Programmed For Financial Negativity
There is little debate within the personal finance community about the role and importance of environment in shaping your saving and growth mindsets. As we are all social creatures to some extent we require a level of help and validation as we go through life earning, learning and growing. Without the space to throw out new ideas, receive constructive criticism, and move forward, we never really become adults. These days this is additionally important given that the ‘prevailing wisdom’ of the ‘Boomer Generation’ has be shown to be nothing but snake oil.
The modern investor has a great new range of tools and better advice than their parents ever did, but they also have to navigate a completely changed and unstable economic reality. In normal times we would lean on our social circles to help us form ideas and plans, working together to get collective ideas about money and what to do with it.
Unfortunately, for most of us, our social circles are held back from reaching their full potential by three main factors:
- The majority of the circle is accidental, not cultivated
- The prevailing wisdom is to waste money
- Social Media has created endless negative echo chambers
What this means for your financial growth
When you put all these factors together you are left with a very negative environment when starting out on your journey to financial growth. You will hear a lot of opinions from people with little or no ambition, who are terrible with their money and managing their lives. You will be bombarded with images and videos of things that you don’t need to buy. Finally, you will be shown so many wrong things so often on social media that you will start to wonder if you are the one the crazy one.
In short, your physical and online social circles will actively work to keep you poor and unfulfilled.
How do we stop this from happening? We prune our social circles day by day, piece by piece.
You Are Not Your Upbringing…
The number one source of financial ignorance is the family. The family unit is the thing that makes us who we are in so many different ways. This is especially true in finances where most of us are financially dependent on our parents/guardians for 18+ years of our lives. We learn what to do from watching these people.
It is very important to note that last point. We learn what to do first, before we learn what not to do. If you grew up with parents that we terrible with money, you learned to be terrible with money before you even consciously thought about your financial growth.
It is only once we become more aware of the world around us that we start to notice all of the hidden issues that our families had with money. Those little decisions that added up to give us our financial mindset. The ‘$5 latte’ habits that we took with us into adulthood.
Time and time again I have had friends, colleagues, and readers mention at least one of the following ‘hidden’ issues within their household growing up:
- Excess/Unproductive Social Spending -> The $60 ‘Beers with the Boys’ twice a week
- Household Goods on Credit -> The $500 TV every two years
- Keeping Up With The Jones’ -> The House Remodeling because Karen got one
- Spend it While You Got It -> Viewing Finances As A Weekly/Monthly Thing
- Stability is Everything – > 2.3 kids, work the same job for 20 years etc
The reason that these issues are so common is that there is nothing wrong with them. Yes, you read that correctly, not a single one of these behaviors is toxic, in context.
You can spend $60 twice a week on beers/wings, you can buy a new TV and build up you house. You can even adopt a budget that allows you to spend whatever you want during the month. You can do all this easily if you have built the right systems and the right mindset.
The problem is that many of the people that influenced us growing up did these things because they either thought they deserved them or their social circle told them it was normal. Very few people sat back and looked at what the context of their spending was. Those beers are fine only if you make enough money so that $120 a week is insignificant, that is, $5-6,000 a year is insignificant to you. We grew up with the spending habits of people on $100,000 salaries when the household brought in half that.
The same logic applies to your jobs. You can sure stay somewhere for 20 years, provided it pays you your overall worth in money and benefits. Kids are great, so long as you have an extra $10,000 a year sitting around per child.
By accepting the warped logic of their circles, our guardians raised us with the same logic, and this is just your average group of people, many of us grew up in highly dysfunctional or broken homes. That would compound the toxicity even further. I even know people who were wealthy at birth, and were raised to think of themselves as elite and deserving, only to lose it all and wrack up endless debt trying to maintain their ‘status’. On the flipside I know people born into millionaire families that budget effectively and maintain constant humility. Nurture is everything.
The influence these people had on you isn’t your fault. That doesn’t really matter though and you are sadly going to have to build systems to entirely ignore their advice if they aren’t financially savvy. It can be tough, but as an adult, you are your own family now, and you have to grow for you, not anyone else.
The Role of our Friends in Growth
We all grow up with friends and family and later on colleagues that we keep in our lives. These people can be a rock during our hard times but they can also be a source of problems. Not everybody has the same personality, goals, and life experiences.
This variety is great when positively aimed, it is catastrophic when it is based on toxicity. You might have friends who are bad with money or colleagues who live their lives on credit and don’t invest anything. Worst of all you might have people who claim to be ‘free spirited’ but are really just selfish without impulse control. When people try to drag you down these paths it is worth looking at the net benefit of their friendship.
Everybody is on a journey, and everybody is worthy of respect, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can’t outgrow your childhood friends. People can be very nice, and not even actively negative towards your goals. A lot of your friends will likely fall into this category.
However, not being negative is not the same as being positive. If your childhood/school friends don’t have the same level of end goals as you, if they subscribe to different ideals that you don’t, it is better to move them into the ‘acquaintance’ category rather than have them as sources of advice and support. This means being cordial but not investing further in the relationship.
They can have different political, social, religious beliefs, then can choose different careers, cities, relationships, whatever. What they cannot do and still be a friend is choose anything other than a mindset of continuous growth and continuous improvement.
That might sound a bit harsh but there is on truth about all successful people: They actively cultivate their personal and professional circles to lift them up and be lifted up by them.
But You Are Your Environment
Look, it takes all different sorts of people in your life to make it worthwhile, not everybody has to share your ambitions but negativity can’t be kept around long term.
If your colleague is happy where they are, that’s great, the problem is when they aren’t happy but refuse to take action. The lazy and selfish aren’t going to add anything good to your life. This is something we learn as we go through life but so many of us are ‘afraid of confrontation’. Unfortunately if you want to grow you either need to help your circle grow with you, or change your circle.
Again, your social circles don’t have to be copies of you but they do have to share the core elements of the growth mindset that you are trying to build. If you want to start investing, don’t associate with people or follow social media of people who are anti-investing etc.
This is a super hard thing to do, especially when some people in your circle might only have a slightly negative impact in your life. You can remain humble, remain kind, keep all of who you are and still jettison Negative Nellies from your world.
The truth is, this is a necessary step to your success as a person and the sustainability of your Money Mindset. You have to have the confidence to take care of your own positive growth first. You aren’t under any moral obligation to humor people’s negative behavior. Be assertive, respectful, and positive. Many people will adapt to the new you and stop their toxic behavior in your presence. Those that don’t, won’t.
So firstly, go through your social media and remove anything that doesn’t add value to your life. Social media should inspire you and make you think/laugh, it should never make you feel inadequate or pressured to conform. If you can cultivate a more positive community they will help carry you to your goals.
This includes your uncle that post minions memes about ‘Crooked Hillary’ or your classmate that posts endless yoga pictures drinking Starbucks (it’s me, I’m that classmate).
Overall it is up to you to control everything that you can about your environment. Nobody is going to set you up for success you have to do that yourself. Many times we can’t get away from everything negative that holds us back and that’s ok. The bare minimum though, is cutting the enough toxicity from your life to gain positive momentum.
Often this is lonely, anxiety inducing, and much more of a struggle than the Dude Bros on Twitter will make you believe. It is however, always worth it.
A Healthy Space For Financial Growth
So you’ve cut out the obviously toxic voices in your life and established a bit of forward momentum. That’s the number one most important step in your success, but what about creating a sustainable social circle to carry you all the way to the finish line? That takes a bit more work.
Surrounding yourself with positive people will certainly help your energy levels and ability to be consistent. Generally these people will also freely share knowledge and experience with you on many relevant topics. You might just build a world beating investment strategy from a friend you made on Twitter or build out your CV via a series of great Instagram reels.
In addition, those people physically present will always have some sort of skill and experience that they will freely exchange with you. It is a great feeling to know that you can help friends and they can help you. It is even better when you all possess varied abilities and educations. You can, with time, turn a social circle into an entire ecosystem for your life. It isn’t incredibly difficult, it just takes time and conscious effort. The keys to succeeding in this are:
- Be genuine – Actually take an interest in the wellbeing of your social circle. Help them and ask them for help.
- Cultivate for Mindset not status – Your circle should reflect your values first, your class, race, religion, education second.
- Go your own way – Don’t follow the crowd unless it’s what you already want yourself. It’s ok to dip in and out of life’s ‘must haves’.
- Read Books, Climb Mountains– Do productive, creative, and physical things. This maintains and grows your circle in a positive way
- Turn Off Social Media For 6 Months – Unless it’s your job, you need to detox then rebuild your feeds. Your brain will thank you
If you don’t have the right social circle behind you, you are unlikely to reach your goals. Creating this circle requires a lot of effort to repair or replace negative influences in your life. Financial Growth is about more than just making money, it is about making and keeping it in a sustainable manner. It is a great mindset to have and bring positivity to many other areas of your life. Unfortunately, the first step towards a new life is also the first step away from the old one.
Invest in yourself and your circle and the dollars with follow.