Early money memories affect our financial decisions today

Choices are based more on beliefs we formed as children

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Numerous studies by neuroscientists have shown that 95 per cent of cognitive activity is beyond our conscious awareness, which means 95 per cent of what we believe, do and choose is an automatic, subconscious, ingrained response.

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This supports what I’ve seen throughout years in the financial sector: our financial choices are based less on experience, knowledge and desire, and more on the money beliefs we formed when we were children.

What was your first memory of money?

From an early age, my parents impressed upon me that I needed to save for school. I knew that my education beyond high school would be up to me to fund. As soon as I knew I wanted to go to university, I started planning on ways to pay for it.

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Even into adulthood, my dad had a huge influence on my financial choices. I remember the spring I turned 23 and was eager to start house hunting. For me, owning a house was a symbol of becoming an adult — mature, established and secure. I told him my plan to spend that weekend touring open houses. He asked me one question: “How do you like peanut-butter sandwiches?”

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I put off house hunting for another year, until my husband and I bought a modest bungalow surrounded by old trees in a quiet hamlet west of Ottawa. Our first home until recently.

That was an important lesson in questioning my goals, why they’re important to me and what sacrifices I’m willing to make to reach them.

We all know families with lots of money who are averse to spending it. We also know people without a lot who love to spend on life’s luxuries. Their total net worth is irrelevant. What drives their decisions is what they believe is important, and missing, and worth spending on or saving for.

We continue to be influenced by the messages we get from our family and friends, not just in childhood but throughout our lives. Other people’s money attitudes take up space in our mind.

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What emotions bubble up when an acquaintance says, “It must be nice to drive a car like that”? Do you immediately feel guilty? Undeserving? Frivolous? Or do you realize the comment says more about them than it does about you?

Honour the lessons you learn at home regarding money, but be aware how deep-seated your feelings may run. Learn other approaches, step out and do some research. Listen to lessons then test them yourself.  Notice your own beliefs and assumptions. Face them. Challenge them when they hold you back.

What is your first money memory? What are the beliefs and attitudes you picked up from that event? How do those memories affect your decisions today?

Colleen O’Connell-Campbell is a wealth adviser with RBC Dominion Securities, RBC Wealth Management.


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