How Financial Experiences Impact the Way You Think About Money

By Tom Shepard

I ran across an image recently outlining a structure for financial wellbeing. There were two components in this particular approach: Financial Experiences and Financial Education. I’d like to suggest a third. There is a hard-wired way we each approach money that exists before experience and education even have a chance to exert influence on our thoughts, actions and beliefs. In celebration of financial literacy month let me explain how in the book Money isn’t Everything, Everything is Money, you can learn how to Evolve with Your MoneyTM by including this third idea – Find Your Financial NatureTM.

I have raised three kids, taught countless advisors, and worked with thousands of clients and I can honestly say that experience and education alone have left many of them full of anxiety, fear, confusion, distorted thoughts and limited success in really understanding money. Let’s first look at the quality and quantity of Financial Experience. In fact, let’s name some of the experiences we need to master in order to be successful with money. We need to spend it, earn it, save it, invest it, leverage it, give it and take it. 


As a child, in what I call “the allowance stage” we are most often encouraged to spend our money on things. Later in life after we have a pretty healthy habit of buying things we will be taught that people who buy experiences are happier. We learn that our money is different than mom and dad’s money. Our birthday gifts are allowed to get set aside for fun things. We don’t have to worry about earning enough to pay the rent because we are allowed to live at home for free. The connection between how money gets used and how it comes to exist in the first place is pretty mysterious.


During the work phase of life we will earn a decent living doing what somebody tells us to do. If we are observant we might notice that money is earned in a lot more ways. In fact some of it is “unearned.” And that might feel a little odd. Working smarter, not harder, is how many people get ahead.


In time we may reach a level where we have savings and might feel inclined to invest it. Putting money at risk in order to obtain value through dividends or rent or other income in addition to appreciation or the increasing value of things we own and have a responsibility for. Safe (but not too safe) and Productive. 


If we are lucky we will have avoided taking on debt before understanding the difference between debt and leverage. But every college campus is crowded with people deep in student debt signing up for their first credit card – maybe even doing so to be able to have a little extra cash on spring break. After all experiences are how money buys happiness. 


As a young person we are often taught and encouraged to take a moment, to look around and see if there isn’t a way we can give back to a world that has blessed us with a little money. Giving and taking are experiences we learn. Setting 10% aside for giving and 10% aside for saving are nice maxims. But who really teaches this? and who really does it? and how does this wonderful sounding habit play out as life becomes more complex? Who is really this disciplined? Are we setting a good example for young people to see.

Difference that matters

In 28 years teaching, advising and raising awareness around money and how we trade it with time, energy and words to shape the world to meet our needs I have determined that people begin with a natural way of relating to this trade. People are of different Types. Parents will often observe to me that Jimmy is a saver and Johnny is a spender. I had a middle eastern guy assert that all women are spenders. Guess what? It’s way more subtle. A room full of women will have spenders and earners and savers and investors and borrowers and givers and takers. Some of them will even have the predilection for being that way with their money. And the same goes for a room full of men and a Yale study found it was true with monkeys.  

Understanding and Integration

Knowing how you’re wired is the single biggest lever we have learned to help people make sense of their experience and align their education with the next most valuable idea for transformation and growth. You were born with a bias. It’s a way of being that’s been unconsciously influencing every decision in your life. How you manage money, turns out, is also how you manage your time, your energy and your relationships. If you want to understand, you need to be more conscious about choosing what to learn not just based on your experiences, but also based on the pattern of thought that has kept you cycling around one of these relationships with money. Superman is a saver. Ironman is an investor. Our strengths can be our weakness. What is your kryptonite? Is it a remnant from your home planet? 


To learn more about and to Find Your Financial Nature go to or directly to the assessment at


Tom Shepard has worked in finance for over 27 years. He both attended and taught at the Institute for Civic Leadership, and produced writings on the Seven Levels of Sustainable Nonprofits. Additionally, he taught personal finance and mathematics at Gould Academy, and is an avid speaker. Now, he leads Shepard FINANCIAL, a comprehensive financial planning and personalized investment management group, as well as Currency Camp, which offers financial advice to groups and individuals. 

Shepard has been a guest on Dr. Lisa Belisle’s “Dr. Lisa Radio Hour” and Debi Davis’s “Mind Your Own Business.” 

In addition to his work in the finance world, Tom is an avid lacrosse player and skier. He lives with his family in Cumberland, Maine.

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