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Sherri Mahoney-Battles

Your Money Matters:
The Ghosts in Your Financial Closet

by Sherri Mahoney-Battles

As the year 2014 sweeps into our lives many of us embrace opportunity of a clean slate and the promise of some healthy changes. Unfortunately, as the year moves on, dreams of losing those extra pounds or finally paying off credit card debts fade away as old habits replace our resolutions.

In order to change our bad financial habits we need to first explore why we continue to make the same mistakes year after year.

As an accountant working with small business owners for twenty-five years I've had an extensive opportunity to study peoples' financial lives. Over the years I have found myself fascinated by the patterns I've witnessed taking place in my clients' financial lives.

Often times after a client has left my office I have sat at my desk shaking my head wondering why a particular client has made the same mistakes with money over and over again. The scenarios are often very similar.

The clients come in. I prepare a tax return and put the appropriate numbers in the appropriate boxes. We chat for a while about their financial situation. They leave with their finances in order and a plan for future action. For the most part they appear cohesive and committed to making the changes we discuss. They promise to call during the year for tax-planning, make estimated payments, get health insurance, start a retirement plan, pay those back taxes, and reduce their debt.

Each year they assure me that when we meet again their financial lives will be in much better order.

Next year, we go through the same process all over again.

Early in my practice I can remember being disappointed because I was so optimistic. I truly expected each client would come back to me the following year having made the changes we discussed.

I struggled with my inability to try to fix these clients. It sounded easy to me; yet my clients were not able to implement the steps necessary to fix their financial lives. As the years went by it became apparent that the solution was much more complicated than I had originally thought, and it became obvious that these people were making the same mistakes again and again.

I began seriously studying and reading about why as adults we make the mistakes that we do. I learned that many of the patterns in our adult lives are simply repetitions of ideals and beliefs learned in childhood. It was then that I realized that as adults we are repeating the ideals and beliefs learned in childhood in our relationship with money today.

As children we are taught to listen and learn. We listen to our parents and other adults and decide to accept as fact certain ideas and beliefs.

Our first impression of money is something we carry with us throughout our entire lives, and often times our first impressions, learned from our parents, are based on their inability to deal with their own finances. More often than not these ideas and beliefs are inaccurate and these inaccurate concepts are passed down from generation to generation.

The mistakes of our parents and grandparents are repeated over and over again. I was astounded because I knew I had discovered they key to why my clients did what they did in their financial lives.

It was also then that I discovered the ghosts in my own financial closet. I grew up in a middle-income household. My father was the primary breadwinner, and he was a company man. He strongly believed that you worked for a big company and that big company would take care of you for the rest of your life. They provided you with health insurance, a living, and a retirement. You gave everything you had to this company, and this company would take care of you for the rest of your life.

He had strong opinions about people who were self-employed. They were, in his opinion, generally lazy, irresponsible, and unreliable. They rarely had health insurance or planned for retirement. They were a drain on our society because the system ended up paying for their carelessness and lack of planning. Their families suffered because of their unwillingness to conform and get a real job.

How ironic that I chose a path of self-employment. More ironic that I chose a career centered on educating and helping the self-employed. Was I trying to win my father's approval by accomplishing something he felt to be impossible or did I have an unconscious need for failure? I know that I did not consciously connect my father's opinions to my career choice until I had been self-employed for many years.

When I have had clients who have failed in their efforts at self-employment or when my own cash flow has slowed, my father's voice has followed me, and I have questioned my career choice.

It is times like this when the ghosts in our financial closet show themselves. They appear when we feel our most vulnerable, when we're negotiating our fee, trying to land a contract, responding to a customer requesting a refund, trying to request a retainer or deposit, and asking for payment on a late invoice.

Certain instances and personality types may trigger childhood memories when we might have felt victimized in a particular financial situation. These are the times when the ghosts make us question our judgement.

A working woman is often even more vulnerable to these ghosts that attack her insecurities. They ask us how we can possibly expect to raise a family and still have a career. They ask us how we can possibly expect to charge a fee for our services and what makes us think we can possibly compete with the men of the world.

"Bringing Balance to Numbers"

Helping Cape Business Women Find Solutions to their Tax Issues for over 25 years

52 Cranberry Highway
Orleans, MA 02653

508 240 6740

We need to find a voice of reason when these ghosts make us feel small and insecure. We can ask ourselves if our fears are fact-based or based on beliefs and ideas that are outdated and inaccurate.

We need to make the connection between the beliefs surrounding our money and the events from the past that formed these beliefs. Most likely, these beliefs are leftovers of falsehoods adopted before we had accurate information.

By acknowledging these ghosts, and by questioning the accuracy of our beliefs surrounding our money we can begin to ask ourselves why we make the decisions we do, and we can then replace the falsehoods that haunt us with more accurate updated information. These steps will enable us to be free of these ghosts which haunt our financial closets.

The year 2014 has yet to be written, and it can be a year of change and opportunity for those willing to do the hard work. Take the time to explore your beliefs and patterns with money. Identify the beliefs that are truths and the patterns that have worked for you. Identify the ghosts in your financial closet that have hindered your financial growth.

I have struggled with my ghosts and when I am feeling vulnerable I have a voice that whispers to me. As a self-employed accountant I have built a strong practice. I fund a retirement account and successfully funded college funds for both of my children. I have health insurance.

Being self-employed hasn't made me a drain on society. I have replaced my old false beliefs with ones that are true to me. I have faced my ghosts, and they have been proven wrong.

Sherri Mahoney-Battles, of Taxing Matters, specializes in income tax preparation for small businesses and individuals.

As an Enrolled Agent, licensed by the IRS, Sherri has been representing clients for over twenty-five years in cases of audit, collections, and appeals and does extensive work with non-filers.

Visit her website at, email or call her at 508-636-9829.