By Michael F. Kay

“We are what we believe we are.”  —C.S. Lewis

This C.S. Lewis quote applies perfectly to our view of our money and our life, and could very well define our lives. We tend to see the richness in our lives by defining the relationships we develop and maintain or the difference we make in the lives of others. We may also define the lack of richness in our lives by our inability to keep pace with the lifestyles or material possessions of others. What is most interesting may be the fact that which end of the telescope we look through can be traced back to our early childhood influences.

Our money memories or imprints come from what we see, as children, with our child brain and our ability to understand and experience as a child. For example, if you grew up witnessing conversations concerning what other people have or do, you are more likely to see that measurement as normal—and will eventually adopt it as your own. If you grew up hearing and witnessing that money was used to provide security and to help others less fortunate, then that imprint is likely to be your own. Simply, how your parents viewed money and its use impacts you greatly.

There is a vast difference between wealth as a number and wealth as a composite of human-based values. Unfortunately, the playing field has been tilted in favor of the former. We are constantly bombarded by advertising and messaging that emphasize a focus and desire to achieve a lifestyle of material possession rather than on centering on our deepest core values.

If we believe our worth in the world is a number or a balance in an account, we erase our value as guides, storytellers, and recounters of family experiences and history. Without a clear understanding and vivid picture of our core values, it becomes too easy to stray from a meaningful path to one adorned by the less important.

As a Financial Life Planner, I hear clients coming in and wanting to talk about money and goals. But further into our meeting, we find that after a short conversation, they really want to talk about their core values and what provides a sense of security. We shift the conversation in terms of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and what is truly important in their lives. Once the topic of security is covered, the conversation migrates to topics like: what provides meaning in their lives, how they can leave a legacy of love and care, and that they want to be remembered for their contribution to the world in more than a financial sense.

In my career I have seen those who know who they are and what they believe and those who either have an obfuscated understanding or have never taken the time for introspection. I have listened to some clients who are fearful about their ability to outlive their resources. But when we talk about what is of greatest importance to them, the conversation shifts to basic needs of security, family, relationships, and having a purpose. What becomes decidedly absent is the focus on material goods and the need to impress others. Sure, many people might want to leave a financial legacy, if possible, but not at the cost of leaving something deeper that supersedes the monetary implications.

We do an exercise with our clients called “Money Memories” in which we ask each person to write about their earliest money memories, what they learned about money from each parent, and whether they consider themselves more of a worrier or an avoider. The exercise goes on to ask, “In your heart of hearts, what have you wanted money to give you?” This question goes to, forgive the word play, the heart of the matter. What is it that reaches deep inside that has meaning? The responses are spectacular, ranging from simply to “live a life well lived” to “provide security so as not to be a burden on my family” to “pay educational costs for grandchildren” to the support of a charity, organization, or another cause that aligns with their spirit.

There are no wrong answers when it comes to money and people’s beliefs; there is only how you see yourself and what is most meaningful to you. What’s important is that you make the time and space for these thoughts and conversations: to ground yourself to think beyond the external influences of your day-to-day money life and create a life plan that reflects who you are and what you really care most about. After all, if C.S. Lewis is correct, then we can be who we believe we are by integrating our values with our actions.

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From the author, Michael F. Kay: I started working toward my true calling from an unlikely place. After deciding that a career as a trumpet player wasn’t in the cards, I earned my CPA and worked in public accounting for 10 years. It was my background in finance and my passion for working directly with families that led me to Financial Life Planning. Listening to your story and planning for the life you want makes my job energizing, rewarding, and well … awesome. I founded Financial Life Focus because I wanted to work with people who put your success at the forefront of everything they do; people who understand that finding balance is a journey. We built a team whose expertise and working styles complement each other. We’re people first, and advisors second. We all have pre-conceived notions about money, but you can build money habits that support your values. You can shape your own money mindset—although getting where you want to be may not be a straight line. Appreciate where you are; value where you’ve been. Let’s plan for your next. Visit