When I was in middle school, my dad sat my brother and me down at the kitchen table. He told us that our church needed a new projector and projection screen for the youth room. And then he said that we, as a family, were going to give the money to fund the projector — but we weren’t supposed to tell anyone. This was to be an anonymous gift. I learned in that moment that giving wasn’t about recognition, it was about meeting a need. The joy comes from watching a gift being well-used, not from being openly praised for your generosity.
The following Wednesday at youth group, we quickly found out whose parents were giving the money for the projector screen … because their kids couldn’t stop bragging about it. Now, it’s possible that their parents had the same conversation with them and they chose to disregard it. But what was most interesting was that they were one of the wealthiest families at the congregation — people likely would have presumed they were giving that gift whether they said it or not. On the other hand, my family was not one of means. No one would have guessed the projector was coming from us. I learned in that moment that generosity doesn’t always correlate with wealth. Sometimes it’s those you least suspect that are most generous. It was also a good reminder that what you see on the surface is only a shadow of someone’s financial life. Just because they have nice things doesn’t make them rich. Just because they have an abundance of money doesn’t make them generous.
So, do you know your own money story? Unpacking it is key to understanding how you handle money today. Much of how we view and use money is forged in our early years by watching the people we love. We may take on the positive behaviors they taught us, but we may bring their fears, anxieties, and blind spots about money as well. Writing your money autobiography can help you begin to get to recognize your own strengths and blind spots, and it may even help you re-write money beliefs that may have been ingrained in you for a long time. To do this, I encourage you to take the time to reflect on the questions below. Give yourself ample space and time to reflect.
Often the stories that have the deepest impact on us are childhood memories Consider:
1. What’s your happiest memory of money from your childhood? Unhappiest?
2. Growing up, did you feel rich or poor? Why?
3. What attitudes and behaviors about money did you learn from your mother, father, grandparents, or other adult role models?
4. What was your attitude toward money as a teenager? How was this influenced by your friends or family?
5. What’s the greatest money lesson you learned during this phase of your life? Why?
Moving into adulthood:
6. What’s your happiest memory of money from adulthood? Unhappiest?
7. What role did/does money play in your life as a young adult? How is/was this influenced by a spouse or friends?
8. How do you feel about your present financial status compared to the past?
9. Do you worry about money? If so, when did this first start and why?
10. Are you generous or stingy with your money? In what ways?
11. What kinds of risks are you willing to take with your money?
12. Do you intentionally connect your money and your values? In what ways?
13. Thinking back through the decades, how has your relationship with money changed over time? Has anything remained constant? Why?
14. What’s the greatest money lesson you’ve learned throughout adulthood? Why?
15. If you are a parent, how did becoming a having children change your relationship with money?
Many of the questions above came from a resource called “Money Leadership for Thriving Congregations” created by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Want to dig deeper into your money story? Check out this expanded list of questions from Worth Living.
If you’re in a partnered relationship, this is a great activity to work through separately and then share together. When you do this, I encourage you to suspend your judgement and simply focus on listening. It takes vulnerability to uncover your money story — both the positive and the negative aspects — so don’t be quick to dismiss anything that’s shared with you. It can be difficult recognize our most ingrained money beliefs, so as you listen pay attention not only to the stories themselves, but also to the emotions you see in your partner as they share. Prefer to take this activity in bite-sized pieces? Why not discuss one question a week, or share one story each night before bed.
Not in a partnered relationship? This is a great activity to do with a trusted friend or family member. Sharing our stories with others (in addition to writing them down) can help us see patterns in our own life and get a better sense of how our experiences have uniquely shaped us.