There is one topic I hate talking about more than any other. This topic, although extremely influential in shaping my attitudes and beliefs towards money, is one that makes me squeamish and uncomfortable. I’m not necessarily embarrassed by it, because it’s not something that I could have prevented (or caused) but it’s not something I wave a banner about. What the heck am I talking about?
I’m talking about my childhood.
After almost 10 months of blogging about personal finance, I’ve successfully managed to avoid talking in depth about my childhood. I’ve offered glimpses of it (see here and here for examples) but I haven’t gone into too much detail. On purpose. Because unlike a lot of personal finance bloggers, I did not grow up lower middle class or poor. My upbringing was quite the opposite. It was decidedly upper middle class, with all the trappings that go with it. I’m not saying this to brag or show off; I’m merely stating this because, as Ashley from Money Talks Coaching points out, your childhood affects your money habits. And she’s absolutely right.
A little background
I grew up in a predominately upper middle class suburb on Long Island. I had friends that lived in million dollar homes and my parents’ house, although no mansion, wasn’t small. My siblings and I had our own bedrooms and we had a pool in our backyard, which was pretty damn big for the suburbs. I had one of those lavish bat mitzvahs you read about (because that’s what everyone else did). Family vacations to Aruba happened every year, as did sending my siblings and me to camp.
Educationally, my school, a public school, had a curriculum, activities, and facilities that rivaled private schools (not only that, we have several famous alumni [seriously, really, really famous]). My graduating class had a 99% graduation rate and 100% of graduates went to college (the one kid who dropped out did so to run his family’s farm, the largest working farm on Long Island). My school offered trips to France, Italy, and Spain. It goes on, including the part where the school parking lot looked like the lot of a luxury car dealership.
My parents pretty much provided everything. I had piano lessons and guitar lessons. I played sports. When I was having trouble with my SATs or needed to take driver’s ed, my parents paid for lessons or a tutor. My parents believed that school was my job so I was not allowed to have a part-time job, except for babysitting on the weekends.
You get the point. But where I’m from, this is normal. I did not feel like I was unusual or out of the ordinary. Since it was all I saw and all I knew, this is how I thought everyone lived. (Was I in for a surprise.)
What does this have to do with my attitude towards money?
The reason I had all of this was due to the fact that my father was, when I was growing up, a successful entrepreneur (my mom was a SAHM who worked part-time at my dad’s business once my siblings and I were all in school). He had his own business, which he started in the basement of our first house (we moved when I was 8 to the house where my parents still live), and it became very lucrative. As a result, money was just something that was there. It wasn’t stressed or worried about or even openly discussed. If I needed something, my parents, for the most part, gave it to me. I did have chores and was expected to help around the house but if I needed or wanted something, I got it.
As far as day to day expenses, my parents never really discussed those with me. They never sat me down and talked about budgets or savings or investing or anything. Honestly, I don’t remember them even sitting down with each other. My dad balanced my mom’s checkbook and essentially controlled all the money in the house so no discussion (with anyone) was necessary. Because it wasn’t openly discussed, I never thought (or cared enough) to ask. I didn’t think I had to learn anything about money because I thought money would just always be there. I thought everything would just take care of itself. I did know I had to work to earn money but the rest never really clicked.
In addition to thinking money would be abundant and take care of itself, I assumed my adult life would be filled with the same…comfortableness that my parents had acquired. Not knowing what it took to get there, I just figured I would automatically have what they have. I also assumed I’d live in the same kind of house, go on the same kinds of vacations, work “mother’s hours”; I pretty much thought I’d replicate what I saw at my house (and at my friends’ houses). These wrong assumptions are, in part, what led me down the path to almost $60K in debt.
When secrecy is what’s modeled, that’s what you believe is normal. You don’t think that people talk about money. This transferred over into my relationship with my husband. It was hard for me to talk about money with him because I didn’t think that’s what couples do. We each managed our money (prior to getting married) separately. We never talked about what we were doing with our money. As long as bills got paid, the rest was not up for discussion. This is what I believed was what “normal” couples did. But being normal wasn’t doing us any good. So, we decided to change our version of normal. We did everything the exact opposite of my parents.
Breaking the cycle
I know that I can’t provide for my daughter all that was provided to me. I can provide some, but not everything. But the one thing I can provide her is a financial education. Although I don’t want my daughter to stress about money, I certainly don’t want her growing up with the same shroud of secrecy that was in my childhood home. I want her to understand all that I didn’t. I want her to know that it takes work and you have to earn things; they’re not just handed to you. I want her to understand budgeting and saving. I want her to see her father and I working together on our finances. I want her to ask all the questions about money she wants and I plan to answer them as best I can. I want to do everything I can to have her not end up in the financial position I was in.
I never her want her to view money as taboo. Because it’s not. Regardless of growing up poor, middle class or rich, we are all in a position to change our kids’ attitudes about money. And that change has to start with us.