The Kenwood Press
: 11/01/2016

Over-spending on grandchildren

Donna Colfer

Last month, I attended a meeting for women business owners. We were all familiar with one another’s work. While standing in line for the dinner buffet, one woman asked me in jest, “What do you do when you want to spend all your money on your grandchildren?” I replied, “Come up with a budget that tells you how much you’re spending.” It wasn’t the answer she expected to hear, but it’s what you need if you’re spending too much money in any one area. Especially where you have emotional attachments. It’s difficult to resist buying clothes and toys for those beautiful grandbabies. When I saw her a week later she thought about what I’d said all week.

Whether you’re spending on your grandchildren, a favorite hobby, or other desires, it’s important to be aware of how much you’re pouring into these ongoing purchases. If you aren’t aware of how much you’re spending, it can impact your ability to pay other bills, and burden your sense of security.

Let’s look at how your relationship with money is hardwired emotionally. We operate from three very distinct brains: the instinctual brain, the emotional brain, and the thinking brain. The instinctual brain, from an evolutionary standpoint, is where we started. It’s responsible for many of our challenges around money because it’s wired for survival; wired to react, and wired for desire, so it’s closely connected with addiction. We use the instinctual part of our brain about 25 percent of the time.

The limbic system is your emotional brain that creates chemical messages that connect information to memory. The retention of memory increases when that information is presented in an emotionally charged context. We have childhood experiences around money that have many emotions associated with them. The brain starts to store emotional memories that develop patterns, and they literally become “hardwired.” Neuroscientists say “neurons that fire together wire together.” The more challenging or painful the experience was, the more likely it was that your brain fired and wired and formed a pattern. Two common money patterns I see are avoidance and aversion. For example, “I don’t want to deal with money. It makes me feel uncomfortable.” Or “I just want to purchase this and I don’t want to think about it.” The feeling becomes “a way of being” on an unconscious level and becomes part of your operating system. We use the emotional brain about 70 percent of the time.

The thinking brain is the most evolved part of the human brain. This is the neocortex, the largest surface of the brain; it regulates motor commands, language, and conscious thought, and accesses higher states of consciousness. This is the logical and rational part of the brain. We use this part about five percent of the time.

Here’s the challenge. If you’re emotionally reactive due to a subconscious pattern or memory, you’ll move into the survival brain and experience fight, flight, or freeze. This is like a revolving door between the instinctive and emotional brain and tends to be where many people live around money. With this happening, the subconscious pattern obscures the higher logic function and muddies what the thinking brain offers.

So if you’re over-giving to your grandchildren, stop and enter your thinking brain for a moment. Contemplate whether you’re paying attention to the details of how the number and amount of the purchases are impacting you financially. Ask yourself, “What is the feeling or need I’m trying to fill?”

If you can afford to give gifts freely, make sure parents are onboard. If they’re not happy with purchased items, there are many ways to give your love and attention to your grandchildren without spending money. Consider an experience: spending time sharing a book or story can be profound, or just listening to their stories, playing make-believe, and spending time outside connecting with nature. These activities create meaningful moments for children while developing their sense of value in a healthy way.