How to Business Logo

You Probably Have Money Trauma. We Talked to An Expert to Help You Fix It


You Probably Have Money Trauma. We Talked to An Expert to Help You Fix It

Shannah Compton Game started her first business, a student film festival, when she was a 19-year-old college student. Today, she’s a Certified Financial Planner, certified Trauma of Money expert, host of the popular podcast “Everyone’s Talkin’ Money,” and a self-described serial entrepreneur. Shannah sat down with to talk about how subconscious attitudes and emotions about money can make (or break) small business owners, to share her own journey, and to give advice on ways to see money from a new perspective. 

Q: You’re a firm believer that people’s attitudes about money are based on deep, underlying emotions that they may not even realize are there. How does that happen?

I think in a couple of ways. One, we have these false money narratives and beliefs that we pick up from childhood. Between the ages of 0 and 7 are most impactful for us as humans, because that’s when our subconscious is being formed. It’s also when our money habits are really carved out. So, whatever you saw, heard – or didn’t – essentially became imprinted into your limbic system, which is your emotional center. Now, as an adult, it’s like a computer processor that’s just running behind the scenes without you really understanding what’s happening. It’s become the central narrative that’s driving you, and it can cause you to make decisions with your money that maybe aren’t aligned with your goals. Some of these beliefs are sayings like “Money doesn’t grow on trees,” and other similar phrases that were echoed throughout childhood. 

Q: As a Trauma of Money expert, what kinds of narratives do you help your clients uncover?

I think most people on this planet have dealt with money trauma in some form or another. Maybe someone got laid off from a corporate job and had to scramble, or spent time in a relationship where money was either controlled, wasted, or used to manipulate. Or maybe they had tried a business before and it didn’t work out, so they’re still paying off debt and scared to try again. Operating from a place of fear can keep us stuck and block us from having success.

For example, maybe you don’t know how your business is going to grow, or you don’t know where your clients are going to come from. Those are legitimate concerns that need to be addressed. But when our subconscious narrative tells us that we can’t overcome those obstacles, we can take ourselves out of the game before we ever get started. And it’s really tricky to try and undo some of those things, because they’re just operating naturally behind the scenes.

Q: So, what’s your advice for getting to the bottom of your money beliefs?

There is a lot of scientific research behind getting things out of your head and onto paper. So I do a practice called financial forgiveness with people where I have them write down all of their money mistakes they can think of in 10 minutes. Then we come back to that list at least an hour later, read it one last time, and then have some sort of release — tearing it up, burning it, whatever feels right. There’s a psychological process behind doing work like that.

We also have to do a lot of work on reframing our thoughts around money. Taking an intentional look at how we’re thinking about money during the day. Sometimes I’ll have people write down every time they have a thought about money, and when they look back on the day, many of them realize that their thoughts around money are negative.

Once we have that understanding, it gives us the power to choose a different thought. For most of us, our first thought is automatic. We don’t have any control over that, but our second thought can actually be our choice. We can choose something affirming, like “I deserve to have a successful business.” That’s going to create a different feeling, which will create a different action within us.

Q: How can entrepreneurs and small business owners put this to use in their everyday financial dealings?

All of the techniques I use to uncover money trauma can apply to either personal or business finances. So, let’s go back to the example that someone tried a business in the past and it failed. Working back through the “Why” can help them not just understand why it happened, but maybe even why they made the decisions they did based on unrealized money trauma. When they’re able to sit with those thoughts and process them, they can rewire their brains to choose a different path.

Even if they have an emotional breakthrough, however, it can be really tricky for small business owners to feel financially secure when their money ebbs and flows. Especially when you’re first starting out, I think it’s important to work with an accountant or CPA® that can help you figure out a few things: one, how much you can afford to pay yourself; and two, how to navigate the taxes associated with being a small-business owner or entrepreneur. 

They can help you figure out what I call your foundation number — the minimum amount of money you need to make each month to cover both your business and personal expenses. Having a good grasp on that number will center you and give you a feel for how much you should charge, how much your products should be priced, or whether you can afford to hire help.

Q: You talk about being mindful when it comes to money. What does that mean to you?

I think especially when you’re just starting out, everything seems to be a mesh of business and personal. Realistically, it could be a year or more before you make a profit in your business. So to me, being mindful means being intentional with your money, particularly if your business isn’t making any. Be conscious about where your money is going and always ask yourself, “Is there a better way I can spend this money so that I have extra funds to put into my business?” 

Mindfulness can also be an emotional play, because lots of entrepreneurs have to take out loans, despite many of them operating under that subconscious belief that debt is bad. One of the things I talk about a lot on my podcast is being fully conscious of your relationship with money, including the beliefs and blocks that you bring from childhood that can impact you as a business owner. This applies especially to women, because I think we have a really hard time owning our worth. We undervalue ourselves all the time. There’s still that underlying narrative that men make the money, and that can really get in the way of taking risks like applying for startup loans.

Q: How did you get through those initial fears?

I have a few answers for this one. When I was starting my first business, I made sure that I was very vocal about letting people know that I was a brand-new startup and wasn’t making any money yet. I wasn’t afraid to ask rookie questions, and I educated myself so that I could do some of the upfront work on my own to save money and only bring in the experts for the tricky parts. 

The second part of that is choosing your experts carefully. I sought out a team of people who were like-minded. I hired attorneys and financial planners who were either used to working with business owners, or startup business owners themselves. When I was starting my financial business, I even worked some of my early tasks on trade with other professionals who were in my same stage of business.

Q: That’s a great idea, but how do you find those people?

There are a million communities out there for small business owners. In Asheville, they have entrepreneur centers where you can network or apply for business loans and grants. There are online communities that connect through social media, and networking opportunities through the Small Business Administration, too.

It’s magical when a group of fellow business owners come together, because you can brainstorm all sorts of things, recommend resources, and also deal with the emotions that come with the ups and downs of running a business. It’s something I didn’t do for a very long time, but now that I have this community it’s hugely helpful. 

Q: Any cautionary tales from your early years as a business owner?

Oh goodness, yes. I started my first business at age 19, when I was a junior at Indiana University. It was a student film festival called Hometown Cinema, and I wanted it to be a 501(c) nonprofit, so I worked with an accountant to set up the paperwork. It was quite a process, I remember it taking a few months — it wasn’t as easy back in the pre-internet late ‘90s.

I had to pay a small fee when I retained the accountant, which was a couple hundred dollars — totally doable. But what I didn’t realize was that after the whole process was completed, there would be a much larger fee coming my way. I think it was between $4000 or $5000, and I was shocked to see those extra zeros. 

I was a college student at the time. That was a tremendous amount of money, and the business wasn’t even close to a positive cash flow yet. That was my first lesson in having to be super creative with how you deal with expenses and asking questions like, “So … can I get on a payment plan for this?”

Q: Any final words of wisdom to leave us with?

Running a business is not for the faint of heart. It can sound really glamorous and glitzy, but it really requires you to emotionally and mentally be ready for the journey that it’s gonna take you on.

That said, of all of the ways I have worked as a financial planner, with people just starting out and people who have a hundred plus million dollars in assets, the people who are extraordinarily wealthy are almost always a business owner. And whether they’ve created generational wealth or just wealth for their family, that is the biggest way that I have seen people build wealth over the years. So when you’re just starting out, it can be really tough, but if you’ve got passion and you’ve got a desire and you really think you have a product or service that people need in their lives, I would say just keep going for it.

Shannah Compton Game started her first business at the age of 19 when she founded Hometown Cinema, a student film festival on the campus of Indiana University. Five years later, she sold the festival to a Hollywood producer and went back to school to earn an MBA in entrepreneurship. After graduation, she became a partner in her father’s financial firm.

When Shannah realized that her peers knew nothing about finances, she started teaching, writing, and speaking about money issues and how they affect people in ways that they may not realize. She taught financial literacy courses at several Southern California universities, and launched a podcast in 2015.

Originally called Millennial Money, the podcast broke through the Top 10 on Apple charts in only a few months. Nine years and 25 million downloads later, Shannah renamed the show to Everyone’s Talkin’ Money in order to encompass a wider audience, and publishes weekly shows where she shares her own stories and speaks with other money experts. Learn more about Shannah here.


“Operating from a place of fear can keep us stuck and block us from having success.”

In This Category

ELI5: Balance sheets and how to make them suck less, Part 2

ELI5: Balance sheets and how to make them suck less, Part 2 Editor’s note: This series is for people who are not CPAs, bookkeepers, CPFAs or any other kind of finance professional. Instead, it’s for the harried business owner who has about 20 minutes a week to look at...

Profit: One bottom line, a bunch of ways to get there

Profit: One bottom line, a bunch of ways to get there You made a profit? Which kind? If I hear someone announce, “My business had $X for profit” or “We profited Y% last year,” my guess is that maybe they’re a new business owner. Or, that they’re not well versed in...

Should I Offer Profit Sharing With My Employees? In a Word – No.

Should I Offer Profit Sharing With My Employees? In a Word – No. WARNING: This article contains some tough questions, some tough realities, and some tough love. What feels good, gets employers accolades, and has no impact on employee performance? Profit sharing. It’s...

Finished reading and looking for more great information? Choose a category of interest or view all articles.

Finished reading and looking for more great information?
View All Articles