Money Stories

Someone recently asked me when I learned how to use Excel/Word/PowerPoint. I honestly couldn’t remember so I asked my older sister, who could pinpoint learning to use Excel formulas and create graphs during 8th grade computer lab. Before then, we just learned on our own at home – likely with guidance from Clippy (an annoying pop up assistant in Word, for anyone unfamiliar).

The basics of using Office are so engrained in me, and I’ve built on that knowledge over the years across so many parts of life, that I had a hard time identifying a specific time when I learned those skills without getting input from my sister. Different classes and jobs continued to build on that skillset, to the point where the cumulative lessons overwrote my earliest memories.

Our views of money are similarly built slowly over time, based on our immediate surroundings and the broader economic environment. It may be difficult to remember your original exposure to different elements of how you relate to money. We may not be able to attribute when or where we learned about a financial subject or developed certain habits, but we can sift through the layers of history and memories searching for the origin, building out our money story. Sometimes we even need to ask others for their perspective that we might have missed in the moment – an older sibling may remember something completely differently than you, because they had a greater comprehension at that age.

Considering your money story helps reveal what you’ve carried into your current narrative about money. Your beliefs, habits, thoughts, and feelings that began developing as a child are often our unconscious guides for how we interact with money today. Taking the time to flesh out our stories helps reveal whether there are old sticking points that are influencing your life in more ways than you realize.

I started my last brief by writing, “Wesley and I are weeks away from meeting the newest member of our family, and if someone could tell me the exact timing of when our baby boy might arrive, I would really appreciate that.” – and as it turns out, we were only one week away from Baker’s arrival, catching us all by surprise.

As a new parent, I’ve loved watching him slowly see more of the world around him, like layers of the world getting peeled back daily that expose more and more of his surroundings. He won’t remember any of these days, although he’ll carry what he learns with him for years to come. He will soon be old enough to observe our family’s approach to money. I have been reflecting on what our conversations, habits, and lifestyle will teach him about money in the years to come, and how that differs from what I’d want him to learn. What will we expose him to intentionally (and unintentionally) during his formative years?

As financial planners, we spend more time than most considering different perspectives on money, both from our own money stories and clients. Asking ourselves, or our spouses, parents, siblings, and friends, about our money memories leads to fascinating conversation and possible realizations. For example, I know that my instinct is to be frugal with money, and I can trace that origin back to my grandparents’ generation. Both sets remembered growing up during the Depression, and that certainly translated into their parenting styles!

Some questions to get you started…

  • What was money like growing up? What are positive and negative experiences with money?
  • What did your parents teach you about money? What did they not teach you?
  • When did you first have money of your own? What did you do with it?
  • When did you experience money in a way that you hadn’t previously been exposed to?
  • When did you first feel like you made a wise financial decision?

Our money stories begin way before we have conscious memories and end up impacting the way we parent, choose jobs, and spend/save/donate money. We’d love to hear of any interesting stories you learn from asking yourself or another about earliest money memories and how they continue to shape your financial world today.

Ellen Martin
[email protected]

After graduating from UVA (go Hoos!), I moved to Raleigh for the Raleigh Fellows program where I fell in love with the city, its people, and a fellow Fellow who is now my husband, Wesley. I worked for another wealth management firm in Raleigh for seven years before joining the Beacon team in June of 2021. When not at work, you can most likely find Wesley and me walking our dog, Ollie, on the lovely Raleigh Greenways, or enjoying a cup of coffee and a La Farm white chocolate baguette.