It’s true. My parents, in particular my mom, thought that learning about money was essential to good parenting. As a kid it was somewhat frustrating. My friend’s mom would not only buy birthday presents for her friends, but would buy her a matching toy so she wouldn’t feel left out. In college, I was with a friend whose dad asked her, “Do you need any money?” She said no, and her dad pulled out his wallet and handed her $150 in cash. My eyes bugged out of my head and I couldn’t help to think, “How much money would she have received if she said she did need money?” But I digress. My relationship with money and my parents looked different than a lot of my peers, and I am better for it.
From as young an age as I can remember, the house rule was that half of any money given to us went into the bank. One of my grandmas always sent $20 in a birthday card (a huge sum of money to a five-year-old in 1984). We would go to the bank, fill out a deposit slip, and put half that money into my account. We would record the deposit, I would get a sucker from the bank teller, and then we would go to Toys-R-Us to get a new toy.
When I got older, that idea of saving half my paycheck hung around. Half my earnings from jobs, babysitting, lawn mowing and snow removal went straight to the bank. The other half went to my expenses that were defined: my going-out money (to a teenager that is considered an expense), trips I went on without the parents, gas and repairs for my car, and anything else I wanted. I don’t remember my sister or me asking for spending money. It just wasn’t done in our house.
My sister and I were introduced to investing in high school. We started mutual funds with our money from our summer jobs. I think it made the idea of investing less scary and just something that is done.
In college, I was so fortunate that my parents paid for my tuition. Well, they put the money into my account, and it was my responsibility to make sure it made it to the University on time. They also paid for housing. When I lived on-campus, they gave me money for my dorm fees. When I decided to move off campus, they gave me the equivalent of dorm fees. I had to decide how to spend that money, and anything over and above that amount was my responsibility. I also had to pay for books and transportation. And beer.
Upon graduation, my parents said I could move back home. They they told me how much rent was going to be. It was below market value, but my independence was more important. Had it been free, it may have seemed more tempting than to move out and start my own life.
When I got married, they sat me down and told me point blank how much money they were contributing. This allowed me to budget, and also to feel free about what I wanted and didn’t want for my wedding. I could spend money how I saw fit, and knew where my financial responsibility would start.
As a kid, this education seemed excessive. My sister and I often commented about how if dad could work a few days of overtime, he could give us the same amount of money that our summer job would pay us. I see now that that wasn’t the point. The point was to connect money and work, and then use the money we earned in a responsible, thoughtful way. As a result of this, my first thought is to save money. The only debt my husband and I carry is a mortgage, which we plan to pay off early. We spend time and energy thinking and planning where our money goes. What we do with money is deliberate.
I am now a parent, and my oldest child is five. She is at an age where she wants a lot, and is beginning to understand the concept of money. I also live in a community where many of her friends have more stuff than her, and always will. I enjoy buying her new things that make her happy, but I want to raise children that understand money and delayed gratification. I also want to instill in my kids an idea of the power of money, not for consumerism, but for good. I want them to have generous spirits as well as being responsible people. It’s a lofty goal, but I see from my childhood that teaching money skills is as much a parenting goal as anything else.