Chances are you won’t ever be famous enough to write an autobiography. Still, your life has its own story. That story is shaped by your background and the influences that have formed your beliefs and helped make you the person you are. One facet of your biography that is rarely explored is your money story.
The goal of the financial integration work I do is to help someone build a more balanced and healthy relationship with money. A first step in that process is to identify your existing relationship with money—how you feel about money, what you believe about it, and how you use it.
One tool you can use for this is to write out your own money story, a brief history of the role money has had in your family and in your life. Part of it is simply a description of facts, perhaps statements such as, “My mother grew up in a large family with very little money.” Beyond that, however, your money story should explore emotions and beliefs—your own and those of others. You can do this by briefly describing what you know or believe to be true about the circumstances and attitudes about money held by your parents, grandparents, siblings, and other significant relatives. See if you can identify patterns of belief or behavior that have shaped your relationship with money.
If you’d like to write your money story, you can use the following questions to get you started.
1. Was your family’s history affected by significant events related to money? Examples might be losing a business, losing family wealth, achieving financial success, immigrating in search of prosperity, living through the Depression of the 1930s, wartime experiences and losses, or the early death of a parent.
2. Did your family’s ethnic or cultural background affect your beliefs about money?
3. What was the attitude toward money of your family’s church or religious tradition?
4. What is your earliest memory about money?
5. What are your unhappiest memories (from childhood or later) about money?
6. What are your happiest memories (from childhood or later) about money?
7. As a child, did you feel rich, poor, or average? Did you worry about money? Were you embarrassed by your financial status or did you feel different from others because of it? Your feelings may or may not correspond to your family’s actual financial circumstances.
8. How did your parents (individually and as a couple) handle money? What feelings or attitudes did they express, directly or indirectly, about it?
9. How was money related to your choices as a young adult regarding education, jobs, career choices, and relationships? How have those choices affected your later adult life?
10. How do you and your spouse or partner handle money? Is this different from or the same as the way money was handled in any former relationships?
11. How do you feel about your current financial circumstances?
12. How would you describe yourself around money? Generous, stingy, thrifty, extravagant, responsible, careless, etc?
13. What is your current family situation related to money? Do you receive money from your parents, help support them, lend or borrow money between siblings, or give money to adult children? Are there feelings of resentment within the family over inheritances or unequal financial circumstances?
14. How do you feel when you think about your financial situation and retirement or old age?
Writing your money story is for your own information only. You don’t have to share it with anyone, and you won’t see it on any best-seller lists. Still, writing it can give you a great deal of insight into the role of money in your life.