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Finance in focus: Finding the source of your money mindset
Aja Evans is a licensed mental health counselor who specializes in financial therapy. She owns and operates a private practice in New York City.
While sitting at either end of the psychological debate, nature and nurture both play a role in contributing to who we are. How we think, feel, and behave is not only determined by our genetics, but by our lived experience. Our relationship with money is no different.
Contrary to outdated finance advice, navigating money is more than just the facts and figures. What we do with our money, both personally and professionally, is really about how we were nurtured, what we were taught, and what we believe about money.
From the first moment you started taking in information about money, your money story was being written. Your money story is the autobiographical history of beliefs, experiences, and observations you digested about money throughout your life. All the teachings and ideas passed down to us through cultural practices, and verbal and non-verbal cues, impact how we think and behave with money. To understand the root of your money behaviors, you have to contend with the realities of what you have lived through.
As a small business owner, understanding your money story is crucial because it impacts how you work, see your success, and show up for your business. Embedded in our money story are money beliefs, subconscious ideas, or values we internalize that govern our actions with money. For example, some people might believe:
“Only people who work hard are successful’” “I am only successful if I make X amount of money’” or “If I make a mistake everything will fall apart.”
These and a multitude of other money beliefs inform our actions and the steps we take to build our lives and businesses. Interestingly enough, these beliefs do not always have to come from us. They can be generational (passed down from family members) or ideas we picked up from other influences, integrated into our thinking, and made our own.
Understanding your money story allows you insight into certain actions you may take that may hurt your goals, hopes, and dreams. When you are attuned to the parts of yourself that could potentially struggle in business, you are better equipped to navigate your feelings without interrupting your ability to do what is best for your business. Healthy activities, like being on top of your expenses, hiring more staff, or expanding your business, can be stifled by your subconscious money beliefs.
Digging through your history can be fraught with a variety of emotions. I caution you to be kind as you begin to sift through your memories. Once you know and understand your specific story, you can create systems that support you rather than trigger you. This is how you create a healthy relationship with money: by acknowledging your beliefs and experiences, validating your feelings, asking if those beliefs are true for you today, and ensuring that your financial behaviors support you.
While you can never ignore the harder parts of life or business, you can create space to do the things that allow you to be neutral and have a healthy relationship with money. Our goal is to be able to sit with both the good and the bad without having an impact on your self-worth or your business.
If you’re curious about your money story, you can sit down and write it out. Here are a few ways to start:
- List every memory you can from your first memory as a child that had anything to do with money. Afterward, go back in and fill in details about how you felt, what you observed, and how it may have shifted your thinking.
- List your core beliefs about money.
- Reflect on what it was like financially growing up.
- Ask yourself what you thought about money as a child. What has stayed the same or changed through your life?
- What did you believe about poor people and wealthy people?
- What significant financial events went on throughout your life?
What’s your money personality?
Money archetypes can help us understand how and why we interact with our finances the way we do, and even begin to make changes for the better. Find yourself in one of four common types.
They may get excited about a brand-new idea, like working with a business coach or renovating their shop. They want to get the idea off the ground ASAP, which may lead to overspending.
They are of the mindset, “no risk, no reward.” While this mindset has the potential to make it big, a “go big or go home” mentality could put the business at risk. Some risks take years to pay off financially, or they may not pay out at all.
How to manage
They may neglect financial tasks for their businesses, feel fearful of what they might find when they do look at their finances, or generally feel anxious about money.
They tend to think ahead, have a vision, and have a detailed idea of how they want to execute. While Planners have helpful qualities, they may find it difficult to bounce back emotionally when things don’t go as expected.
How to manage
Good With Numbers: “Our bookkeeper of two years stole over $12,000,” said gift shop owner Eric.
Keila Hill-Trawick is the founder and CEO of Little Fish Accounting, a boutique CPA firm dedicated to serving micro-businesses through accounting and tax support.
CPA Keila responds to real-life “oh sh*t tax moments submitted by Square business owners.
Dear Good With Numbers,
Our accountant spent four days trying to find any [deductions] we missed because we had a tax bill of $30,000. It never occurred to me that when I made estimated tax payments, I should be making those from my’money versus having the business pay them. Luckily, we could pay the bill (by draining our savings).
Also, our bookkeeper, who had been great for two years, stole over $12,000. It made for a great tax deduction that year — and a lesson learned. Even though the books are ‘heir’responsibility, I still need to have some idea of what’s going on. If something seems off, ask lots of questions. This is why I keep my bookkeeper and accountant separate.
— Eric, gift shop owner, Minneapolis, Minnesota
What a lesson! But your bookkeeper and tax preparer don’t have to live in two separate places — as long as you know what to look for in both.
Make sure to review your bank accounts and transactions weekly. Remember that bookkeeping is retroactive — looking backward to analyze what’s happened to plan for what’s next. Make sure to review your bank account activity on at least a weekly basis so nothing goes too long without your eyes on it.
Know what you’re looking at. Don’t just get monthly reports and throw them to the side. Have a general understanding of what the financial reports mean, and make sure you have access to the accounting system to dig into the details when you have questions.
Save regularly. When you review your financial reports each month, make sure to put aside money towards your tax burden for the next year. Not sure how much? Start with 20–25% of profit for federal payments and 5–8% for state estimates.
Ask questions. Your tax return is your responsibility. If there is anything you don’t understand, make sure your preparer is willing and able to answer your questions so that you can sign your return with confidence.