If your finances are a wreck, and you’re wondering how your savings plans got derailed, reflect on your previous money habits. After all, it’s easy to repeat past pitfalls and make the same budgeting blunders. And when it comes to debt and compound interest, financial mistakes – like buying an expensive car or home you can’t afford – can seem to stick around indefinitely.
So if you’re digging yourself out of debt, or constantly overspending rather than saving, review your financial history. Many experts say that’s where your financial problems likely began. With that in mind, here are common ways prior financial pitfalls can impact you – and expert-backed strategies to fix your finances and prevent repeating the same mistakes.
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Remember: How your parents handled money in your household matters. Forrest Talley, a clinical psychologist with Invictus Psychological Services in Folsom, California, says that how you’ll manage your money will likely follow how your parents managed their finances.
“If a child sees his or her parents taking care to intentionally manage their finances, then they, too, are very likely to become adults that manage their money in a similar way,” Talley says. “If they see their parents happily acquire debt, spending beyond their means and struggling to keep up with the Joneses, then they are likely to acquire that same mindset.”
If you begin to recognize that you’re spending money in the way that your parents did, that’s half the battle, according to experts. Retraining yourself to spend money in responsible ways, such as establishing a well-balanced budget, is the other half.
The financial lessons your parents taught – or didn’t teach – can haunt you. Maybe you never noticed how your parents spent their money. You just always seemed to have enough to get by. According to experts, that could be the source of your financial struggles.
In fact, when parents don’t teach their children the value of money, that can be a major problem for rich families, says Pat Armstrong, senior director for the Abbot Downing Institute for Family Culture, a San Francisco-based academic center and think tank funded by Wells Fargo.
“Studies have found that those who inherit significant wealth lose that wealth within three generations,” Armstrong says. “So, just because you came from money doesn’t mean you know how to manage it.”
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Some children who grow up with wealth may be lulled into a sense of feeling as if they have an unlimited amount of funds, “which can lead to overspending, debt and financial issues when they become adults,” Armstrong says. “It’s not about the amount of money you were raised with. It’s more about your knowledge and understanding of cause and effect.”
Derek Hagen, a wealth coach and founder of Hagen Financial, a Minneapolis-based firm, aims to help people develop a healthy relationship with money and find the motivation to change. According to Hagen, how you treat your money is likely a result of how your parents or guardians treated their finances. In other words, if your parents never budgeted and seemed to have enough money for the extras in life, like a prom dress or a vacation, you may end up carrying on that legacy yourself.
“As children, we develop behaviors around money called money scripts that shape how we deal with money. Some people will grow up with money scripts telling them that money is bad and that people with money are greedy. Some people grow up developing money scripts telling them that they will be fine if only they can earn more,” Hagen says.
Hagen also points out that there are many money disorders, such as compulsive spending and gambling, associated with such money scripts, which are unconscious. You don’t realize you’re following a script or thinking in a certain way, but if you can recognize that’s what you’re doing, you may be able to get off the script and stop denying that you have the disorder. Keep in mind, some self-destructive money disorders are serious. If you are in debt denial or you suffer from compulsive buying, consult a professional or a trusted organization such as Gamblers Anonymous to manage your finances and get back on track.
Your relationship with your parents is linked to how you manage your finances. “People either adopt their parents’ money story, or relationship to money, or they rebel against it,” says Jessica Weaver, a certified financial planner in New York City. Weaver is also the author of “Strong Woman, Stronger Assets.”
If your parents were extremely frugal, you may take the opposite path and lavish yourself with expensive gifts, Weaver says. If you saw your parents waste a lot of money, you may now be wary of opening your wallet. How you feel about money in general can stem from the emotions you associated with money as a kid, Weaver adds. “If your parents argued about money, you will associate money with anger and negativity,” she says.
That’s why it’s key to change your saving and spending habits to reshape your attitude toward money. For example, if you never created an emergency fund because you thought you would raid it, challenge yourself to put those thoughts aside and open one up anyway to budget more effectively – even if money is tight.
[See: 11 Money Tips for Older Adults.]
Pay particular attention to your formative years. “If you speak with psychologists, you will learn we get all our impressions and beliefs in the world in between the ages of 7 and 11. What you observe past those ages will only reinforce those beliefs,” Weaver says.
As an example of how your past can affect the present, Weaver says that if you remember a conversation with your parents at an impressionable age, where your mother or father said they’d never have enough money, you may still have that belief.
According to Weaver, that could mean you’re hoarding cash as an adult or maybe you’re scared to take financial risks, like investing in a big opportunity, because you’re afraid your money will run out. To overcome your fear, try investing in something small and low-risk to see if it whets your appetite for investing in a bigger, more promising opportunity that will help you grow your wealth.
Take financial setbacks in stride. Some financial mishaps stick around, simply because major purchases tend to take a long time to pay off.
Maybe your finances are in dismal shape because of the parenting behaviors and financial blunders you witnessed in your childhood. However, it’s possible that one poor financial decision – like purchasing a car you can’t really afford or taking out a payday loan – could end up spiraling out of control. So, if you think that’s your problem, cut yourself a little slack and try not to beat yourself up.
If you think you’re still paying for a one-time financial error, the most important step is acknowledging your mistake – and avoiding repeating it again.