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?