If asked to write a financial autobiography, many of us would likely centre the opening chapter around our first paycheque, credit card, car payment or even mortgage. These are the traditional economic milestones of adulthood.
But the story of your relationship with money and finances stretches much farther back – all the way to your early childhood.
“How parents handle their money influences their kids, and it definitely can have a major impact with their success financially later on,” says Layne Choong,1 a Calgary-based Certified Financial Planner™ and Sun Life Financial advisor.
“Some of my younger clients are so much further ahead than a lot of people in their forties and fifties, and it’s because of the influence of their parents.”
The good news? If you do the work necessary to truly understand your financial past and how it echoes in your present-day life – positively or otherwise – you’ll have a priceless opportunity to readjust and evolve your money habits in ways that may very well improve your life and your family’s life.
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How to assess your relationship with money
To become the author rather than mere the observer of your financial story, you’ll need to recognize that past is not necessarily prologue. It doesn’t matter how profound or formative the early experiences you are drawing upon may be.
This was a lesson Choong learned first-hand.
“My dad was an incredibly successful businessman, and when I was young we had a very comfortable lifestyle,” she explains. “Then, when things changed [in his industry], my dad lost everything. . . That had such an emotional impact on my brother and myself. I always felt the urge to buy and stockpile everything I could possibly need, should I ever come across a rainy day when I didn’t have the funds to buy it.”
That history meant Choong would end up spending money faster than she needed to or on things she didn't necessarily need. To move beyond these ingrained attitudes, Choong used her eventual training as a financial advisor to “work through the emotions and get my finances in order.”
The takeaway? Money habits and attitudes that worked for your parents may not be a good fit for your own unique circumstances and goals. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with finding what makes sense in the context of your own life – and coming to peace with and discarding all that does not.
How to improve your financial health
Overspending emotionally, being unreasonably frugal or experiencing general anxiety over your financial health are all common responses to early financial hardship. Often, you need to address these habits before you can reach your goals.
“Work with an advisor for financial advice, just like you’d go to see a doctor for medical advice,” recommends Choong. “An advisor can cut through the emotion right to the facts, and help you make decisions based on what your goals are and what the facts are.”
Whether you’re looking to stay on budget today or keep on track for a financially secure retirement (which might also cut down on lingering present-day anxieties), an experienced advisor can help you create a sustainable plan and spur you to action.
“The days are long, but the years are very short,” says Choong. Setting new and healthier habits now might very well help you reach your financial goals sooner.
How to pass smart money habits on to your children
If you’re a parent, you’re not just writing your own financial autobiography. You also have the chance to draft those crucial first chapters for your children.
“Kids are never too young to start learning about money,” says Choong. “It could be as simple as getting them piggy banks to save a loonie here or a toonie there. [Those lessons] carry on from early childhood into adolescence.”
Teaching your children to save helps them learn how to wait for things they really want. They’ll also better appreciate the value of a dollar when they get it.
Similarly, you can teach your children about planning for the long term through showing them what you’re doing with your RRSPs, savings accounts and, yes, even your taxes.
And as your kids prepare to leave the nest, talk to them about some of the often-overlooked aspects of financial independence. Even something as basic as budgeting for household items such as toilet paper, cleaning supplies and paper towels can help them prepare for living on their own.
Ready to set yourself and your family on the path to financial health? Find an advisor near you today.
1Layne Choong,* CFP™, Sun Life Financial advisor
*Mutual funds offered by Sun Life Financial Investment Services (Canada) Inc.
Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada is a member of the Sun Life Financial group of companies.