In order to effectively explore family mental health within the context of Peak Oil, climate change and economic collapse, one important aspect is family household finances. Examining a family’s household finances, involves encouraging members to look at their priorities and how they go about making vital life decisions. How we develop our notions about money is most often as a result of, or in reaction to, the lessons taught to us by our families-of-origin.
In this blog entry, I’ll introduce a list of questions you might consider asking yourself or writing and reflect on, involving what sort of messages you got growing up about money. These questions are useful to consider whether you are now economically stable or you’re currently facing hard times.
Communication about Money
1. Does my family-of origin talk about money? Not talk about money?
- Karen’s family never spoke about money directly. The only time she ever heard it referred to was when her father would insult someone’s poor manners for bringing it up. In her current relationship, it is tough to talk to her husband about her changing concerns about money now that she has become Peak Oil aware. She feels like it somehow makes her “crass” for wanting to make this the focus of a serious conversation, and she’d be better to just make the right decisions on her own, without ‘making it a federal case.’ Nevertheless, her husband is often angry at her for making decisions about money he doesn’t agree with and wants to know why she didn’t bring it to him first to discuss it.
2. If my family talks about money, is it only with certain people? In certain contexts? In certain ways? Is this different for men and for women?
- In Jacob’s family, his father is the ‘expert’ about money, and the extended family would often consult him and ask for his advice. HIs wife is outraged that Jacob will bring their most intimate household financial decisions to his father, and often implements them without consulting her about her opinion. Jacob replies that he is only asking for his father’s ‘advice’ and, deep down, is insulted that his wife is questioning his own financial acumen. No one, especially not Jacob’s mother, would question his father’s authority about money management.
3. Do people in my family fight about money either directly or indirectly? Is this different for men and for women?
- Every Christmas, Clare’s parents had a major blow-out. It wasn’t until much later in life that Clare realized that it had something to do with the lavish toys and gifts her mother bought everyone for the holidays.
4. What is the value and meaning of money in my family? (e.g., self-esteem, ‘dirty,’ power/control, success, etc.) Are values different for men and for women?
- Despite having substantial savings, Tom never refused the chance to work overtime in his company. For him, making as much money as possible was his way of demonstrating his love for his family, and proving his own self-worth. As a result, Tom had very little time to enjoy getting to know his children or his wife, and complained that they treated him “like a paycheck” and nothing more.
5. Does my family worry about not having enough? If so, is this “reality” based or would they worry regardless of how much they have? (“deprivation mentality”) Is this different for men and for women?
Harry’s father often talked about ‘being broke,’ but at other times would demonstrate his wealth by purchasing an expensive cars or gift for his co-workers. It was always unclear to Harry just how much money his family had, because his father got angry at the grocery bill, but at other times, spontaneously took the family out to dinner.
6. Did I believe that my parents could buy me anything I really wanted and needed?
- Jenna never had to work for money while she was in college. Her parents wanted her to concentrate on her studies, and provided her with spending money whenever she asked for it. While she never ‘abused the privilege,’ she always had the sense that she could have received a lot more, if she needed it.
7. Did I associate money with not seeing either of my parents because they were earning money?
- Michael seldom saw his father because he was “always working.” When his father died, the substantial inheritance his father left to him, sent Michael into a depression, and a deep longing for the man he never knew.
8. (If applicable) Did money impact my parents when they got divorced? Was I triangulated between my parents about money? Did I believe one of my parents was wealthier than the other and “withheld” money that was rightfully due to the other parent?
- Kelly loved her father but felt guilty for wanting to stay with him during school holidays and over the summer. Her father had remarried, and at his home, Kelly had her own room, use of a car, and other things that would be unaffordable ‘luxuries’ at her mother’s apartment. Her mother often complained that her father was “cheap” and didn’t give her enough money to live on. Kelly felt that in some way, she was getting the wealth that her mother should be getting.
9. How do members of my family think about:
- a. Public service vs. self-interest
- b. Promptness vs. procrastination re: bill paying on time
- c. Hard work vs. indulgence/”entitlement”
- d. Busyness vs. leisure time
- e. Consumerism vs. thrift and preservation
- f. Entrepreneurial vs. salaried employment
- g. Risk taking (financial/other) vs. safety
- h. Work/money as a way of defining successful self
- i. Self-made vs. indulged
- j. Budgeted vs. unplanned use of money
10. Are any of the above different for men and for women?
- Frank worked all through high school to afford a car, while his younger sister, Margie, was given a brand new car by her parents, who even paid for her auto insurance.
11. How would my family define their socioeconomic level?
- Bill’s family called themselves ‘middle class’ though they rented an apartment in a working-class neighborhood, drove used cars, and both had a high school education and manual labor jobs. His parents thought Bill was ‘wasting his time’ wanting to go to college and would not fill out financial aid forms, despite being qualified to receive it.
12. Does my family live within its means? Is this different for men and for women?
- Hank believed that he was from a financially successful family until his father died and his mother was forced to sell the house and move into an apartment. Hank realized that both of his parents had been living deeply in debt, and the news shocked him.
13. Do any of the following kinds of money conversations with my family currently (or historically) make me anxious:
- a. How much I make
- b. How much any other family member makes
- c. How much I spend
- d. How much any other family member spends
- e. How I make money
- Oscar was taken aback the first time his father-in-law asked him how much he made in income each year. He realized that this wasn’t a question his own father would ever ask him, and was uncomfortable answering it.
Tina refused to loan her little brother any more money until he accounted for the money she had already lent him. Her brother felt she had no right to that information because it was “his business.”
14. Do men and women in my family react differently in conversations about the above topics?
Megan’s mother acted “like an idiot” when the subject of money came up in ‘mixed company.’ This was in spite of her being the person successfully keeping the financial books in the family business.
15. Who controls the money in my family-of-origin?
Larry’s father kept his mother on a “shoe-string” food. She complained to Larry about it and about how upset she was at not being able to serve “decent meals” in her “gourmet kitchen.”
16. Is money used to cushion against loss? Demonstrate equality? Handle anger? Is this different for men and for women?
- When Zach’s parents died, each sibling received the exact same amount of money from the inheritance.
17. Did I have an allowance as a kid? Was it automatic or did I have to do chores to earn it? How strict were my parents regarding money earned? What was I expected to pay for with my allowance and what came with being a member of my family?
Bernadette was from a wealthy family and attended a private school some distance from her home. Each week-end, as her driver took her home, she wrote up her “expense account summary” demonstrating, to the penny, how she had used her allowance. This was expected of her before she would receive her next weekly sum.
18. Did I have more or less money as a kid than my peers? Did it set me apart?
- Peter’s parents were both teachers that highly valued education, so had saved to send him to a private school. While they dressed him appropriately, he did not wear designer clothes like his peers, own a car, and his family didn’t travel to warm climates on school breaks or ski in Aspen like his peers.
19. Are any of my siblings on ‘Economic Life Support?’
- Rebbecca’s sister was given the down-payment by her parents to buy her first home, they helped her furnish it with “decent” furniture, and helped her when she fell behind in her car payments. Her sister’s husband was given a job in the family business, and they both attended Sunday dinners with her folks. Rebbecca was offered many of the same benefits, but considered her sister “a kept woman” and could see how her father treated her sister’s husband (like a ‘door mat.’), so refused their help.
20. Am I protecting someone in my family by either minimizing my success or protecting them by not being as successful as I’m able?
- Kevin was considered the ‘loser’ in his family, despite having an advanced degree, a nice home, substantial savings and a loving family. His brother, the “success story,” in fact, had a substance abuse problem, and was often unemployed, but when he
- work was in a “flashy” business and would brag about how “well connected” he was.
21. If I were more successful or advertised my success more, how would family members respond? Are rules about advertising success different for men and for women?
- Samantha seldom referred to herself as a ‘doctor,’ or offered medical advice, despite her medical degree. She felt it would be ‘inappropriate,’ and her siblings were not above telling Sam how ‘entitled’ she was and how she thought she was ‘better than’ they were.
22. Have I generally worked harder than my siblings? My parents? Less hard? About the same?
- Walter’s three jobs supported not only his own family, but helped out his parents and siblings as well. Walter often got into fights with his wife about this, because she believed that nobody in his extended family tried very hard to get ahead, and expected to be bailed out by Walter whenever they got into a financial jam.
23. If members of my family knew everything about the way I earn, spend and manage money, what would they be pleased with? Upset or disapprove of? Is this different for men and for women in my family of origin?
- Derek’s family mocked him for his Peak Oil preparations, and overtly asked him whether he had better things to spend his money and time on than gardening? They seemed offended that he refused to go on vacation with them, and believed that if he’s “stop spending his money on foolishness” that he’d be able to “really enjoy himself” as they did. Derek realized that if his family knew the extent of his preparations, he’d get a lot more “grief.”
24. Are there obligations connected with money/success? Are these different for men and for women?
- Despite not liking the neighborhood, Bok felt obligated to live there because it fit his station in life. He was upset to realize that his choice of house, car, dress, even his wife (!) was dictated by his level of financial success, instead of his personal preferences.
25. Does my sibling position affect my or my family’s expectations of me regarding money/success? Have I gotten less or more than other siblings because of this position?
Everyone expected George to be an accountant like his father and to conduct his life much the same way. He was almost finished with his license before he realized that he hated the idea of working with numbers, and dramatically changed direction, much to the horror of his parents.
26. How much support/sabotage did I get in my family for autonomous decision making? Was this different for men/women?
- While Ginny’s parents claimed to be supportive of her getting a college degree, they “forgot” to pay her first semester’s tuition, and expected her to live at home, despite the fact that the college was a 4 hour drive.
Fredrick could choose to wear any of the clothes his mother had purchased for him. If he purchased his own clothes, they would ‘disappear’ shortly after washing.
Next post: How does money affect us today?