Home » Your Family “Traits”: Which Will You Choose to Follow?

Your Family “Traits”: Which Will You Choose to Follow?



December is always a very reflective month for me: I look back on the year, what I did well, and what I could’ve done better on, financial and otherwise.  Then I start that mental list of what things I want to change for the coming year.

As I’ve said before, I’m one of those people that has an insatiable need to know “why” about everything.  This trait leads to a lot of self-analysis, and LOTS of learning from others.  As we have worked over the last year to analyze how we got ourselves into such a huge financial mess, despite being “good” people and hard workers, I’ve learned a few things.  One of the things that’s become very evident to me is that part of the reason we’ve gotten ourselves into such a financial mess is that we’ve followed some very evident family traits, and not the good ones, either.

There are Two Types of Family Traits.

There are two types of family traits, in my humble opinion: There are the physical types of traits, which (at least not without expensive surgery) are unchangeable.  If you’ve got grandma’s nose, Uncle Fred’s blue eyes, your mom’s curly hair or whatever, you’re stuck with it, unless you choose to investigate the vast amount of “options” out there these days to change the way you look.  With today’s technology, you could choose to literally transform your looks into anything you want them to be.  But for the large majority of us, either for financial reasons or moral reasons, these changes are not acceptable, and the eyes/nose/hair you’re born with is “what it is”.

Then there are the other traits; the more “behavioral” traits.  You might have your dad’s temper or your mom’s gift for sewing.  You might have Uncle Joe’s sense of humor or Grandpa’s tendency to pinch pennies.

As I have been learning and reflecting on the financial decisions we’ve made over the course of our marriage, I’ve realized that we’ve by and large taken all of the negative traits from our families, as opposed to the positive ones, where money is concerned.

-Like many of our family members, we’ve made purchases because we care much too much about what others think of us.

-We’ve fallen into the belief, like many we know, that “some people are rich and some are poor, and that’s just the way it has to be”.

-We’ve convinced ourselves that our money problems aren’t our fault, because we don’t make “big” purchases.

-We’ve convinced ourselves that if we can afford the payments, it’s okay to make the purchase.

-We’ve justified the money we’ve spent, the lack of budgeting and spend tracking, the lack of saving, the debt and all of our other financial problems with the same excuses we’ve heard over and over from a myriad of relatives.

This post is in no way a “diss” on our families.  We are SO blessed to both have wonderful, loving family members that we are very close to, all the way around.  However, by and large, most of them struggle in some way with money.

And whereas you can’t necessarily change your nose or your hair or your eyes, you can change the other types of traits that you may tend toward from your family.

For instance, if you didn’t inherit your mom’s gift for sewing, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn – it just means it may take you more work to learn if it doesn’t come naturally to you.

If you inherited dad’s temper, you do have the ability to work at learning to control that temper and find other ways to deal with your emotions.

If you inherited Aunt Sally’s shy, introverted personality, you can learn to come out of your shell and be more social.  It may not be easy, but you can do it if you try.

When Rick and I got fed up with our financial situation at the end of last year, we decided to buck the belief that just because most of our family members have trouble with money that we have to have trouble with money too.  We chose to educate ourselves, make the sacrifices that bring about change, and teach our children something different than we’ve learned by watching extended family with money for all of these years.   We chose, as Dave Ramsey says, to “change our family tree”.

Has it been easy?  No, although after nearly a year, it is getting easier.  Has it been worth it?  Absolutely.

So my challenge to you this year is this: Is there something about your life that you’re unhappy about?  Do you have the power to change it?  Then do it!  If your marriage is unhappy, work on bringing you and your spouse closer.  Choose to love them more, even if they’re “unlovable”.  Plan dates, give hugs, and say I love you.

Are you unhappy in your job?  Figure out why.  Do you simply need to change some things about your job, or is it time to move on?

Are your finances a mess, and it’s creating stress and wreaking havoc on your family and your life?  Find out what led to the mess, make your “motivational list of whys”, and make a plan to repair the damage that’s been done.

I guess my point today is that some things can’t be changed, but that we need to focus on what CAN be changed, and to make the changes that produce a life more consistent with how we want to live.

What changeable family “traits” do you have that you want to change?


  1. Good post Laurie! If only we were perfect then we’d have no problems at all. 😉 Seriously though, I can really relate as I have family members that have lived their lives in a payment mentality – meaning if they can “afford” it, then it can’t be wrong. Unfortunately, that can generally just trap you into years of paying for something you don’t need and impacting other things. It can be hard to go away from that if that’s all you know, but it is possible – you just have to want it to get started. That said, I completely agree that it is worth it – especially in the long run. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks so much, John. It is SO difficult to break out of those learned mindsets and behaviors, isn’t it? I know for us that it’s been tough, but SO worth it.

  2. Great post Laurie because this pertains to so many areas in our lives. For me I inherited my dad’s short temper, especially when it comes to overreacting to things that aren’t that big of a deal. And I notice it gets worse if I’m overworked or overtired. Which I guess is normal. I want to be more laid back and easy-going. It’s something that has NOT been easy to change at all. But I’m not giving up on that goal!

    • Laurie says:

      Oh Tonya, we all have those “things” don’t we? Rick struggles with the stuff he inherited from his dad in that way too, for me, it’s mostly the “it’ll be fine!” attitude where money is concerned. Optimism can be a bad thing some times. 🙂

  3. This is definitely true in my family -> ‘We’ve fallen into the belief, like many we know, that ”some people are rich and some are poor, and that’s just the way it has to be.”‘ I actually think that fact has motivated me more than anything to create income streams and in general make money.

  4. Dear Debt says:

    In the last 10 years, my parents have been going out to eat 5-6x a week, which is insane. I have picked up some of that, a very hard trend to buck when it’s “normal”. I am down to 1-2x a week, but trying to keep it at one, so it is more a luxury. My parents grew up poor, now have some degree of money and sometimes I think they feel guilty and still have a poor mindset, so they just flush the money away. I am very happy though that I’m a hard worker like my mom!

    • Laurie says:

      Oh, yes – I can SO identify with that. Eating out was a huge problem for us until this year. We are finally to the point where we don’t miss it much anymore, thank God. I think the guilt is a real problem when it comes to money, which is sad, but we struggle with that too, being all “getting out of debt” when so many of our family members are still in a financial mess. Good for you for bucking the trend and following your dreams, Melanie. 🙂

  5. Great post! I am really glad that my hubby comes from a family that is big on frugality and financial responsibility, because otherwise I probably would have followed in the footsteps of many of my family members who are not particularly good with money. I was sort of on that path when I met him, and thankfully over the last ten years he has managed to transform me!

  6. E.M. says:

    Good point. I do believe I inherited my parents’ traits for dealing with money, once they corrected their ways. I was a child when my mom started worrying about money because my dad was laid off, and that is what left the biggest impression on me. I never want to end up in their situation. They were never lavish spenders and they didn’t really have excuses – they just dealt with it by cutting back and making payments. My grandma is also very frugal, so I’m thankful I grew up in a family where material things didn’t matter much.

    • Laurie says:

      That is awesome, E.M. It’s funny how those “Oh, crap” moments really make you wake up and take notice of your spending habits, isn’t it?

  7. Great post, Laurie! We do mirror behaviors and beliefs we saw as children, sometimes even unconsciously. The good news, like you said, is we have the ability to change those behaviors and beliefs if they do not serve us. It’s something I regularly see as a financial advisor. Almost every money hang-up stems from our childhood, whether it’s how Mom and Dad handled their money or feelings of deprivation when we began comparing our lives to our friends. It takes some time to rinse away those old thoughts and beliefs but it can be done. I’m glad that you and Rick had the a-ha moment and decided to make real, permanent changes to your life and thus your kids. You’re breaking the cycle, Laurie and that is something to be incredibly proud of!

    • Laurie says:

      “It takes some time to rinse away those old thoughts and beliefs but it can be done.” LOVE that, Shannon!! I can only imagine the huge amount of success stories you’ve seen in your career. So awesome to hear that people all over are changing those old thoughts!

  8. I hope I am well on my way to getting the financially responsible trait of my grandfather. This is an interesting post as it is true that many people follow blindly in the family footsteps

  9. Your post reminded me of that Exodus verse, about the sins of the father being passed on to the son, and each following generation. I think, to some degree, we inevitably will hold onto some of our family’s beliefs. We are independent thinkers and certainly have choice, but the sheer impact and multitude of impressions that the family makes on its children are too many and too strong to totally divorce ourselves from.

    In some ways, this is good…like my mother’s optimism will be with me no matter what. But I think I’ll always have my father’s temper, too…I don’t believe I’ll ever really get rid of it, so my best hope might be to find better and better ways of dealing with it.

    Finances are one of the areas where I think we really can break away, mostly because our parents likely didn’t spend enough time teaching us their (often imperfect) views on personal finance. My father an mother never bothered to teach me their ways of money. Maybe it was a blessing.

    • Laurie says:

      Oh, yes, I think of that one often, DB40! I love what you said about maybe not being able to totally get rid of certain traits, but at least finding better and better ways of dealing with them. That’s the attitude that changes things. 🙂

  10. So interesting, Laurie. I remember one set of grandparents were ultra-frugal to the point that they were almost miserly (oddly they had a far amount of money) and my other grandparents were very generous and not the wisest with their money. I saw family members who were reckless and had loads of debt and stress and others who were wiser and never spent more than they could afford. Because debt scared me so much, I tended to be more cautious, although in retrospect while I didn’t create debt (which is good!), I can’t really claim that I was overly wise with my money either. I mindlessly spent – but never more than I had. I wish I had been much more thoughtful on how I used my money. I spent it on lots of things that meant nothing to me and I could have created quite a nice nest egg by now. I did save but honestly I could have doubled the amount I was saving and still lived a great life. Lesson learned. It’s great that you’re showing your kids a new famiy trait and way to live.

    • Laurie says:

      Same here, Tanya!!! I wish so much that we could go back in time and erase that mindless spending, but the point is for both of us that we are changing now, right? Here’s to a good 2014 for both of us. 🙂

  11. I’m feeling a little introspective lately as well!

    Thanks for sharing my “I can do it when I try” post. Your post here explains it well – you have to choose which path you want to take. You can’t just say “no one in my family has ever achieved anything” or “we come from poor people”. Or accept that your parents were angry and yelled all the time, therefore not make an attempt to be a calm person.

  12. Micro says:

    I also became much more financially aware this year. I had landed a great job that was paying me well but was still waiting on payday every two weeks. I told myself that it was ridiculous and actually a bit embarrassing. No one in my position should be living paycheck to paycheck. I decided that I was going to focus on paying off my debt and saving/investing my money. I’ve enjoyed the journey so far and really like that feeling of “oh yeah, it’s pay day, didn’t really think about it”.

    • Laurie says:

      Wow, Micro – that’s awesome!!!! We are slowly getting to that point – can’t wait till it finally arrives. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  13. Mackenzie says:

    Awesome post, Laurie! Yes, we definitely inherit the good and the bad from family members don’t we? 😉 Frugal mixed with denial, is how most people I’m related to, roll…

  14. I have my Mom’s voice, which caused many near misses when my Dad called home.

    In terms of changeable traits – I don’t know. I will definitely have to think about this. My parents were an awesome example, I just didn’t follow it much (yet…)

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, people always think our oldest daughter is me when she answers the phone – funny how that happens, isn’t it? You are a lucky girl to have your parents be great examples for you – that’s awesome!

  15. This post got me thinking Laurie. I think we are all a mixed up blend of a number of relatives but – as you say – that doesn’t mean that we need to accept all the bad things that might bring

    • Laurie says:

      It is interesting, Robert. It’s had me thinking quite a bit lately about my behaviors, where I learned them from, and whether or not I should keep doing them.

  16. I think the worst trait I inherited is the need to be a pleaser. It has taken up until a couple of years ago to realize I need to please myself and my family first and that is by doing the right things financially so I have more time to do things that really matter. I still struggle with it, but I can usually step back and re-evaluate if I start to go down that path again.

    • Laurie says:

      I got that revelation a couple of years ago and it’s AWESOME to be broken free of that cycle. It really brings a sense of peace, doesn’t it?

  17. Matt Becker says:

    I’ve noticed more and more as I’ve gotten older and started doing more “adult” things how much I’m like my Dad. For the most part I’m really happy about that because I think he’s a great guy. But one thing he did that I’d like to try and avoid is sticking with a career because it paid well and offered him a clear path to advance rather than trying for something he truly loved. He’s been very successful and I do really admire that, but I also know he put passion on the backburner. I’d like to see if I can have both.

    • Laurie says:

      Matt, it’s amazing to me that you realized that. Your dad obviously is a great worker and had a successful career, yet there was something different in his heart’s desire. I think it’s awesome that you are also considering your heart’s desire when it comes to you career.

  18. My kids got all of my bad habits. First of all, they’re both addicted to eating butter….just like me. I constantly have to remind them that butter is a condiment, not a food group.
    My youngest daughter also got my hot temper, which I hope she grows out of.

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, we caught our third daughter hiding in the cupboard eating a stick of butter when she was 2 – what’s up with that? 🙂 Seriously, though, I’m a HUGE butter lover too – it’s SO yummy!

  19. Kathy says:

    I had to notice your “hard worker’ phrase. That was how my mother judged everyone. If they were a hard worker, they were good. If not, well you can guess. It didn’t matter if they wasted money (a mortal sin to her normally) committed crimes, beat their dog….whatever. If they were a hard worker they were forgiven. Conversely, if someone got their income through investments, they weren’t deemed to be hard workers and in spite of the otherwise moral life they might have led, they weren’t “good.”

    I don’t share that particular philosophy of my mother.

    • Laurie says:

      Wow – that is very interesting, Kathy!! Personally, I want to be a “smart” income earner just as much as I want to be a hard worker. You can have both, or better yet, simply have your money work hard for you.

  20. Anita says:

    My husband and I went through a few cycles of charging up credit cards and then getting loans to pay them off. We finally stopped the madness and promised ourselves that we would pay off the credit card statement every month no matter what, and so far after 2 years we stuck to that, which is a great feeling!

    Here is also where the Serenity Prayer comes handy!

    • Laurie says:

      Oh my gosh, we did that for years and it’s frustrating to me all of the times we had them paid off but then charged them up again. Like you, we’ve finally broken the cycle – congrats on 2 straight years of debt free!!

  21. The family trait that I got from my parents is my frugality as we were taught and shown never to spend frivolously and not to waste anything. I wanted to be the opposite of my parents with being frugal…but here I am, very similar to them…well maybe not as frugal. I did inherit some negative trait in that I can be stubborn, sometimes petty…I know I have to work on those personality flaws. It’s great that you broke the cycle! It’s not as easy as some may think. Even though I KNOW I have these flaws and want to change it…sometimes those bad traits come up. It’s hard work so congrats to you.

  22. I think family traits can also translate into family pressure when it comes to how much we spend. My wife grew up in a family that used to spend,spend,spend and as a result she never really wanted for anything. The problem was that it was all funded by credit cards and so it wasn’t a realistic lifestyle she was living. It was a big shock to her when we got married and had to live on a ‘normal’ budget. She’s a real bargain hunter now though so it’s all good!

  23. Great post Laurie! I think anything good I’ve borrowed has come from my family. Anything negative, has probably come from my peers. Ha! Behaviours and habits are a difficult thing to crack, but you’re right in that, anyone has the power to change. The most difficult part is the start.

  24. Isabella says:

    I was fortunate that I grew up in a very frugal family. Both my parents had frugal parents also. My husband’s family was quite poor, and frugality was forced upon them, I suppose. However, I did not think that my parents were generous emough, and that is one thing I have tried to change in my adult life. I did not want frugality to equal cheap in our marriage! Fortunately, when one is frugal, there are more opportunities to be generous. A win-win! A very thoughtful post, Laurie.

    Isabella (a fellow Twin Cities frugalista!)

    • Laurie says:

      Isabella, I think it’s terrific that you’ve worked so hard to be so generous – that is such a gratifying trait, isn’t it? Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Isabella, it’s great to connect with another TC frugalista. 🙂

  25. Great observations Laurie. It’s amazing how siblings and grow up in the same household yet live very different lives and outlook on life. When you understand that NO ONE can improve your situation until you improve yourself first.

    • Laurie says:

      So true, Charles. My two brothers and I have all handled money very differently, even though we grew up in the same family. It’s fascinating for me to see how different we’ve all turned out.

  26. I can’t remember what book I read it in, maybe Suzie Orman’s but it talks about your “money blueprint”. The way you’ve learned to relate to money and use money based on learned behavior and attitudes. It’s important to recognize those learned patterns of behavior and thought so we can see which work for us and which don’t

    • Laurie says:

      Great point, Stefanie, about seeing which behaviors and patterns work for us and which don’t. That’s a great thing to keep in mind when analyzing those family traits, isn’t it?

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  28. Martin says:

    I’d love to change the bad luck that my mother had in terms of her money. She lost a lot of money and built up her debt due to bad luck. I really hope that is a trait that I do not develop as I grow older. It would be great to avoid those issues!

    • Laurie says:

      Oh, Martin, I know about those types of traits!! We have them in our family too. Here’s to hoping that neither of us follow those issues, huh?

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