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Meanings of Money

Money means more than the coin, paper or plastic to acquire goods and services. Money is linked to complex emotions, feelings and behaviors. Each person has "money messages" that are based on past experiences, what you observed and what you were taught. These money messages reflect the attitudes, perceptions and expectations that influence your financial behaviors today.

If you think about your childhood, what do you recall about your household, the people and the community around you? What kind of housing, food, and clothing did you have? Did most families have several generations living together in a house? Even if money was scarce, did you always have food on the table? Did you only wear new, named-brand clothing or was using second-hand clothes acceptable? Did you have more than one television in the house?

As years pass the larger cultural, societal and economic environments affect your relationship to the world. Youth "discover" some people have more money than others, other families have different "rules" about who manages the family resources, or money is a reward for good behavior.

For many people, money and what one can do with money, is a measure of their identity and self-worth. "I am successful if I have a good paying job and can buy a new car every 5 years. The more money available, the better I feel about myself." On the other hand, limited money makes me feel powerless.

In personal relationships, money is often a source of conflict. The same words or actions can have different meanings for different people. What does effective money management mean to you? Does it mean accounting for each penny that goes in and out of the household? Or does it mean you have the money to cover current expenses and can also save for future needs? In another example, a person who survived extended unemployment may feel a sense of control and security by buying only necessities. That may be in conflict with a partner who likes to buy extras as a way to express love.

Other factors that can influence money behaviors include:

  • Culture or gender - groups may define what is acceptable or what is emphasized such as talking about money, importance of sharing resources, who makes "big" money decisions.
  • Stage in the life cycle - young parents spending may focus on needs of the child; whereas, a couple with adult children may focus on leisure activities.
  • Concept of roles and responsibilities - whose job is it to spend money, take care of day-to-day finances, or make decisions about major purchases like a car, etc.
  • Planning and organizational skills - is someone more skilled in organizing and handling details?

Be aware of the connections between your money messages and your current financial behaviors. Understand the money messages of others in your household. How can you use is this information to make effective decisions? Use the "Understanding Your Money Messages" worksheet to explore connections between your current financial behavior and your money messages.


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