Category Archives: Little Kid Thinking

Kid or Grownup?

What part of you manages your money?  The kid or the grownup?  Let’s take a look at that.

What do most people do when they get stuck, don’t understand, are baffled, or overwhelmed, about money?  Often they:

  • Avoid or ignore money, hoping it will solve itself
  • Get angry
  • Makeup excuses
  • Spend more to “feel” better
  • Hoard
  • Worry and obsess about it
  • Try to act like they know what they are doing with it

There is something all those choices have in common: They are the actions of children, not grownups.  That’s right!  We all have little kids managing our money!  

We were little kids when we learned what little we know about money.  The first thing we learned was that we ‘don’t talk about it, ever!’  How do you learn about something you can’t talk about?  By observation.  And the thing that most kids learn by observing their parents around money, is that it’s a very ‘hinky’ thing! There often are more conversations about what not to do with it than how to actually manage it.  If you got any training about it in school it was likely from a teacher who didn’t like dealing with it.  We fumble around thinking everyone else looks like they are doing well with this, and we are the only ones who are clueless.

Thus our thinking and skillsets around money never got revised, improved, or shifted.

Frankly, if any of us were to pick a part of us to run our money, I don’t think we’d pick our little kid part.  Personally, I want my money run by the part of me that is thoughtful, adept, balanced, calm, and curious.  What part of you do you want to run your money?  What part do you think is running it now?

What is money’s role in this?  Was any of this money’s fault?  Maybe we should have scolded money, given it a good talking to, frightened it?  It all sounds pretty funny, doesn’t it? We often treat money as if it was a person.  And act as if it’s money’s job, to protect us and possibly even parent us.  More of that little kid stuff, huh?

Money’s actual job, as I see it, is to tell us what is going on WITHOUT the emotion, criticism or judgment.  Money has been doing that all along.  It’s been saying “there are no savings”, “you don’t have insurance”, “you are spending a lot on bright shiny things”, etc.  Money tells us all that and more.  It does it quietly.  We have to actually look and listen if we are going to know what money is telling us.  The evidence of what is going on will pile up.  It’s all there.  We can all be forensic accountants of our own spending habits.  And money will never have an opinion.

Money is reflective, not causative.  It shows you what you are up to—in how you make it and how you spend it.  Money won’t fix your life or solve your problems just by having it.  It will tell you what you are up to around your problems and life if you look.  You’ll find that looking at what money is reflecting will be an effective way of solving the mystery of where you are. Give it a try with that grownup part of you, and see what you find.


Shell Tain, the Untangler

If you need support in figuring out what money is telling you, give me a call at 503-258-1630 or leave a comment.

First Things First

When it comes to untangling our myriad of personal money knots, it seems to me there is an essential concept that is missing.  It’s about putting first things first.

Do you have some challenges with money?   Around 97{d17d1c7cbc79c3528c645ea839b9b4dcb45f699f05bb148e76e09641ba980643} of us do.  There are bunches and bunches of problems people have with money.  Although there are many, many variations, it mostly it comes down to:

  • Not having as much as we want.
  • Not knowing how to manage it.
  • Spending more that we make.

In other words we realize that something isn’t working for us around money.  And whatever we have decided the missing piece is, we then seek to ‘fix’ it directly.  We try to make more.  We take a class on budgeting.  We set rules around spending.  All that sounds like a great idea… and yet, it doesn’t work, does it?

It’s actually pointing to a much bigger issue, one that I discovered long ago in ‘Corporate Land’.  In my day as a Controller/CFO, the ‘rule’ was to not bring up a problem unless you had a solution.  Sounds good, but there is a big trap in there.

The trap is that you end up ‘fixing’ things that aren’t the actual problem, and thus actually creating more problems.

Huh?  Well in business the fix is usually a form or a procedure, and if it doesn’t address the real underlying issue, it just makes for more bureaucracy and fiddly irritation, right?  I finally learned that the longer process of actually discussing the issue came up with much more effective solutions!

So let’s go visit a hypothetical married couple and see what’s happening in the money tangle of their marriage.  For grins lets say that he keeps a budget to the penny and is watching money all the time, and that she never looks at it and spends it on things that make her feel good.  They fit the criteria we had above — not having enough, not managing it well, and spending too much.  I’m guessing you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that talking about money is less than fun for them? It’s pretty messy and challenging, right?

So what solutions do they try?  My guess is all sorts of things that are based on changing the behavior without actually understanding what caused it in the first place.  They get into a push-me/pull-you power game that doesn’t take into consideration the ‘Why’ under the behavior.

And yes, I’m back to my concept that we all have 5-year-olds running our money:

  • Because it is the most taboo topic on the planet
  • Because no one talks about how to actually deal with it
  • Because we make up ways to manage it that make sense to our little kid brain
  • Because we then leave the little kid part of us in charge so we don’t have to deal with it

And so I come back to ‘First Things First’.  No budget or plan will work until you understand what your little kid part decided about money.  No lecture or personal rant from yourself or your spouse will help until you dig deep and find out what you made up about money.

By what you ‘made up’ I mean conclusions that you came to, most likely as a child, about money.  Let me give you some actual examples of conclusions clients have shared with me:

  • Money ruins families
  • Money was the only way my family showed affection
  • Money was the only criteria for success in my family
  • My family believed money was bad and evil

Are there all sorts of wonderful ways to manage and handle your money more effectively?  Absolutely!  I have, use, and share a bunch of them—and they don’t help at all until you’ve untangled the underlying knot.  Until you’ve addressed the likely ineffective thinking you’ve been operating under for years.

Please give yourself the gift of addressing first things first before you leap into the action steps!  The results will be much more effective, truly!


Shell Tain, The Untangler

If you’d like some help in untangling that really old hidden money knot in your head, just give me  a call at  503-258-1630 or check out my website at

Couples and Money

Guess what?  Couples have money issues.  They disagree about it, they fight about it, they hide what’s going on with it from each other.  Anything to do with money often leads to a messy conversation if not a bit of a tussle.

This happens for a couple of really good reasons. First, opposites attract.  Yep, they do.  In general we want our partners to be a bit more unpredictable and different from us.  We want a some mystery to challenge, intrigue and inspire up.  I also ascribe to the idea that their differences to us require us to look deeper at ourselves and consider other perspectives.  The topic of money is certainly one of the areas that differences show up!

More importantly, almost all of us (~97.5{d17d1c7cbc79c3528c645ea839b9b4dcb45f699f05bb148e76e09641ba980643}) have little kids running our money—the little kids that we were when we first were exposed to money concepts in our families and our culture.  These kids usually grew up without being properly and intentionally educated about money.  There are reasons for this, the primary one being that money is such a taboo topic.  Our parents don’t talk about how it actually works, instead they say odd things about it – “It doesn’t grow on trees”, “You’ll have to work hard forever and never really make any”, “Rich people aren’t as nice as poor people”.

None of that is really helpful to us as children.  The main thing we really learn about money as kids is that there is something “weird” about it.  When our parents talk about it the “emotional field” around money just gets hinky.

What happens is that somehow the little kid part of us ends up running our money, in little kid fashion.  It’s like we somehow gave that  job to them and forgot to relieve them of it.

The important thing about this little kid  thinking issue in a couple is that when it comes to money we not only have opposites trying to work it out, but pretty stubborn little kids with arms folded glaring at each other.  The overriding thought is something like:  “I’m right and my partner is just wrong. So there!”

Seems a bit silly, doesn’t it?  In the midst of it, it’s not though…it’s serious.  It’s deep.  It’s fundamental.  It’s the way you learned and what you made up about how things work.  You aren’t really opposing your partner, you are championing the way you were raisedand you are doing it from the perspective of a little kid.  And oh by the way, your partner is doing the same thing.

Understanding your differences, and that the part of each of you that is handling your money is a little kid, can go a long way to understanding and creating harmony in your relationship with money.  Staying firmly positioned in the ‘I’m just right” stance won’t help.

A couple of places to start changing this dynamic include:

  • Recognizing and saying over and over to yourself “this is not about me, it’s about my partner’s beliefs.” This is true even when the partner says it is about you!
  • Bringing lightness and humor to the situation. Remembering what attracts you to each other.  Honor your caring for each other.

You two can succeed in having money be something you collaborate on, it just requires love, patience, and understanding—oh, and bringing the more mature parts of ourselves to the conversation is a good idea.  Save the little kid for the park, the zoo, or maybe even playing doctor!


Shell Tain, The Untangler

If you and/or your partner would like more support in collaborating around money give me a call at 503-258-1630 or check out my website at

Sometimes Crunching the Numbers Helps

Yes, I’m known for touting that you don’t need to be a number cruncher to be in a good relationship with your money, which is true.  What is also true is that sometimes crunching the numbers actually helps.

CalculatorWhen it really helps is when you “make things up”, when you decide that something is true without checking the numbers.  We often decide that money stuff is worse than it really is.  It’s another one of those places where our little kid brain is running the money.  A place where you get stuck, sometimes for years, assuming a situation that just doesn’t add up.

Ironically there are often two almost opposite reasons people shun crunching numbers, both of which are motivated by fear.

One reason is waiting to make a move until something feels uber safe.  One example of this is that you can’t quit the “day job” you hate for the “dream job” you love until you have bunches of money saved.  The pivot point here is, “How much is a bunch?”  What amount will have you feel safe?  Hard questions often made harder by not actually crunching the numbers.

For example: recently a client had the idea that she needed $30K in savings before she could make the shift from a job she hates to her budding career in Real Estate: $18K for living expenses and $12K for business expenses.  There was a crunching error in here in here that was making her goal seem doubly hard to attain.  The real number that she needed for a 6 month “Back-Up Fund” in her situation was $12K for living expenses and $3K for business expenses.  Her fear has caused her to push up the living costs and to way over estimate the business costs of the new job.  Now she’s going after a number of $15K, which is much more attainable.

Often the other reason to shun the crunching is the “Ostrich Effect”.  You know that one, right?  The “stick my head in the sand and pretend” idea.  This one usually is about overspending.  It’s driven by the little kid part of us not wanting to have to “stop playing and do our chores”. This part of the little kid is often coupled with another part: “the monsters under the bed” part—the fear that once the truth is known it will be so awful you will not be able to tolerate it.  The truth is that once we know what is really going on we feel better.  There is something about knowing what is going on that has us dig in, make plans, and focus on what is really important to us. I’ve seen this happen many times over the years.

What both “seeking safety” and the “ostrich effect” have behind them is fear.  Fear that it will be insurmountable—it isn’t.  Fear that if you look it will get worse—it doesn’t.  Fear that you can’t ever get this money knot untangled—you can.

See, the problem is not actually the money or the number crunching.  It the fear.  FDR said it best: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  Why not see if crunching a few numbers can help you realize what really is possible and set the fear aside?


Shell Tain, The Untangler

Need a bit of support around the crunching? Give me a call at 503-258-1630 or check out my website at

Two Money Mindsets

Most of us have at least two distinct ways of managing money: the business one and the personal one.  The interesting thing in this to me is that the Money Mindsets for these two different arenas are often really, really different.Money mindset

As you know, my clients are often small business owners and recently I’ve come across a couple of people who had similar issues with the difference between their business money and the personal money.  In both cases we had been chatting about personal money things that were messy and frustrating.  Things like bounced checks and credit card debt.  You know, those nasty, often scary things that happen around money.

The conversations both became even more intriguing to me when I asked about their business money.  Any bounced checks there?  Any credit card debt?  Guess what?  The answer to both those questions from both people was “No”.

Here’s the fun part of this:  We make up that we are just stuck with the way we manage money.  We have a certain mindset around it that we’ve had forever and it would be really hard to change that.  Yep, that’s the belief.  And yet…

Here we are with not one but two people with small businesses that are run on a sound money mindset and personal lives with messy money mindsets.  Now, that’s interesting!

Here’s what I think is going on.  Our personal money mindset is being run by our five year old selves (see this blog for more on that: ) and the business money mindset was set up and is being operated by your adult self.  Thus, there are two different behaviors around money.

When I asked one of these people what was behind him about being more effective with his money in his business he said that there were three motivating factors for him in his business.  First was the reputation of his business, second was that the company be seen as reliable and third was that he took good care of his employees.  Those are truly great values and standards for any business.

When I asked what the process with his personal money was he said that he really only looks at or pays attention to his money when there is trouble.  Very different values and standards.

What you and I now know about these folks is that they can absolutely be effective with money.  It’s not a skill set issue, it’s a mindset issue.  And they are “making up” something that isn’t working about the difference between personal and business money mindsets.

What I suggested to him (and would like to see with many more people) is that he treat himself the way he treats his company:

  • That he honors and protects his reputation
  • That he is reliable
  • That he takes good care of himself

After all, his company is a reflection of him, just like the way he is handling his money is a reflection of him.  His company reflects his “grown up” money mindset and his personal life reflects a “little kid” money mindset — a little kid that is stuck with a job he’s not good at.

How does this show up for you?  Do you handle your business money differently than your personal money?  How about handling both your business and personal money from the grown-up side and in a way that supports you?


Shell Tain, The Untangler

Need a bit of help teasing the business and personal mindsets apart?  Give me a call at 503-258-1630 or check out my website at


Hiring Money to Work for You

Imagine that you were going to hire Money to work for you.  I’m not talking about the investor conversation, I’m talking about hiring Money to work hand in hand with you on your money thinking and actions every day.

I think part of the problem for many people is that they didn’t get to hire Money.  It’s as if your personal “money helper” was foisted on you without your input or consent.  What I’m referring to here is that Little Kid you have managing your money, that you have no doubt heard me go on about.  I’ve talked with many people about finding a better, wiser, more mature entity to be your “personal money ally”.

Now I’d like to cresethat with you a bit about playing with the idea of going through the process of hiring Money to work for you.

You have experience in hiring people.  It may be actual employees or it may be the person you hired to fix your roof.  You’ve also no doubt interviewed for jobs yourself.  This is not brand new territory.

What is new is the idea of thinking in terms of hiring Money.

The hiring process is all about steps (ones that you probably have never really defined for your Money):

  1. What is the basic job description? Do you want an assistant or a CFO? Do you want Money to be part time or full time?
  2. What are the essential qualifications and skills you want Money to have? Do you want it to be smart?  Do you want it to be fun?
  3. What do you want Money to actually do for you? Do you want help crunching numbers? Do you want help with your money thinking? Do you want help making decisions?

I know that this seems weird!  But think about it.  You have probably given over the running of the money side of your life to a bunch of really old ideas about how money works and what it’s “rules” are.  You also most likely have let those old ideas make your money decisions. It’s kind of like being stuck with a bad employee that someone else hired, isn’t it?

So I’m suggesting that you push that big reset button with Money.  What would you change in your relationship with Money if you were to start over today?  How do you get the two of you into a relationship that really works?  Maybe it starts with a job interview?


Shell Tain, The Untangler

I’d be happy to serve as your recruiter!  Give me a call at 503-258-1630 or check out my website at

Talk to Your Kids About Money

kid talk 1What’s the best gift you can give your kids this year?  Start talking with them about money.  Start actually asking them what they think.  You’ll probably be amazed.  Start giving them practice at noticing and handling it.  For many kids the first time they are actually faced with handling money is when they go off to college and are greeted with someone wanting to give them a credit card.  Talk about diving into the deep end of the pool!  I had some visitors from Poland a couple of years ago.  They said that in Poland young people can’t get a credit card until they have successfully managed a checking account.  Novel idea, eh?

We could all do that though, couldn’t we?  We could start our kids out early talking about money and handling money in ways that are appropriate for their age.  Frankly, one of the reasons I ended up so engaged with money was the way my dad started me out.  I guess I was maybe eight or so when I started getting an allowance.  I had to keep a ledger.  Nothing fancy, it had two columns which I titled “Income” and “Outgo”.  In order to get the next week’s allowance the ledger had to balance.  I had to do the math.  The brilliant thing my dad did was that he had no judgment or opinion about what I spent the money for.  I could buy candy, toys, clothes or save it.  It didn’t matter.  His point was that I knew what I was doing with it and it balanced.  That part of money remains easy for me to this day.  I’m aware of where it’s going and what it’s costing.

If you don’t talk about money the message you reinforce is that it’s both taboo and somehow scary.  That idea gets ingrained so that most people never talk about money unless forced to.  If you think about it, that’s pretty odd.  We actually spend more time dealing with money than we do having sex and yet we’ll talk about sex more than money.  Most parents even talk to their kids more about sex than they do money.  Personally, I advocate that we talk about both topics!

It is important to both talk to your kids about money and keep whatever “training” you are trying to implement age appropriate.  You have to judge how the information is landing. If it’s too confusing or too sophisticated for where they are, it just won’t work.  Find out what they think about money, including where they are on track and where they aren’t.  Banish the taboo about talking about it.

I know it takes courage.  It may even prove humbling.  You might choose to explain that you are trying to do this differently than your parents did with you.  You might try and help your kids do it differently.  Change the idea that money is this weird, creepy thing that you deal with but never talk about.

Oh and one more thing: Even as you talk to your kids about money and change the taboo they may still have some money issues to work out later in life and wouldn’t it be great if talking about it wasn’t one of the issues?  Wouldn’t it be great if they already had some skills with money to help them?

Want some more support helping your kids understand money? Give me a call at 503-258-1630


Shell Tain, The Untangler