Whether we like it, love it, hate it, or go to therapy to understand it, our families generally pass down their habits, beliefs, and that seemingly endless supply of gym bags from the 90s (if you’re my parents).
Unlike your height or the color of your hair, those habits, beliefs, and attitudes that our parents pass down to us — whether beneficial or detrimental — can be changed. Sometimes, it just takes a bit of (wait for it!) investment.
Accounting for your parents — and yourself
If your parents never spoke encouragingly of investing and saving, or had frivolous and irresponsible spending habits, you may have unconsciously absorbed their approach to money and finances. However, you aren’t resigned to the credit card debt or financial strain that you may have witnessed — you can set the stage for the financial future you want, with some work.
Children naturally absorb the world presented to them, and have no reason not to believe what their parents show or tell them to be true — they look up to their parents and are taught by them how the world works, even if they have to progressively unlearn it as they age.
Sometimes, you’re directly told something to believe, like “saving is good.” Sometimes, it’s indirect, like seeing your parents or guardians make exorbitant purchases. One parent may unhealthily depend on the other for financial security. Or sometimes your parents’ financial decisions are completely avoided and kept from you, and the subject is never verbally addressed.
This isn’t a blog to show parents how to guide their children toward healthy fiscal attitudes and confident, well-informed decision-making (that could be a lengthy series of blogs). Instead, my purpose is to show young adults that their parents’ relationship with money doesn’t have to be theirs. Those harmful belief systems, financial coping mechanisms, and habits can be avoided. Children don’t have a choice, but you do.
Most problems, financial or otherwise, all have root causes that are more complicated and require more introspection than a simple blog can provide. Breaking down and understanding your unconscious habits can be shameful, frustrating, and painful, but talking through it — whether with a professional therapist, a financial advisor, your family or friends, or a healthy combination of all — is one of the best ways to connect those unspoken thoughts and actions to what you were taught and shown as a kid, and where you want to make changes.
Check (and save) yourself
Look at your bank and credit card statements: What are you spending, when are you spending it, and why? Do you have a budget? What is the goal of your budget? Do you save? What are you saving for? Why?
Making yourself be thoughtful, intentional, and goal-oriented with your finances brings a level of understanding, compassion, efficacy, and effectiveness to what you do with your money. Before learning your own healthy fiscal habits, you may even want to tip the scales in your favor and reverse your parents’ habits that you may have picked up.
If you’re able, ask your parents about their financial attitudes. That can sound really intimidating, and may even spark a disagreement or argument. But remember, they had parents, too. The experiences you had as a kid and the habits you picked up were, in one way or another, shaped by your parents’ parents, and their parents, and their parents. Generational fiscal attitudes, like any generational trauma, may have never been addressed, until now.
Your parents were kids as well, and bringing some level of that understanding and compassion could open the door for an enlightening conversation that could shape the generations going forward and guide them on a financially healthy path. If you work in the financial services industry, consider developing programming for both parents and kids to learn about better financial health and you’ll see rich returns all around.