There are times when I giggle to myself at work. The truth is, although I run the marketing for two financial advisors, my understanding of my personal finances can oftentimes feel as far away as the moon. Just because I can craft a witty post about budgeting doesn’t mean that I’m not online shopping during my lunch breaks. I understand the concepts that I post about, but most of my life I’ve been in my own way when it comes to handling finances.

As with most of life’s problems, I blame my mother (just kidding – she’s the best. A little too wonderful, which you’ll see later). But in all seriousness, our childhood does often reflect how we view and treat our finances today. We tend to construct emotional blocks around our finances and work very little throughout life to better ourselves in this regard, all because of what we learned about money as kids. Consider this a tale of deep financial regret and eventual growth.

I grew up with a single mom who had no financial help, and who worked her tail off so that I would want for nothing. I had the latest shoes and bags to fit in with the case of Gossip Girl.  We would take yearly shopping trips to New York City and instead of saving for college, I was free to spend my babysitting money as I saw fit. Think, lot’s of Abercrombie denim miniskirts  and UGG boots, both of which I regret to this day. My mom meant incredibly well, but the notion of saving money, especially with a middle class income, was never mentioned. Want vs need was a foreign concept.

As I moved to New York City for college (with major student loans), credit cards became the name of the game. It was often lamented to me that “most of America lives off of debt” and putting everything on a credit card, even using store credit cards with sky-high interest rates, was just the way of the world. So that is what I did. Never were the words “retirement” or “investment accounts” uttered in my house. In fact, saving for retirement was frowned upon, because we just couldn’t afford to not use every penny we had at the moment.

When I finally became a real adult and graduated college, I had no idea what to do with my money. I had racked up numerous credit cards, had no savings, and wasn’t sure if a 401(k) was a retirement plan or a building code. So, what did I do? I did nothing. For a very long time. My mounting anxiety over my finances was a complete roadblock in my brain that would cause me to shut down and continue spending. Spending because of my anxiety over spending was something that took years to unravel.

Finally, after becoming tired of the anxiety and not being in control of my finances, I slowly got it together. I learned to ignore my feelings of “deserving” nice things, even on a hard day, and instead focused on how good it felt to see money in my savings account. Wanting for nothing can lead to actually having nothing, and no bag or pair of shoes is worth that.

There are a few other tools I used to help me get my act together.

  1. I defined my reasons for financial planning. I have a wonderful husband and new family that deserve for me to be fiscally responsible. Besides my family, my mental health is the most important piece of why I save and plan for retirement. I need the peace of mind of knowing that I’m taking a proactive role in my finances.
  2. I reflected on the mental defense that was holding me back. Anytime that I would feel down or insecure, I would buy something to make me feel “better,” ultimately leading to feeling worse about the money I just spent. I began telling myself that no object will make me feel as good as saving money.
  3. I myself have not seen a psychologist, but I have many friends that do, and the right professional can help you explore what defenses you have put up and how you can break them down. It may also help to just talk about your background, and why you view money the way you do.
  4. Hiring a financial coach is cheating a bit in my case, as my day-to-day involves eight hours of nothing but financial advice, but what I have learned would make me pay for these services, or recommend them to others 100 times over. Let someone else worry about the logistics for a change.

Looking back, I wish I had spent my 20’s with the same financial goals that I have now in my 30’s, since I would be so much farther ahead, and have a better wardrobe (just kidding)! The truth is, if there is one thing I’ve learned while working for financial advisors, it’s that it is never too late to start planning. Yes, our childhood experiences affect us, but they do not have to define us for the rest of our lives.

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