Caring Currents

5 Money Styles and How Differences Cause Family Conflicts

Last updated: Jun 29, 2009

Apple and Orange
Image by kokopinto used under the creative commons attribution share alike license.

Have you given much thought to your money style? While you're at it, you might want to consider the money styles of your parents, siblings, and other family members. I'm betting a light bulb will go off, like it did for me when I did the exercise, below. When it comes to the choices we make about money, even those who consider themselves close can behave like apples and oranges. Some money styles go well together, while others cause major sparks to fly.

I spent my life listening to my mom say she had no money, that there was no money, that everything cost more than she could afford. As a teenager, she even made me and my sisters buy our own shampoo and other personal supplies, complaining that there was no room in the budget for such items. Yet once I took control of her finances in her final years, I discovered that in fact, she had a substantial cushion of savings that I'd known nothing about. Money that she could certainly have used to allow us a more comfortable and less stressful life. What gives?

My mother, it turns out, was a "worrier." Her fears about lack of money -- fears she came by honestly as the child of a Depression-poor and widowed father - informed many other decisions she made in her life. I, on the other hand, am a "hoarder," similarly inclined towards saving, but with a much more practical bent. The differences in how we managed money made for endless conflicts right up until the end of my mother's life. Our various money styles also caused innumerable conflicts with my sisters, as we unburdened ourselves of my mother's home and possessions and settled her affairs.

Below are some sample "money style" quiz questions used by financial experts. They use them to help you understand how you view and value money, and where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Use them to analyze your money style--and those of other family members--and you'll gain some valuable insights.

1. Worrier: If you lie awake at night worrying about money but aren't actually sure how high your credit card limit is or how much is in your savings account right now, you're a worrier. This syndrome, experts say, tends to stem from lack of confidence about money. If you don't feel well equipped to handle financial decisions, you're likely to become paralyzed. The result: endless, unproductive worry.

2. Hoarder: Are you a flea market and garage sale afficionado? Do you love to gloat over the fact that your $16 dress from Ross is as pretty as the $100 dresses that surround you at a wedding? If you're a lifelong bargain hunter like me, chances are you're a "hoarder." The name's a bit of a misnomer, though; you may not be a stereotypical pack rat. (I myself love to divest myself of stuff as much as find bargains.) The central issue here is that you're conservative with money, savings-conscious, but in a hard-headed pragmatic way. Unlike the "worrier," who's also a penny-pincher but without the practical streak.

3. Spender: This name is apt; a spender does spend freely. But it's more than that. The key point here is that buying and owning new things makes you happy, because your confidence is tied up with issues of quality and status. Similarly, you feel unhappy and deprived if circumstances dictate that you can't afford things you see friends and colleagues having. If it makes you feel happy to know that your iPhone is the latest model or your car stands out in the company parking lot, you're probably a spender. You're also probably carrying numerous credit cards with high balances.

4. Binger: If you're an odd combination of hoarder and spender, it's likely you're a binger, experts say. Bingers keep on top of their debt, and may even be masters of finding the latest new low-rate card offer. At the same time, the binger's the one who whips out the card to buy an enormous flat-screen TV just in time for the Super Bowl party. If "I've been really good this week so I deserve it," goes through your head at regular intervals, you're a binger.

5. Miser Known by various names, from the "ostrich" to the "money monk," misers can be zen-like practicers of self-denial or may feel themselves to be "above it all" when it comes to money. If thinking about or discussing money is distasteful to you because you feel that "good" people don't worry about money, you're probably a miser. While your sentiments are understandable--particularly if you were raised by parents who taught that the love of money is the root of all evil-- these feelings can cause as much or more conflict in families as any of the other types. The problem is, money is a basic necessity to keep any family afloat. By being an "ostrich" and acting as if money doesn't matter, you saddle others with those responsibilities.

The secret to working around differences in money styles within families is understanding the differences and talking about them. Knowing your money style and the styles of your parents and siblings can make this process much easier. It can also help to be alert for predictable clashes between types. Next week I'll go into areas of agreement between money types, areas of conflict, and how to resolve those conflicts.