carla, if you feel your parents and their ancestors basically carried limiting messages around money, and those messages have stifled you in your life … you are absolutely free to let them all go! Refuse to let THEIR messages hold you back and be doubly aware anytime you feel that sort of limiting energy affecting your decisions. Lastly, to counter all that negativity, find a role model that represents exactly where you want to go and where you know your efforts can take you. Whether a mentor, a coach or just someone you can get close enough to emulate … think of that person almost as your “money muse!” And go for it! (BTW, thanks for the wine reference!)

  • Deanna

    Excellent post. Sharing!

  • Kung Phoo

    I learned from my parents how to work my finances, who learned from theirs.. Now i am teaching my kids..

    • Even better, Rob, that your healthy attitude towards money goes back several generations.

  • Wingate Wyndham Sulphur

    I definitely think that when I admired my parents and grandparents, that included the way they always seemed to be on top of their financial situation. I strive to live the way they lived in so many ways. And it is true financially as well. If you do not see financial problems growing up, then you expect not to see them in your life as well. As they have set the level of standards that we can only hope to follow in and learn from their mistakes.

    • You are fortunate, Heather, to have such positive role models … back more than just one generation. If you are following in their footsteps, that means they were also enlightened enough to teach you what they knew about money as you were growing up.

  • Alexandra McAllister

    Such a great exercise, Sharon. Both sides of our family struggled to make ends meet. This taught me to save and not spend money unless I really needed something. It was only later on in life that I changed and found a healthy balance. Thanks for always sharing such helpful articles.

    • We don’t necessarily have to follow in our ancestors’ footsteps; at times, we may make the conscious or subconscious decision to react to the stories, rather than relive them. Sounds as if you may have overshot a little in your first reaction, Alexandra, then softened back to a happier middle ground. Good for you!

  • Tina Ashburn

    This is very interesting. Your articles are always useful and helpful. I wish you could help the United States Congress with their financial ancestral baggage!

    • Tina, boy, do I wish the same! It would take a whole army of Sharons (and Tinas and others) to make an impact. Maybe it’s easier to just vote the scoundrels out …

  • Your posts are always so full of wisdom Sharon! It really does make sense to take a look at where financial attitudes come from because what we have experienced in the past will definately have a bearing on how we manage in the present and in the future.
    I grew up with a father who never had a regular job but believed that somehow he was going to make his millions by some get-rich-quick scheme or win it on a lottery prize ticket. Life was a constant feast or famine scenario.
    Thankfully his bad budgeting taught me to do the opposite and I am careful with what money I have. I also teach my children how to budget and safe. For me those are essential life skills.

    • The more likely scenario is that we either replicate … or react in direct opposition to … some parental behavior that affected us strongly. You obviously chose the latter. Feast or famine is tough on anyone, but particularly tough on kids growing up under that volatility. Hats off to you for breaking that cycle with your own children, Carolyn.

  • luisa

    Excellent post my friend…this is so true for many, including me. I love this “forced march,” something bigger than ourselves. I have felt this force in my life several times. thank you for this great information, definitely an eye opener! So much great wisdom indeed, thanks for the lesson.

    • I’m glad this was useful to you, Luisa. I found it so surprising to discover that the strong drive was pushing me to do something that was coming from a place of near panic, without reason. The reason had to lie somewhere … and it did! Somewhere far deeper …

  • Love this post Sharon. Leave your ancestral money baggage at the door!

    • If you can simply set the baggage down at the door and walk away, Gaynor, “brava!” And if it takes a little reflection and mental process to release it, that’s all good too!

  • Dang Sharon! Preaching serious money truth! I could totally identify with your story. I hope to be a change maker in my family by getting my finances in order. Thank you for being frank and candid about dealing with what we believe about money because that belief can make us or break us!

    • Marvia, as you move to become a change makert, I hope this little “historical voyage” will give you some insights that are useful. I see only two reasons we’d let family baggage hold us back: (1) we don’t know it’s there, or (2) we’ve made some sort of “vow” or feel some deep loyalty … to not dishonor that baggage by moving beyond it.

  • Roz

    Wow-what a gift you are to help us muddle thru understanding why, where, how we got our financial genes. Raised by hard working Russian immigrants, I knew that to be loved, I had to work hard at everything & anything I did. Today, I still do but out of choice to love what I do. Although I still work hard it doesn’t feel like work & I do my best to be realistic with what I can accomplish. I believe I balance my retirement years with my business, family & friends & fun. We have good pensions & can help those we love who need it. How fortunate for I.

    • Whatever lessons you learned, they’ve obviously served you well, Roz. And the joyous part is to be doing something today you enjoy enough that it doesn’t feel like work. Good for you!

  • Gertraud Walters

    Wow what a message. Got me thinking . Need to go through it again except that I have no clue about my parents parents and beyond. Was never a subject in my family. Wonder why now ? I know that I inherited my Father’s entrepreneurial spirit, and I also know that my mother was extremely cautious with the little money she had, and yet she would be able to save enough to add to the house. Even though it was at the expense at us not always eating well.

    • Rummaging around, poking at memories, can bring up some fascinating details that give us hints of what we were taught … even if we later “unlearned” those things because they didn’t necessarily serve us well. If you were to focus on it, Gertraud, you’d be surprised at how much you can reconnect with …

  • Robin

    I find it so fascinating to explore all the areas where people pick up their money baggage. My parents used to use ‘money’ as an excuse for saying no, although they had plenty of money, it was the convenient thing that nobody can argue, (and I was good at pleading my case, haha)… so I’m glad for me, my parents money stuff actually drove me to find ways where money would NEVER be an obstacle for me… oh I FOUND WAYS to get money… so I could get the “YES” to the thing I wanted 🙂