They Inherited Bad Money Habits From Their Parents. Here's How They Broke Them

They Inherited Bad Money Habits From Their Parents. Here’s How They Broke Them

“You’re going to destroy your financial future.”

That’s what Bethany McCamish’s parents told her after she got her first credit card at the age of 18.

Like so much of what we learn as kids, parental advice and admonitions make a strong impression, and they tend to have a lasting impact. Financial therapists say our money habits as adults are deeply rooted in our childhood experiences and observations.

Our family’s messages help shape our learned behaviors and values regarding spending, saving and investing, explains Megan Ford , researcher and coordinator at the University of Georgia’s ASPIRE Clinic, which offers a range of financial therapy and other counseling services. “The individuals who raise us have a primary role in our financial socialization: what we learn about money, and what we don’t,” said Ford.

And these habits are particularly hard to unlearn because they tend to make us feel safe, comfortable and functional, even if we know they’re not optimal, Ford explained.

McCamish, for example, had to fight hard to reframe her mindset around credit cards and loans given her parents’ adamant views opposing any and all debt. It took years to uproot her childhood shame and fear of money and to start the process of financial re-socialization. “All adults at some point usually figure out that what your parents had to say or how they did things wasn’t always the only way,” said McCamish. “There were other potential truths.”

Here are three people who broke from the financial behaviors they learned as kids, and some tips on how you can move past financial roadblocks that don’t serve you. ‘I was terrified of getting a credit card.’

Bethany McCamish, 29, brand designer, Washington state

Growing up in a low-income family, Bethany McCamish had parents who were devout disciples of Dave Ramsey, an evangelical Christian radio host who is vehemently against the use of credit cards. Most of the financial education McCamish got as a child involved adhering to Ramsey’s extreme view that any kind of debt will destroy you. “I was basically terrified of getting a credit card or anything like buying a car with a car loan,” she said.

Her parents would go so far as to cut up credit cards in front of the kids at the dining room table when a balance was paid off. The family never did nice things like go out to dinner or take a vacation unless some kind of debt had been removed. Debt “had all the power.” Bethany McCamish When she got her first credit card at the age of 18, McCamish felt like she was committing an act of wrongdoing, and was nervous she would mess something up. After she made a purchase on the card, she went straight home to log in to her account. “I was sweating,” she said.

Her parents didn’t teach her the importance of having a credit score or being able to make responsible monthly payments, let alone what to do if she was unable to make a purchase with cash. How she broke from fear of debt:

It was a slow progression over years, but McCamish started to push past fears of money. She began managing small amounts of debt and felt proud paying off her credit cards every month.

Realizing how much her parents had financially crippled her with their conservative beliefs, she decided to push back. That also meant rejecting her family’s view of women as not needing to worry about money because they were destined to serve solely as wives. “Women are perfectly capable of understanding numbers and making smart decisions,” she noted.

Early in her career as a teacher, McCamish started to meet colleagues who achieved certain milestones, like buying a home. She hadn’t considered the idea of taking out a mortgage to purchase a house, but now she started to think about how she might pull it off herself.

Because McCamish’s parents neither saved nor contributed to her education, McCamish was also forced to confront $78,000 in student loan debt after undergraduate and graduate school. At first she didn’t want to deal with it, but with encouragement from her partner, she shifted her mindset and strategized ways to actually pay it off.

She and her partner bought their first home in 2016. Then they renovated it, sold it and used the profit to get an even nicer house. They did the same for their second home. Buying their first two homes became their biggest wealth builder. “Because we managed the debt well, because we made sure it was an appreciating […]

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