Your money story could be destroying you

By Larissa Fernand |  13-09-21 | 

Answer these questions:

  1. Would you pay for your child’s higher education abroad, even if it means dipping into your retirement kitty or taking on debt?
  2. Would you pay for your child’s wedding, even if it means dipping into your retirement kitty or taking on debt?
Check your responses, and you may find a subconscious narrative at play. Your answer will be a reflection on what you believe a "good parent" must do.
  • Do you believe that it is the duty of a good parent to have a lavish wedding?
  • Do you believe that a good parent is obliged to give their children the very best, whatever be the cost?
  • Do you believe that a good parent is responsible for their child’s dreams?
  • Do you believe that it is your child’s responsibility to service an education loan or get a scholarship for higher studies?

Can you see the outcome? The numbers on the spreadsheet are pointless. It is the story you tell yourself that matters.

A man is always a teller of tales, he lives surrounded by his stories and the stories of others, he sees everything that happens to him through them. -  Jean-Paul Sartre

The stories we tell ourselves help us navigate the world. In 4 ways to control your investing story, I explained how the stories we buy into have a huge impact on an individual's investing behaviour. But some of us may be driving ourselves in a direction we don’t want to go. While we may blame fate and destiny, it is the unconscious story line that is being played out that has a large influence on our decisions.

Take some common adages:

  • Money is power.
  • Money makes the world go round.
  • He who has the gold makes the rules.
  • Money doesn’t grow on trees.
  • If you take care of your money, it will take care of you.
  • Money is an excellent servant and a terrible master.
  • Money can’t buy love.
  • Whoever said money can’t buy happiness did not know where to shop.
  • When poverty comes in at the door, love flies out of the window.

These tend to catch on in our subconscious mind. The one who believes that money can’t buy love will have a different relationship with money than the one who believes that when poverty comes in at the door, love flies out of the window.

These statements of money often are disguised as statements of life. They may not be true. They contradict each other. But if we have bought into them, we internalise it. The one that we adopt, even though it is subconscious, has a lot to do with the decisions we make.

Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate. ― Carl Jung

So what must you do? Morningstar’s director of behavioural finance, SARAH NEWCOMB, has practical suggestions.

  • Bring to mind the past.

Think of the person who cared for you most of the time when you were a child. If they were to finish this sentence: “Money is……”, how would you complete it for them? It could be luxury, security, peace of mind, stress, the root of evil, the root of inequality, and so on and so forth.

Even if you struggle to verbalise it, you will have some sense or feeling or attitude of theirs towards money.

  • Apply the past to your present.

Think about how their attitude towards money affected your life back then. And how it affects your current perspective. How would you finish that sentence? Our personal history has a profound influence on how we handle or mishandle money. This is where our relationship with money is rooted, and this is where sound money management begins.

  • It’s only a story, and a story can be changed.

Once we're conscious of the stories we’re working with, we’re in a better position to question, and if necessary, rewrite them.

Think of the classic Hare and the Tortoise. We were always told that the moral of the story is that “slow and steady wins the race”. But is it written in stone? That was Aesop’s moral. It need not be yours. The tortoise won only because the hare took a nap. So maybe the moral of the story could be not to underestimate the competition. Or, finish the job first and then relax.

You can do the same with the stories of your financial victories and mistakes. You can turn the narrative into something new. Do not change it into a lie that is easily digestible. But draw a healthier rule of thumb, draw a more productive learning that is relevant to you.

The stories we tell literally make the world. If you want to change the world, you need to change your story.  - Michael Margolis

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