Overcoming Your Financial Noise

Learn what's behind your money behaviors, how being in a relationship can affect them and how to reduce conflict about money.

Reflecting on Voices from the Past That Still Influence You
When was the last time you paused to reflect on why you do the things you do? For instance, why do you put butter on your pancakes and your significant other opts for peanut butter? Or, why do you refuse to use a credit or debit card for anything that costs less than $10?

More than likely, you are doing those things because they are familiar to you. It’s what you learned as a child and believe to be the “right” way of doing things today.

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How Does Your Past Influence You Today?
Some behaviors are easier to notice in ourselves than others. Behaviors that are so engrained as “truth” in our mind can make it difficult to see any other way of approaching a situation. If the common behavior you observed as a child was that you never buy clothes full price, it could be really challenging to accept someone into your life who always buys at least one brand new outfit—at full price!—per season. Neither behavior is necessarily right or wrong, just different. To identify why you do the things you do, there’s a visual aid that could be useful.

A financial genogram is a family tree that indicates specific financial behaviors of three or more generations. For each family member, reflect on your memories of that person and indicate if he or she was an over-spender, an under-spender, generally good with money, generally bad with money, and generally content or not with life.

As you reflect upon your financial genogram, note any patterns you see. Do all of the females follow a pattern of being generally good with money? Do generations tend to flip being over- versus under-spenders?

By acknowledging the patterns in your family, you can start to see how some of your “truths” may have come to be. It’s not uncommon for one generation to want to be the exact opposite of what they saw in a prior generation. It’s also not uncommon to replicate behaviors exactly because that’s what is familiar. What is important in this exercise is to realize what is important to you and why, as well as what financial truths you want to bring into your relationship with a significant other.

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Be Cautious of Stress Triggers
Being challenged by yourself or others is bound to cause a little anxiety. Why should you have to justify why you behave a certain way? Be willing to accept other ways of thinking about money. Just because we do things one way doesn’t mean that all other ways are wrong. You don’t have to change everything you do, but at least consider the pros and cons of alternative approaches.

Recognizing the triggers that could result in full-blown anxiety could prevent major escalation and turmoil. This is especially true when talking about your financial genogram with a significant other, family member, or friend. Consider how you could avoid the following list of triggers in your next discussion and ultimately reduce anxiety associated with conversations about money.

1. Starting sentences with “you.”
It’s easy to get defensive when people start a sentence with you—“You aren’t considering the benefits of credit cards” is a lot more aggressive than, “Have you thought about other pros and cons of using credit cards?”

2. Placing value on behaviors.
Sure, you may have reason to believe that certain financial behaviors will be associated with certain outcomes. But, there are a lot of values attached to spending and saving. Saying that a person is bad with money because they eat out three times a week is a values statement. The reason for eating out could be associated with socialization needs, family needs, work needs, etc. Without understanding the circumstances, it is difficult to say that one way is bad, and an alternative is better.

3. Hiding pieces of the story.
It’s not helpful to withhold information. You may think you are protecting a significant other by not mentioning the credit card from college that you are slowly repaying. But, that’s an important part of your story. Trust that your significant other will not shame you and be a supportive partner in devising a reasonable repayment plan. Not revealing the whole story sets up a situation of distrust for all parties involved that could ultimately jeopardize the stability of the relationship.

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