Everyone has a money story. The formative cultural, historical, and family events that shape our attitudes and mindset all contribute to our relationship with money. These attitudes include productive and motivating ones and destructive ones based on fear or doubt. For example, stories and messages passed down through families that have endured economic hardship are very different from those that have enjoyed economic prosperity. These stories can have a lasting impact, especially on young children, young adults, and their attitudes toward money.   

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In The Warmth of Other Suns, author Isabel Wilkerson explores the lives of three individuals—Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, George Swanson Starling, and Robert Pershing Foster—chronicling their experiences during The Great Migration, one of the largest movements of people in American history.  From 1910-1970 approximately six million Black people migrated from the South to Northern, Midwestern, and Western states. According to author Charles Blow, The Great Migration also led to the fracturing of families, the weakening of Black political power, and continued economic and employment uncertainty in the North. This important journey for many Black Americans formed the backdrop of their family’s most recent history.


The Great Migration is but one of many migration stories throughout history that have come to inform the family money story. This mindset translates to attitudes about risk and what is possible. As an investment advisor, I see it in the way individuals approach their careers, the way that they parent and advise their children, and the management of their money. I have also witnessed differences in the money story between men and women. While many men assume abundance and a continued ability to generate wealth, many women approach wealth as though it is limited to what they currently possess, in terms of assets, and do not consider its growth potential.  As a result, many women desire to keep their asset base stable, or fully intact, with no risk of loss.

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Across gender, race, and socioeconomic background, the money story belongs to everyone. 

Our upbringing and early experiences with money, including how our parents or caregivers discussed and managed finances, as well as the level of financial security or instability during our childhood, leave a lasting imprint on our attitudes and behaviors. Additionally, our exposure to financial education and literacy significantly influences our perspectives on money. People who have received formal education about money management tend to be more inclined to save, invest, and plan for the future.

Moreover, our chosen career paths also play a crucial role in shaping our outlook on money. Individuals in high-paying industries may associate money with success and prioritize material possessions, while those in lower-paying fields may primarily perceive money as a means to fulfill basic needs.


Life events such as job loss, debt, or bankruptcy can profoundly impact our financial mindset. For instance, someone who has endured significant financial hardships may become more risk-averse and adopt a conservative approach toward money management. Conversely, experiencing financial success, like landing a high-paying job or receiving an inheritance, can instill confidence and foster a desire to invest and grow wealth. These various factors combined create a complex web of influences that determine our attitudes and behaviors towards money throughout our lives.

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Overall, attitudes about money are complex and influenced by a wide range of experiences. Understanding how our experiences have shaped our attitudes can help us make more informed financial decisions and achieve our goals. They can also help us unpack and understand the parts of our family narratives and histories that act as hindrances to risk-taking.

Financial stability and security play a pivotal role in fostering inter-generational stewardship within families. When families are assured of their ability to provide for future generations, they can envision a lasting legacy and plan for essential financial needs such as education, real estate, and entrepreneurship. Moreover, they can establish family governance structures that empower each generation with a responsible “caretaking” role.

Wealth also grants individuals more choices and options, which in turn boosts their confidence in decision-making. Having financial resources allows them to pursue business ventures or passion projects with greater assurance, unlike those who lack such resources.

Furthermore, wealth is often associated with elevated status and social standing, providing individuals with a sense of security within their social circles. Access to exclusive opportunities and experiences further contributes to their confidence and overall well-being.

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Overcoming underlying assumptions about money management is a lifelong process. The work ahead lies in unpacking one’s story and understanding how that story plays a role in your attitude and mindset around money. As you embark on or continue your own journey, consider how the following might serve you

  1. Develop self-awareness. Be sensitive and attuned to your connections to your past and the way parts of your background may be a burden, and ultimately, unhelpful in mapping out your future. This is especially important as it relates to risk-taking. 
  2. Separate yourself from unhelpful messages. Recognize how to separate those values instilled in you that may not serve you well. Your early family instruction and guidance may or may not be helpful in achieving your goals. 
  3. Do the work. It is important to work through all the chapters in your family journey, facing them head-on with courage and clarity, without judgment.
  4. Get the help you need. Working with a professional is not only helpful but often essential to developing an objective perspective. 
    The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management or its affiliates. All opinions are subject to change without notice. Neither the information provided nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. 
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