Financial Lessons From Your Parents. The Good. The Bad. The Ignored.

BlogHer Original Post

I rebelled. While my parents are the most financially cautious and responsible people you would ever meet, I have taken a different path and paid the price - or as my kids can attest-- continue to pay the price.

What I don't know is if my rebellion was about their cautious financial nature or whether the rebellion was more about the complex system known as our family dynamics.

Did I rebel to rebel?

If my parents had been business owners and risk-takers would I have become the financially cautious one?-Or is my DNA wired to take financial risks?

It's complicated. I just know that the money messages I got as a child culminated in a rejection of my parents approach to finances.

What I know is that I got sick and tired of everything about everything being tied to money in our house. Money was always in the room and it was oppressive.

There were judgments of how others spent their money. There were warnings about potential doom. Another child would have taken those messages to heart and adopted them as  their values and beliefs to continue in their adult life. 

Not me, I didn't want to embrace their values: I wanted to be free of them. I wanted a life when money was not the number one topic to all daily conversations.

Early memory,age four: my mother hiding something she bought in the closet and making me promise not to tell me dad she bought it.

Early memory, age five: my dad giving me a $1.00 to go to the Saturday afternoon movie and instructing me to bring back 75 cents in change. I understood the instructions but the older kids who I was going to the movie with talked me in to spending the 75 cents at Rose's Five and Dime store.

His fury and the punishment that followed were harsh. I think that was the day I came to understand the concept of injustice.

Early Memory:we were the first family in the neighborhood to have a clothes dryer.

Early Memory:we were one of the first families to have a dish washer.

Teenage memory: my mother driving to three different stores to go grocery shopping to get the best price on every item.

Teenage memory: my mother constantly telling me that money didn't grow on trees.

Teenage memory: my mother refusing to let me buy John Meyers and Villager Skirt and matching sweater outfits because she didn't believe in buying labels. She had a seamstress sew a home-made version of those A-line skirts. My mom knit the matching sweater. She was delighted. I was mortified.

Teenage memory: my dad paying for my college education no questions asked- I didn't have to take any loans nor did I have to have summer jobs. A gift I began appreciating the day I got my first paycheck as a TV reporter in Richmond, Virginia.

Recent memory:my parents always being there for me when I stumbled.

But growing up I felt financially suffocated. What I clearly remember thinking at the time was if money was so tight then do something about it: Get a different job, live in a different house, get a second job -- just do something so that the lack of money wasn't always the topic of conversation.

I knew my dad had the potential to make a lot more money. He was psychologist who worked for the state and I knew that if he went into private practice he would make a lot more money.

He was not interested. He liked his 9-5 hours, his state pension, and the relatively stress free world he lived as a state employee.My dad was never interested in material things.

I was interested in making money, stuff, and status.

My mom worked when I was young- she had a ballet school in the afternoons but by the time I was 15 and she was 40, she had retired. I didn't think that was a smart financial move. In fact, I distinctly remember encouraging her to get a job so we wouldn't always be talking about money.

She wasn't interested in working part time. She would rather go from grocery store to grocery rejecting the 19 cents for two pounds of bananas because she remembered they were selling for 18 cents  for two pounds at the other store. A penny saved....

Money may have been tight but not tight enough that she would get a job to make it easier. And from those observations, my beliefs were formed. I decided that I didn't want to be financially stuck. I wanted a life where  I had options: if I needed or wanted  more money, I wouldn't complain about it, I would work for it.

I decided I never wanted to memorize the price of bananas, cantaloupes or apples. As long as the price didn't look outrageous on the day I was shopping, if I wanted itm I bought it.

I bought "labels"--especially skincare and makeup. My mother rolled her eyes and couldn't resist commenting on my bad judgment that I would buy "for the name" when the drugstore brand was just as good or better.

I didn't care -- buying cosmetics in the department store made me feel good even though I knew she was probably right and that the drug store stuff was just as good. It was after all a rebellion.

But most of all I took financial risks --something they would never do. Instead of finding a job and staying in it for 40 years, I have spent the majority of my adult life working for myself. I have had incredible highs and devastating lows.

At this juncture in my life, I do not have the equivalent financial security my parents amassed by doing it their way.

Yet, as much as I covet financial security, I don't covet it so much that I would have given up my lifestyle choices. And, that’s where I am very much my parent's daughter.My parents didn't live for money and as it turns out, neither do I.

In my 20s I rejected the security of a good paying job because I wanted freedom more. I don't think that decision is very different from my dad's decision to stay in a safe job making less money than he could because he didn't want the stress.

For both of us, money was not the driving factor in our career choices- personal choice was. We wanted certain things in our lives. He wanted security more than career challenge, recognition and financial success, and I wanted freedom to do the work I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. I also wanted the flexibility to work more if working more solved a financial crisis.

Despite my rebellion there is a common financial core belief that I share- money is important but it is not the most important thing in your life. A person should not be judged by the size of their bank account. There are a lot of things worse than not having money.

Money is trumped by happiness, health, being a good person, a kind person, and a generous person.

As my mother likes to say about money, “you can't take it with you."


Blog Posts that talk about a parent's financial influence:
Million Dollar Journey: How Parents Financially Influence Their Children.
Financial Influence: Parents need to take to kids about money.
Personal Finance Blog by Money Ning: My Parents Taught Me About Personal Finance


What financial lessons did you learn from your parents? The Good. The Bad. The Ignored?


Elana blogs about business culture at FunnyBusiness


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