Why You Need To Understand Your Money Attitudes

Each of us bring our own special mix of attitudes about the acquisition, use and management of money to the table. Many people call this mix your ‘Money Personality’ and purport to be able to identify what yours is with a really short, quick quiz.

In reality, gaining an understanding of your sub-conscious attitudes towards money is more complex. Most of us don’t specifically recognize our behaviors and feelings about money. Like many other parts of our lives, it is just the way we are.

There are ways you can dig around in your past, your memories and your mind to bring these attitudes out in the open, but why should you?

Understanding Your Money Attitude Helps You.

Consciously defining what makes you act the way you do with money is the first step in being able to modify that behavior (if that is your goal). If you understand that you hate using credit cards because your Dad went deep into debt with them, you can start to reduce the nervousness that even a wise use of a credit card can cause.

Knowing what money and wealth mean to you in terms of power, control, security, and freedom can help you set rules for yourself as to how to act in certain situations.

In Navigating the Dark Side of Wealth, the author (Willis) speculates that inheritors will be more able to make rules for what to do about such things as requests to pay for group activities with friends; or requests to make loans or gifts – if they understand their money attitudes.

Understanding Your Money Attitude Helps Your Marriage.

Money issues can cause big problems in a marriage. Both parties typically enter the marriage thinking the other guy has exactly the same money history, values, goals and attitudes as they do.

Understanding and comparing each others’ money attitudes will make it easier to explore your respective styles of acquisition (getting), use (spending, saving, etc) and management (balancing the checkbook, investing and etc) of money. This should help you prevent some money issues.

Knowing, for instance, that your husband was raised to believe that the man should be the bread winner, might help you mitigate the anxiety that he might have if you end up making more money than him. Or, understanding that your wife equates earning or having money with control might let you work out solutions that help maintain the balance of control in your marriage even if she isn’t bringing home a salary.

Understanding Your Money Attitude Helps Your Children.

Your children soak up your family environment. They learn by what you as parents do, more than by what you say. A consistent message on all fronts, including money attitudes, is beneficial in training your kids. Children of wealthy families especially need a consistent message.

If each parent explores their own money attitude and personality, and then the parents compare to see where the differences are, they can more easily spot areas in which they might send mixed messages to the kids.

If they also take the time to jointly develop the money attitudes they want their kids to learn, they can proactively manage the messages they send, to build the desired attitudes.

Understanding Your Money Attitude Helps Your Heirs.

There are many ways to build an estate plan to pass along your family money to the next generation (or whoever you intend to receive it). Concerned parents may decide to build a trust that limits how the heir can utilize the inheritance. Parents sometimes give annual gifts to see how their future heirs deal with the funds or sometimes the parents just leave the decisions for the heirs to duke out.

If you and your spouse understand your money attitudes, you can develop money values. As you raise your children, they will learn your money values and attitudes.

Knowing your family money values enables you to develop objectives for your estate that align with your values. Knowing the values and objectives will make discussing your estate plans with your heirs easier, and should make the plans themselves simpler. Your children should have internalized your attitudes and values, hopefully there won’t be a need to control your estate ‘from beyond the grave’ through an incentive trust or other vehicle.

How Do You Find, Share and Compare Your Money Attitudes?

There is no magic bullet to immediately identify your money attitudes. You must review your own upbringing, experiences, thoughts, feelings and actions to bring them forth.

Several authors have put forth a list of questions and activities to get you started.

Thayer Cheatham Willis, a licensed Clinical Social Worker and author of Navigating the Dark Side of Wealth, believes that your relationship with money revolves around what you are willing to do (e.g. balance your checkbook) or decide (e.g. how much money to spend on something) and encourages you to list the ways wealth influences your life, enters your thoughts and affects your decisions. Finally, she asks you to think about what it represents – power, control, security, freedom, or something else.

Eileen (a psychotherapist) and Jon (an estate planning attorney) Gallo, lay out a multi-part scheme to pull out your money attitudes in their book Silver Spoon Kids. It includes:

  • Creating a money narrative – a story that answers questions such as what did you admire about how your Mother or Father handled money?
  • Comparing your past and present money experiences to see how emotions about money have changed
  • Taking a quiz to see if you are secure or insecure in three areas of money (acquisition, use and management). This quiz is online at Practical Money Skills for Life
  • Considerng what money messages you are sending with your behavior
  • Comparing your analysis with others like your spouse or your parents
  • Creating a money genogram to see a picture of your analysis

Psychologists Lee Hausner, author of Children of Paradise suggests that each spouse write out answers to a list of questions in the book, then compare answers to discuss what your differences are, how you might demonstrate them and what impact that would have on your kids. An example of the questions she lists is “What was said directly to you about your personal relationship toward money when you were growing up?”.

The authors of Estate Planning for the Healthy Wealthy Family – How to Promote Family Harmony, Affirm Your Values, and Protect your Assets also suggest a list of questions for you to answer, primarily to help identify your money values. Examples of their questions are “How did your parents earn a living when you were growing up? Were they rich or poor?”.

As noted at the start of this article, there are also numerous simple quizzes available on the internet that attempt to categorize you. CNN Money published one here in 2006. If you don’t like that one, search on ‘Money Personality’ and review the first 5 pages of search results.

It can be a lot of work to identify your money attitudes, but it is an important task with many benefits to completing it.

Have you ever tried to id your money attitudes?


Estate Planning for the Healthy Wealthy Family – How to Promote Family Harmony, Affirm Your Values, and Protect your Assets By Stanley D. Neeleman, J.D. Carla B. Garrity, PH.D and Mitchell A. Baris, PH.D. Copyright 2003, published by Allworth Press

Children of Paradise Successful Parenting for Prosperous Families by Lee Hausner, Ph.D. Published byJeremy P. Tarcher, Inc. Copyright 1990

Silver Spoon Kids How Successful Parents Raise Responsible Children by Eileen Gallo, P.H.D. And Jon Gallo, J.D. Copyright 2002 published by R.R. Donnelley and Sons

What’s Your Money Personality? By Brent Kessel Published on MSN Money May 22, 2008 http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Investing/StockInvestingTrading/WhatsYourMoneyPersonality.aspx#pageTopAnchor

What Money Type Are You? By Penelope Wang Published on Money CNN June 1, 2006 http://money.cnn.com/2005/07/07/pf/money_type_0508/index.htm

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