What Money Blueprint Did Your Parents Give You?

What Money Blueprint Did Your Parents Give You?

If you spend much time reading personal finance blogs and books, you will see the phrase "money blueprint" pop up repeatedly. We learn about money the same way we learn about everything else - from our parents. And a lot of our less-than-ideal money-related behaviors can be traced back to the sometimes less-than-ideal lessons that our parents (usually accidentally) imparted to us as children.

It's understandable. Parents want their children to have the best. They DON'T want their children to worry about grown-up things like money. So they shield their children from talk about money; from the very idea that there might not be enough. What parent wants to confess their financial deprivation to their children? That's the opposite of what you want to do, as a parent.

But it's easy to go too far in the other direction, and that's where many of us end up in trouble some ten or twenty or even thirty years later.

What do you think, when you think about money? That there isn't enough? What does "enough money" mean to you? What should you do with money? Where does it come from, and why? For most of us, the answers to those questions - for better or worse - come from our childhood.

Like many people, my parents never talked about money. They certainly never talked about it when I was around, and I have begun to suspect that they just plain never talked about it to anyone, period. (Incidentally, this is still the case.)

When I think back to my childhood understanding of money, I picture it as a cloud of free-floating anxiety. The word "money" was never uttered without the preface "not enough" or "costs too much." All I knew about money was that my parents worried about it.

After their divorce (when I was six), money was also the thing that they bickered about. It was one of the few things they still communicated with each other about, which they sometimes did through me. "Ask your father if he has the check," my mother would say. She never specified which check, or how much it was for, or why. Later, when I turned sixteen, my father bought me a car - as a tax shelter, he claimed. The fact that it spited my mother was, I am sure, simply a side effect.

The problem was, we still had money for other things. Money came into the house - and it flowed away just as quickly. It slowly dawned on me that my parents are both pretty bad with money. And if they passed along bad money lessons to me, I can hardly blame them.

Money is like nutrition. It's a broad umbrella, it means different things to different people, and it's a very emotionally loaded concept. If you grew up eating Hot Pockets and Cheetos, it's hard to turn that ship around as an adult and start eating healthier meals. The same goes for money. And it's not an instantaneous change, either. But it is possible, I promise you!

Photo credit: Flickr/Will Scullin