Did you know your family has a “wealth culture”?
(By “culture,” I mean the collection of common beliefs, values, assumptions, customs, and behaviors that mark a group of people.)
Every group of people displays a certain culture. Cities do. So do schools and churches, civic organizations and sports teams.
Businesses also have distinct cultures. (I’m thinking now of one fast-food restaurant marked by unfriendly workers and painfully slow service…and another establishment up the road where I’m always served quickly and with a genuine smile.)
The fact is, cultures develop wherever people live, work, worship, serve, and play together.
So, your family has a culture. And that culture encompasses a host of facets—including money. For that reason, we can call the way your family sees, understands, and uses money your “wealth culture.”
In my three plus decades as a financial planner, I’ve met people from all sorts of family “wealth cultures.”
Here are the six most common (and the sort of self-talk that accompanies each one):
- Scarcity. This says there’s only so much wealth in the world. “The more someone else has, the less that is available to me.” Also, “If I spend this money, it’ll be gone; I’ll never be able to replace it.” Generosity is difficult for people here; envy is a problem.
- Guilt. Similar to scarcity, this culture views wealth as a zero-sum game. “I’m not rich, but because I have more than some, I can’t enjoy what I do have, no matter how hard I worked to acquire it. How can I celebrate while others suffer?”
- Inferiority. This culture sees wealth as a birthright for others. “Wealth? That’s for others, not me. I’m from the wrong family. I went to the wrong school. I live in the wrong neighborhood, have the wrong friends, go to the wrong church. People in my group don’t get wealthy.”
- Entitlement. This culture sees wealth as something owed to me. “Because of ___, I deserve my share. My people founded this city! Do you know who my father/mother is! Do you know where I got my MBA? How dare anyone deny me things I want!”
- Consequence. This culture sees wealth as created—and individuals having freedom and agency to create it. “I can work to generate and preserve wealth. If I wisely and diligently provide a service or a product that people find useful, interesting, or valuable, they will pay me for it.”
- Opportunity. This is the opposite of a negative, scarcity mindset. People from this culture say, “There’s never been a better time to be alive. In terms of knowledge, technology, and the ability to connect, the world has never offered more possibilities. If I will just think smart, work hard, be resilient, and work well with others, I can do more than I imagine.”
These are the six “wealth cultures” I see most commonly. I bet one, or maybe two, of them feels familiar. It reminds you of how your family of origin viewed wealth—and shaped your views of money, your habits of saving, spending, and investing.
Here’s the good news: If that culture is not what you want, you can change your wealth culture! And by changing it, you’ll affect all who come after you—your family, friends and community.
Just remember this about a culture: It will try to define you and dictate to you. Like an internal GPS, your “wealth culture” will constantly “re-route” you so that stay with the group.
All the more reason to ask yourself, “What do I want my wealth culture to be?”
To help you think through issues like this, I’ve created a comprehensive checklist of pre-retirement questions for people who are 60-something. It’s free if you’d like a copy. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll send it to you right away.
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