How can I avoid my parents’ money mistakes?

Each of us has a script that dictates how we interact with money, says Brad Klontz, a clinical psychologist and certified financial planner. “And many of us don’t know who even wrote it or the circumstances in which these beliefs were determined,” he says.
Start by considering how your parents talked about their finances—whether they avoided the topic altogether, or argued about it—and what behaviors they modeled for you. Try to identify three things you learned about money from your upbringing.
By the time you’re in your late 20s or 30s, you’ve probably had exposure to basic money must-dos like spending less than you earn, building good credit and saving for retirement. If you’ve chosen not to follow such advice, that could be a result of your money beliefs, according to Klontz.
Think through your own experiences with money and note any patterns. Klontz recommends asking yourself the following questions:
•What is your biggest financial fear?
•What is your most joyful money memory? (For example, a trip you saved up for.)
•What is your most painful money memory? (For example, a debt that went into collections.)—What lesson did you learn from your most painful money experiences? Did they inspire you to change your behavior?
Klontz says one of his clients shared how her grandmother swooped in to help her family pay housing costs when they were in danger of getting evicted. While this was a joyful memory, its lesson wasn’t as positive.
“As a child, that led to this belief where you don’t really need to worry about it, because something good will happen,” Klontz says.
Now that you’ve identified your personal approach to money and how your family might have influenced it, you can focus on shifting those beliefs and changing your behavior.
These changes don’t need to be grand, sweeping alterations to your financial personality. Start by choosing one concrete action to focus on, like saving more or shopping less online. Consider automatically transferring $50 a month to a savings account or asking your boss about 401(k) options at work.
If you’re having an especially hard time making the shift, you don’t have to do it alone. Talk to a psychotherapist or a financial therapist if you’d like to dig deeper into your relationship with money. A nonprofit credit counselor or a financial planner can help you pursue the goals you’re most committed to.
“Ask Brianna” is a Q&A column from NerdWallet for 20-somethings or anyone else starting out. I’m here to help you manage your money, find a job and pay off student loans—all the real-world stuff no one taught us how to do in college. Send your questions about postgrad life to
(This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Brianna McGurran is a staff writer at NerdWallet. Email: . Twitter: @briannamcscribe.)
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