We begin forming beliefs about money as we take in the sights and sounds of our parents handling financial matters. If our parents fight about money, we hear the tension in their voices. If they cry, we feel the stress of their worries and fears.
Over time we fill in the gaps between what we see and know. We make assumptions about our observations and construct coping mechanisms to prevent us from facing similar pain and anxiety.
As we process our parent’s negative emotions and brace for the aftermath of their actions, we create limiting beliefs about money in the back of our minds.
A Unique List of Limiting Beliefs
The list of limiting beliefs is different for every person. Some people grow up believing money is evil. Others think money is complicated or that they are undeserving of wealth.
Perhaps you think money causes conflicts or believe you would be happy, successful, and well-liked if you only had more.
In life, our limiting beliefs about money manifest in different ways. Some people fear wealth and do their best to avoid it. They might run up their credit cards, refuse to pay their bills, or believe “rich” is a dirty word.
These limiting beliefs disrupt our ability to manage money. In worst-case scenarios, they force us into debt and prevent our financial success.
All limiting beliefs are harmful, but they don’t all lead to financial ruin. How do I know? A limiting belief about money made me a millionaire.
This week a visit to the music store brought back the memories that led to my mistaken ideas. Standing among the sparkling instruments, I gained a new insight into my misguided beliefs and the financial journey I’ve traveled so far.
Money Memories and the Creation of Limiting Beliefs
We stand in line just behind five families eagerly purchasing new instruments. “I’m playing the trombone,” one boy eagerly declares. “I want to play the drums,” another pipes up in response.
The line shortens, and a little girl in front of us steps up to the counter with her dad. “What do you want to play,” the chipper gray-haired man behind the register asks.
“The flute,” she shyly responds.
“The flute, the flute,” he sings melodically as he ventures into the backroom to retrieve one.
“Here it is, my dear,” he says after returning, flipping his wrist and presenting a small box to the young girl.
She stands on her tiptoes to get a better look, lifting and pushing herself as high as she can. She presses her palms into the counter to stretch just a little bit farther.
As the cashier opens the case, a broad smile breaks out across her face.
“You can touch it,” he says, and she lightly brushes her fingers along its silvery keys. She gazes at the instrument. Then looks up at her father with a wide grin.
The Price of Happiness
“That’ll be $36 a month,” the cashier says. “Plus, $5.00 for the monthly maintenance plan. I’ll just need your driver’s license and a credit card.”
The little girl continues to trace her fingers across the flute, but her father’s face instantly falls. “$36 a month?” he asks. “Are there any cheaper options?”
“Not really,” the clerk says. “You can try to buy one from Craigslist or Facebook, but you’ll need to bring it back here to verify its condition. A lot of old instruments don’t play well.”
The man pauses for a moment. “Are there any other options?” he asks again.
“I’m afraid not,” the cashier responds.
The man grabs his wallet off the counter and turns to face the door. It looks as if he’s going to leave. He stares down at his credit card. Then glances back at the little girl.
“Would you like to come back another day?” the cashier asks.
“No,” the man responds quietly. “She needs this by Monday, and I don’t want to disappoint her.” He hands over his credit card and audibly sighs.
My Money Mindset
Thirty-five years ago, I stood in a similar music store dreaming of playing the piano. I ran my fingers gently on top of the black and white keys and fantasized about the music I would learn to play.
Watching the little girl in front of me, I recalled the giddiness that tingled in the tips of my nine-year-old fingers and toes.
As the little girl bounced out of the store, I reflected on that vivid memory from my childhood. There were many similarities, but there was also one big difference.
Unlike the little girl in front of me, I didn’t skip out of the music store smiling. When I was a child, my parents waved me to the door and solemnly told me a piano wasn’t in my future; as I climbed into the backseat of our old car, my nine-year-old dreams of playing music shattered.
As we drove home in silence, a tangible heaviness accompanied me. The weight of my parent’s sadness traveled along with us too.
Thirty-five years have passed since I stood in that music store, but the memory is just as vivid as ever.
Before stepping inside, I was unaware of the impact of money on happiness. I was fortunate. My parents weren’t disadvantaged or poor.
They didn’t struggle to put food on the table or buy backpacks and clothes at the beginning of the school year. Until I asked for that piano, I had never asked for something they couldn’t afford.
Your Relationship with Money
Do you have a moment that forever altered your relationship with money? My moment arrived the second I stepped out of that music store.
In the silence of that car ride, I contemplated my parent’s lack of cash, my disappointment, and my parent’s sorrow.
As my mind swirled with thoughts and emotions, I constructed a series of limiting beliefs about money. Misguided ideas that I would subconsciously carry with me for the next three decades.
Limiting Money Beliefs
In my nine-year-old mind, it was easy to create a buffer against sadness. If I wanted to be happy, I needed to save!
I wasn’t confident that money could buy happiness, but I was sure that a lack of cash would result in misery. If I saved enough, I would be able to afford the objects I coveted.
I couldn’t earn much money back then, so I kept my eyes peeled to the floor, searching for loose change. When I found pennies, I squealed and raced home to add them to my savings jar.
I counted my coins and rolled them often. When I was a few pennies short, I’d sneak into my mom’s wallet or my dad’s armoire and ask if I could keep their spare change.
The subconscious belief that money would buy happiness grew within me, but oddly it twisted and turned. If money could buy happiness, shouldn’t I create a giant savings jar of fun money? Shouldn’t I set a goal for joy and spend my money accordingly?
That would’ve made sense, but along the way, I lost sight of those goals. Over time, I stopped saving for joyful reasons.
I was no longer saving money to buy happiness. Happiness didn’t come from pianos, trips, dinners out, or expensive excursions. It came from watching the mounds of cash grow.
But, of course, saving doesn’t equal happiness, and living stingy made me more miserable than ever.
When I left the music store as a child, I felt the weight of my parents’ financial struggles and their sorrow in disappointing me. That heaviness stuck with me. Some kids may have bounced right back, but for some reason, I couldn’t. I didn’t.
All I could do was convince myself that I could save money and prevent a similar incident from occurring in the future.
I’ve reflected on that memory many times in my life, and every time I’ve viewed it through the eyes of a child. Every time, until I watched the little girl and her father.
As I watched that father struggle with the financial decision to buy his daughter a flute, I thought about the mental hurdles involved in contemplating his options. Should he disappoint his child or go into debt to pay for a flute he couldn’t afford?
When he chose to buy the flute, I silently cheered, but a strange thought entered my mind as I watched him walk out.
This little girl was utterly unaware of her father’s financial concerns. She had no idea that he struggled to make that purchase or that he might regret the decision he made. She was oblivious to the financial transaction that transpired.
As the two walked out of the store, I reflected on my childhood experience with a sense of wonder. What would my relationship with money be like without my childhood trip to the music store?
Releasing Limiting Beliefs About Money
My experience created limiting beliefs about money, but it also led to great financial success. I now think of that event as the starting line for my race to financial independence.
Do I wish I started that race with a clearer mind? Of course, I do. I wish I had focused on the joy of saving rather than on my fears and anxieties.
But in the end, the light filtered through the darkness. It took a while to release my limiting beliefs about money, but eventually, I redefined success, stopped chasing the wind, and gained time freedom.
I am grateful for the financial journey that stemmed from that quiet moment in the back of my parent’s car. Recognizing my parents’ financial struggles helped me view the world differently.
At first, I cheered for the little girl that walked out of that music store. She got something I didn’t; an instrument she wanted to play.
But perhaps I received a more significant gift; a better understanding of the relationship between money and happiness. I am grateful for that moment and the journey that drove me to where I stand today.