Humble Beginnings

Humble Beginnings

Yesterday at Small Notebook, Rachel asked what did your parents teach you about money? and I would like to answer here.

There are many things I can think of, looking back, that my parents taught me purposefully and things they have taught me simply by me watching. It has turned out that I have learned more from watching their life unfold than any verbal lesson they could have given me.

My parents married young and didn’t have much. I have heard stories of them simply choosing to live without electricity in the early days of their marriage because they had to choose between electricity and food. They chose to eat by candlelight. Sounds a bit romantic, doesn’t it?

There are the stories they’ve told me about when my brother was 4 and I was 3, and they bought our family cottage. They sold a cow for $6,000 and bought a cottage – a place we visited every weekend of every summer growing up and still spend our summers there now.

We didn’t live completely without, but there were not regular shopping trips picking up the latest and greatest of everything along the way. My mom shopped for herself a bit and I loved to tag along with her on her shopping mall excursions. She rarely bought anything for me, but I liked watching her try clothes on and helping her choose. I remember one time she went shopping without me and came home with a Michael Jordan tshirt for me (I was a tomboy if you can believe it) and left it folded at the foot of my bed. I remember being so shocked and surprised and giddy that she had gotten me something. I know now that I am older that she was teaching me that there is value in the element of surprise. It is worth all the times of being told “No, you can’t have that” so that the times that she said “Yes, here you go”, I was that much more appreciative.

My father was born frugal. From as long as I can remember, he would try to teach me about saving. The only thing I can see wrong with this is that he didn’t put it in a context I could understand at the time. He didn’t sit me down with my allowance and my piggy bank and show me how to save the money I had then. He sat me down to talk to me about compound interest and salaries. He would try to teach me at 10 years old that if I make $50K but live a life that only costs $40K and save the other $10K over 30 years what that amounts to when I want to retire. Okay, thanks dad. Can I have my $2 allowance now and go to the candy store, please? His lessons are obviously more valuable to me today than they were then.

From my parents’ humble beginning, they grew and saved and built a very comfortable life for themselves and retired at 50. As I grew up, we didn’t move to bigger houses every few years and my parents drove their cars into the ground. We went on the occasional exotic vacation but from all I can assess looking back now, they provided a comfortable, safe, humble life for us while socking away money for their future.

Both of my parents worked. I remember in high school finding out that friends of mine had moms who stayed home and I remember thinking that meant we were poor because my mom “had” to work. I know now that isn’t true, we weren’t poor and my mother working was just a choice they made as part of their bigger financial plan. Somehow, I always understood that my parents lived below their means. I never once heard an argument about money and I never once had “we can’t afford it” be the reason I was told I couldn’t have something. I just understood that simply because you can afford something doesn’t mean that means you have to buy it.

There are things I wish I had been taught, but then again, maybe they were better learned by making my own mistakes. Like using credit cards and going into debt. That is one thing I had to learn for myself. My husband and I came from very different backgrounds and have very different things coloring our vision of money but we both seem to agree that living a humble life while we’re young will afford us the future we dream of.

We pay cash for older cars, we have more money coming in every month than we spend, we save for tomorrow and still try to make life for our kids simple, happy, and fun. I can only hope that we are showing them a good example. I am sure that, like I did, they will make mistakes and learn some money lessons the hard way. I can only hope the foundation we give them today will help them when they’re older the same way my foundation has helped me.

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  1. It does sound like something from a story — sold a cow to buy a cottage! I love it. And this too: “I just understood that simply because you can afford something doesn’t mean that means you have to buy it.” It’s easy to see how your insight runs in the family.

  2. your answer is making me consider – what would my kids say about what we taught them?

  3. what great lessons. i got mixed messages from my parents: my dad’s was “you don’t need that to be happy! save your money.” My mom’s: “if you can’t decide what color you like the sweater best in, buy both!” after living both ways i’m glad we’ve settled happily on the former. :)

  4. Thanks for the comments!
    @neimanmarxist – I got some of those conflicting messages too. My mom shops and my dad saves. I think there’s a decent lesson of that in and of itself that marriages can work with opposites like that if both parties are willing to cooperate and let each other have the things that are important to them. I like to think my dad saves a lot of money so that my mom can shop how she likes and they can still be comfortable. I think it’s cute :)

  5. I don’t think background is as important as awareness. Too many parents aren’t aware that money is something you need to teach, but our children aren’t going to get it through osmosis. You’re thinking about it, that’s like steps one through thirty.

  6. @WriterDad, I agree with you about being aware of having to teach it. The scary part is that we ARE teaching our kids, whether we’re aware of it or not though. Even those parents not paying attention are teaching their kids through their actions. To teach *good* financial sense and foundation requires awareness though! I love that through understanding my need to teach my kids helps me learn along the way as well.


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