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GUEST COLUMN

Are middle-class money mantras keeping you poor

We're not made of money, you know. If I've heard that phrase once, I've heard it a thousand times.

Whether it was Mom explaining why we couldn't afford designer jeans or Dad lecturing us to turn the lights off, it seemed like we were always worrying about money.

We've all got our own beliefs about money. For many of us, the things we heard as a child stay stuck in our heads forever and contribute to our adult attitude about finances.

In my 1970s Hamburger Helper home, the most quoted money mantras ranged from: "Money doesn't grow on trees" and "We're not fancy people," to "Just because they have money doesn't mean they're better than us" and "We don't need all that stuff to be happy."

For whatever bizarre reason, I was raised with an aversion to rich people. In our three-bedroom, one-bath, no-dishwasher home, there was a largely unspoken, yet very well understood, belief that the people who lived in big houses, drove fancy cars and played golf were somehow less moral than those of us clinging to the bottom rung of the middle class. As if there's something noble about having Goodwill furniture and last year's Sears Toughskin jeans.

Not surprisingly, I've struggled with money issues most of my adult life. I either didn't have enough of it or, when I made a bunch of it, I thought it was too good to last and found myself apologizing every time I spent it on something nice.

I'm only now beginning to understand that my beliefs about money are rooted in the lessons I learned as a child. Your folks might have calmly sat down and drawn up a budget every month but in my house we either fought about money or we avoided the subject altogether.

My parents were fabulous in many ways and I'm sure their dysfunctional attitudes about money were unknowingly passed on from their own parents.

Yet their long-held belief that there was never enough money to go around - and that if you had it you had probably acquired it through ill-gotten gains - held them back their entire lives. Despite the fact that my mom was a teacher and my dad was, ironically enough, a banker, sadly they never could embrace the idea that it was OK to have big bucks.

At the age of 43, I've now met enough truly nice rich people to understand that having money doesn't automatically make you materialistic. Yet I sometimes have to stop myself from repeating my parents' negative money mantras to my own kids.

Reading Robert Kiyosaki's "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" (Business Plus, $16.95) a few years back helped me understand that, if I wanted to pass on a better financial legacy to my children, I needed to change my own attitude about money. Kiyosaki's success in life and philanthropy proves that it's OK to want to be rich, and positive messages about wealth can be a gift to children, not a curse.

Kiyosaki's mission is to "elevate the financial well-being of humanity," and his products (visit www.RichDad.com) include Cash Flow 101, an educational board game that teaches you how to get out of the Rat Race and make your money work for you.

I played it one night with my kids and, I have to tell you, hearing my 9-year-old discuss her debt-to-asset ratio was more empowering than lecturing her about the high cost of school supplies.

When I spoke to Kiyosaki recently, he told me, "What you say is what you become." Since I was raised hearing that rich people were bad, it's no surprise I didn't want to become one.

So I've created a new money mantra for my family and we're going to keep repeating it until it comes true: "Money is a blessing, the more you have, the more you can share."

The buck doesn't stop with your parents. It only starts there.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally recognized speaker and the author of "Forget Perfect" and "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear." Contact her or join her interactive blog at www.ForgetPerfect.com.

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