Helicopters, Childhood Memories and Financial Security

Does this look like someone who would grow up to hang out of helicopters in the Amazon as an aerial photographer?  Who would meet a good-looking guy on the train going up to Machu Picchu, then go home to Rio de Janeiro, shut down her business and sell everything in order to go live with him in a thatched-roof hut on an island off the coast of Mexico?  Or who would sell toll-road equipment for use in areas of Colombia where you were supposed to pay the drug traffickers to avoid being kidnapped?

Well, it is.  It is me.

I share that in order to show how our early experiences form our futures.  And how they are also the key to understanding a lot of our behaviors, including those around money.

Childhood Memories and Money Behaviors

A few days ago, I asked readers to tell me what they wish they could do differently … or wish they had done differently in the past … when it came to dealing with money.  Here are some of the things they reported:

Some people find they get excited about something and spend money on it before doing the necessary research.  This might involve “shiny objects” that bring instant gratification.  Or investments that they’re sure will be the perfect solution to a problem they’re grappling with.  No doubt they’ve had regrets about their purchases at times, purchases that they made impulsively.  Where does impulse shopping come from?

Others are entrepreneurs with growing businesses who struggle with knowing when to hire someone to lessen their own work load.  They’re weighing the fact that with help they should earn money faster.  But they also need that earned money in order to be able to afford the extra help.  It’s a vicious circle.

Could this be an issue with risk aversion?  Or with believing that success requires extraordinary hard work, so they’re exaggerating the financial risk so they stay in that comfortable place?  Or maybe, even with almost guaranteed success, their lack of belief in their own ability to succeed is causing them to exaggerate the risk.

Some are simply overwhelmed by their financial situation and opt to ignore it.  They’d rather not face it, get clarity about it, and bring it under control.  The explanation can most likely be found in my post on classic denial, Money Denial: Pretending Money Doesn’t Exist.  But when it leads to burdensome debt, it could also be an issue with ‘deserving’ financial security and peace of mind.

Others take their eye off the ball.  They find themselves in financial distress after having done everything “seemingly perfectly.”  Until an economic upheaval, that is.  In good times, it’s easy to make money with investments.  Many of the supposed gurus look like brilliant super-stars.  But the enthusiasm of ever-larger gains makes it harder to keep investments diversified enough to buffer a swing in the opposite direction.

So, what leads to relinquishing the well-being of our money to third parties?  We know it’s hard for us to earn our money. So why are we so prone to accepting the advice of others as gospel when no one cares about our money as much as we do?

Some people report being overly indulgent with others, but not at all generous with themselves.  Which of the issues within the classic repelling of money could this be?  They’re all described in Repelling Money: Pushing Money Away.  There’s also a slim chance of using money to manipulate or enable others, sometimes even employing the ‘victim’ role in the process.

Others let themselves get tripped up by the ‘I’m no good at numbers’ myth, as was the case in “Oh, No, I Don’t Know Anything About Money.”  This came from our mothers’ desire to be sure we’d find husbands easily.  We were discouraged as children from worrying our pretty little heads about money.  After all, boys don’t like girls who are too smart.  (This myth is busted, along with four others, in “Busting 5 Myths Women Buy Into That Keep Them Scared and Broke!”  It’s available in the upper right-hand corner of this page.)

The list is endless.  But what causes these beliefs and behaviors?

So How Does This Work?

The key to understanding and overcoming any such behavior is to look back in your childhood to find some event (or events) that might have triggered the belief behind it.  This could have happened during infancy, when messages were embedded in our subconscious before our conscious minds became active, at around age 6.

After that, the conscious mind learned to filter out what was right and wrong, what was ‘about us,’ and what wasn’t.  But earlier memories may still be sitting there, unaddressed and messing with your decision-making process.  Releasing a memory and reversing the behavior is almost always a matter of:

  1. becoming aware of the memory,
  2. looking at it as an adult, and
  3. recognizing that it no longer is relevant to how you act today.

The event (or events) could also have occurred after age 6.  In that case, the memories have simply been allowed to remain in your conscious mind with their emotional charge reliably triggering certain behaviors.  The key there is to:

  1. return to the event in your mind,
  2. review the circumstances unemotionally, and
  3. determine if you were truly responsible for causing the event or if you accepted it because someone with greater authority put it there.

In either case, after all these years you’ll want to forgive the responsible person … and forgive yourself for allowing other people’s agendas to manipulate your life for so long.

Back to My Example

So what in my childhood could possibly explain my high-stakes, high-risk, adventurous, all-or-nothing life choices?  Lots of “mind excavation” led me to recognize patterns:  I had a daddy I adored, but whose attention I had trouble getting (starting when I was a baby) because he traveled constantly to what seemed like exotic locations for his work.

Maybe he’d notice me if I made myself bigger than life?  I found all sorts of issues of perceived abandonment, of feeling invisible, of needing to be perfect (which is probably what saved me from getting into trouble).

He lived life with gusto and was a great story-teller, so I emulated his every trait, even surpassing him by putting myself in physical danger to boot.  His antics led to major financial instability, seesawing the family between “very well off” and flat broke.

So I replicated his patterns, but with even more adrenaline.  My highs were higher, and my lows were lower.  Do you remember the song “Everything You Can Do, I Can Do Better”?  Well, that was my life theme … until I understood he had worked himself to death.

Getting at the root of unhelpful money behaviors can be seen as drudgery or as an adventure.  This is one adventure I can safely recommend you undertake!

[This article was updated March 7, 2017 … six years later. It all still holds true!]

  • james samy

    Thank you Sharon for childhood memories post. A new wakening effect to think and ponder. Great stuff.

    • Anonymous

      I’m glad it was useful to you, James. What I am not certain of is how universal (i.e., how relevant in other countries) my writings are … but they seem to be relevant to you in Singapore, so that’s a great start!

  • Great article. My parents never talked about money. They almost made it seem like it was a bad thing to even discuss it. I wish I had learned more about money when I was growing up. My Mom is a spend-aholic, and of course this affected me when I became an adult. Took me many years to learn that I did not need what I saw. I believe our past does show in our current actions. And when we recognize it, we can start to change our behavior.

    • Anonymous

      Liz, this is what I learned in my own case and in that of all the women I’ve worked with: one of the three important areas we have to get clear on regarding our money is the emotional area … the one that’s built on all our memories, perceptions, beliefs, etc., about money. So you’re absolutely right!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for sharing your personal story Sharon. It’s great to get to know you better! I was raised never to have debt and to have few financial obligations. When I was single, I was pretty broke as a public school teacher, but I was never too stressed about money. I basically had almost none! Now, married for 6 years to someone who came with 2 kids and a big alimony before we had a child of our own, I’m constantly stressed about our finances and obligations even though I’m actually living a much more comfortable lifestyle than I did when single. Call me crazy.

    • Anonymous

      Lily, it’s not crazy at all. Click on the little “welcome” video along the right-hand sidebar and you’ll hear my original refrain …

  • Faymc

    Thanks for sharing Sharon. My parents always worked very hard although I don’t ever remember us having many conversations about how to deal with money or debt. The message was more about working hard and saving so I guess that probably related to ‘not to have debt.’ I’m not sure where my desire to create wealth grew from, but I am certainly glad it did. Unfortunately, now that we are very comfortable with our financial security, my parents see that as being ‘greedy and selfish’. I don’t feel I have to justify our position by explaining about how much we give away to help others.

    • Anonymous

      Fay, explore something with me … your parents’ viewpoint today was probably the same they had as you were growing up, so you may have heard similar comments back then. Read back through my post on Repelling Money (http://sharonoday.com/repelling-money/ ). Your financial comfort today may be triggering some subconscious guilt because of those early embedded messages … and may explain why you find it hard to be generous with yourself, but not with everyone else. Make sense?

  • Duchessherri

    Sharon, This will take some recollecting in detail. I grew up in a one parent family of 7 children supported by the welfare system. Money was always in short supply along with all the things money could buy. When the welfare check came we ate well, towards the end of the month we were eating pie crust with cinnamon sugar or pork ‘n beans with fried potatoes. Hand-me-down clothes were the norm. Shoes with cardboard to cover the holes until we outgrew the shoes. Mother always had money for cigarettes and would go out to a bar on payday. I made a vow when I was 12 to never smoke or drink alcohol. Am now 69 and I’ve done done either one. Seems like money is always in short supply because when I have it I spend it – but do I always buy what I really need? As an adult I’ve learned to save but market crashes and falling house values have taken their toll so that I still have to work. What are the smart choices I should make now? Am getting out of debt, slowly, but then what? where do I find the money over and above Soc Sec to get me through the remaining many, many months/years of my life?

    • Anonymous

      Sherri, the housing market will eventually limp back, but far too slowly for our taste. And the stock market remains volatile and risky unless you really know what you’re doing. Truth be told, few of the traditional economic behaviors apply any longer; it’s like being on the inside of a wacky kaleidoscope. Where I think you might want to focus is on your phrase “Seems like money is always in short supply because when I have it I spend it – but do I always buy what I really need?” As I write about each type of disruptive money behavior (Denying and Repelling have been posted), I believe you’ll find the explanation … and be more open to allowing money in through creative solutions you can’t even fathom today. The word “deserving” is a big one …

  • Sharon, thanks for sharing. You really dive deep into the heart and soul of what influences many of our decisions; not only about money, but about our life! Thank you for your illuminating thoughts!

  • Ah ha! So the Indiana Jones analogy was spot on 🙂

  • Great article Sharon! Reflecting on my own childhood experience, I went back to your article on repelling money and…Wow!….it resonated. I have some work to do. Thank you for putting me on the path 🙂

    • Anonymous

      Peggy, we ALL have some work to do. Even when we think we have everything sorted out, a “gremlin” pops out from somewhere. I glad this was helpful!

  • The marriage of stories and facts really work so well in this compelling article. Money is recorded in the bible the most compared to all other essential subjects. I have some mind work to do on money matter as well. Thanks for this valuable content.

    • Anonymous

      Claudia, as I said to DrPeggy, we all have some mind work to do. When we look at any issue that isn’t serving us well, we first need to ask “How do I do that? How do I make that okay?” As rich as our individual histories are, having accumulated messages and beliefs since childhood, there’s plenty of material to work with. The trick is finding the one message that has let us think that behavior was okay … until we really look at it unemotionally and with adult eyes.

  • Great article, Sharon… especially the window open into your life story! I have some searching to do, as well, when it comes to money mindset… my 1st (and only) financial lesson came at age 7 when I accompanied my dad to the bank. He shared with me his savings plan and savings passbook. I was amazed! You put money in and it grows! I quickly gave him my quarter, as I wanted to watch my 25 cent piece grow. My parents, especially my dad, taught us to live a frugal lifestyle even though our upper middle class income was more than sufficient. I was never without a savings account, budget, or plan to make money grow until the first month of marriage, when I was forced to give it all up… and was not “allowed” to have one after that… and was not allowed to know about the family finances after that. Although that marriage ended 20 years later, I still suffer from the side effects… but thankfully am back on track to eliminating debt, gaining skills to run my own business, and switching my mindset to one that grows wealth again! It sure is a journey!!!

    • Anonymous

      I’ve been working for awhile on a tag line for my blog that represents exactly what I want to help women do. Today I came to a final decision. It’s “Awakening the Financial Genius in Today’s Woman.” Do you think it represents what you’re doing? 😉

  • Another great topic Sharon! I love how you share with us your world and then relate it back to the areas of our own lives that we can either look for changes or take the time to acknowledge that all is well. It’s also a great reminder for me to be aware of what I am saying and teaching my young girls as well. Thanks

  • Anonymous

    My parents owned and operated their own construction company in New England, Dad ran the field operations and Mom managed the office and bookkeeping duties. As a result of helping my Mother I learned to keep books, set up budgets and track expenses to determine profit. I saw money as a tool that got you to your desired goal. It was a pretty “black and white” perception, void of any passion attached to it. I am continuing to dig to and depending on your wisdom and insights to inspire me! Thanks Sharon!

  • Boy Sharon this hit home in many ways. As I was reading pictures came to mind…my dad always worked at the mill, accepting as much overtime as he could get. My mom worked mostly part time jobs and added seasonal jobs as they came along with us kids in tow. With five kids money was always short. That was issue number one. Then you painted the picture of purchasing items with the money. As a child I recall being upset over gifts I received. Never getting what I wanted like my siblings. They got clarinets, trumpets and trombones…I got drum sticks…yep, still hanging onto that one. Taking your advice, I went back there as an adult, looked at it from a grown ups perspective and it looks totally different. They probably got them second hand (the horns) and couldn’t find a used drum set. Plus, where on earth were we going to put a set of drums in a home with 7 people in a 2 bedroom house? Ouch…and I’ve been a brat about this for 40+ years? Oh my here goes the journal and work…great article, keep them coming.

  • Nancy

    I was just working with a client who trains people as financial counselors, and she said something like: What we learned about money as children shapes our present lives, whether we are conscious of it of not. This post reminds me of just how true that is. It’s important to make those “lessons” conscious so we make new choices that serve us. Thank you, Sharon.

    • Anonymous

      Nancy, I’ve found that if you don’t have the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of money under control, it’s virtually impossible to thrive financially. Physical: getting honest with the dollars and cents you have, owe, etc. Emotional: the baggage we carry forward from childhood and later experiences. Spiritual: what’s truly important to us in life, our purpose … Without those three, all the counseling in the world will not overcome the resistance to compliance. Just ask financial planners!

  • Beauhen

    So much of the psychological stuff manifests itself in odd ways in daily living. A little self-analysis and sould searching can do a lot to improve the quality of life. Thanks for sharing a great life story!

  • Anonymous

    Great post Sharon – so truly insightful into many of our lives, at least those willing to open up the vaults to the past. I can tell you I would much prefer the vaults stay closed but how much adventure is in that. I want to tell stories of where I was and once I got the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of money down I became a world traveler in my mind and in the physical sense. As I said, great post! Keep up the fantastic work, we all need it.

  • Great insight into how we create our habits when it comes to money. I used to have my finances in order with every penny accounted for. Then I followed the advice of a trusted friend and took some risks that resulted in financial chaos. I’m slowly but surely creating new money habits that server me better…. and I’ve forgiven my friend and wish her all the best in life!

  • What a cute photo Sharon. I totally agree – getting rid of unhelpful money behaviors IS an important journey.

  • Wish_park

    Sharon, How well I remeber your dad, he was my favorite uncle. Always such fun, and I might add, the only grown up that could untangle a slinky! (no mean feat). Somewhere I still have the letters he sent me from Brazil, telling me how the ore he was mining was turned into Volkswagens and why he could not send me a Margay or a Parrot, and just so you know, he was my Mom’s favorite brother.
    I love your web site and am trying to take better care of myself finacially, better late than never.
    Much love,
    Deb

  • This deeply resonates with me.  Thank you very much for so fully laying out this issue.  Having done years of ‘work’ getting past my past I’m finding that there is still work to do to unravel some of these insidious messages I internalized about success, wealth and worthiness. When you talk about surpassing your father–highs higher and lows lower–YEP that is ME to a T.  ‘…until I understood that he worked himself to death.’ And I watch my mother doing this today.  Praying for the TRUTH to really REALLY sink in!  

    Thank you again! ~Elise from http://adamsorganizing.com

    • Elise, the voyage gets easier — not harder — with every layer that’s gently peeled back … 😉

  • I’ve examined my childhood a lot Sharon, but never in the context of money and this is fascinating! My husband and I have completely different ways of handling money and if I look back at what I know about his childhood and mine, it explains a lot. He would be the first to admit that he would let money run through his fingers whereas I count every coin! Thankfully we have a good compromise. (Most of the time!)