1 Our Parents, Our Money, Ourselves | The Billfold

Our Parents, Our Money, Ourselves

I keep in touch with just a few close friends from high school, and when I was in California last week, I met the four of them for dinner halfway between Los Angeles and Orange County. After we caught up on what we’ve been up to since we’ve all last seen each other, the conversation quickly transitioned to discussing money (which seems to naturally occur whenever I’m around for some mysterious reason).

We talked about a lot of different things, chief among them: How the heck are we managing to get ahead on student loan payments?   It’s also something a lot of you guys have been writing in to me to address, and I’m currently looking into how to answer the myriad of questions I’ve received.

My friend Cat, who got married last year, told us about how she and her husband were hunting for their first home, and that her parents were giving her part of her inheritance early so that they would have the money for a large down payment. This means they could take out a smaller mortgage, and that their monthly mortgage payments would be more manageable. 

Cat, who is Vietnamese, explained to us how culturally important it was to buy a home immediately after getting married.

“Steve and I are are currently renting a place with a roommate, and my dad keeps saying, ‘oh, you poor newlyweds!’” she said. “He thinks its sad that we have to spend our first few years as a married couple living with someone else, and that’s why he’s giving me some of that inheritance money. Obviously, we’re doing it to save money, but that’s just how it is. The thing is, I’m really worried about my student loans, but he doesn’t want any of the money he gives me to help pay off that debt. I went to college and got my MBA, partially because that’s what they wanted me to do, but the priorities are different: House now, and student loans can be paid off later.”

Ah, yes, the demands of the Tiger parent— common knowledge thanks to Amy Chua’s essay in the Wall Street Journal last year.

But Cat also brought up an interesting point, which is how our parents shape the way we think about money.

“I’m probably frugal, like my dad,” Cat said. “But not as frugal. He’s pulled shoes out of garbage cans that other people have thrown away, and washed them and worn them. That’s a little too much for me.”

As for me, my father is conscious about every dollar he spends, and I’m pretty much the same way, and I’m like my mother in that I like to pay my bills on the day I get them. But it pretty much ends there. My folks believe that owning a house is a must, and I’m not sure if mortgage payments are ever going to be in my future. They also believe that you should take out as many student loans as possible because the education is worth it, and are still needling me to get yet another degree, but I’m pretty much done with school now, and there’s no way I’m ever taking out another student loan. They also don’t believe in saving for retirement (although my dad has some money in a company 401(k) plan), because culturally, their children will care for them in their old age (filial piety), and they’ve got me and two other sons to support them. I’m much more financially independent, and if I’m lucky to have children one day, would never burden them with the responsibility of supporting me financially.

How have your parents shaped your relationship with money?


Photo: Shutterstock/Lasse Kristenson


56 Comments / Post A Comment

Megano! (#124)

Hm, I’m not GREAT with money, and it wasn’t something that was talked about in my house, but we never seemed to want for anything, and when my Dad died he was able to leave his kids (inc;uding stepkids, and that made 5 of us) a pretty significant amount of money. So he was obviously doing pretty well. I also had a stepmother who was TERRIBLE with money, like she had all this nice stuff but was always complaining about not being poor, and I think like half the reason she was even with my Dad was because he could afford to help her have the lifestyle she wanted. And I basically never want to be her in any way, so I do try to be good with money. I haven’t been able to save anything for a variety of reasons, but as soon as I have enough money to save, I do plan on saving it.

my parents have always paid their CC bills off in full. That’s the major takeaway for me.

They also started putting money into RESPs when I was born so that we wouldn’t have to go into debt to go to school, which is something I will be forever grateful for. Who knows if I’ll ever be able to pass that privilege on to my children but I would like to try. I’m definitely very big on saving, probably as a result of seeing what that can amount to.

My parents also compare their CC statements against all their bills. This is something I do not do.

EvelynGarcia (#849)

My folks always used non-specific language when discussing money. Things that were too expensive were “not a good value”, not “we can’t afford that”. I had a very abstract relationship with money until just a few years ago, likely because of that. I would never check my statements, hope things were fine, sometimes they were and sometimes they weren’t. It didn’t help that I was a waitress all through college and got paid mostly in cash. I had some cash in my wallet, some in my nightstand, some got deposited in the bank. I couldn’t guess my weekly income though. Oy.

My mother-in-law talks very openly about money. She asks how much we spent on things like plane tickets, for example, and discusses the monthly rent and utility bills of their seasonal condo in Florida. It used to make me uncomfortable because my family was so discrete about that stuff.

I am not sure my parents were doing me any favors in that department. Occasionally my mom ends a phone call with “and save your money!” but that’s it.

navigateher (#555)

I think my parents live in the moment. They’re not big on saving money or budgeting. They don’t really seem to run out of money though, so I guess that’s ok for them. I used to live like my parents but after getting married and having a kid my relationship with money has changed A LOT (I’ve been thinking writing about this, because the contrast is huge – we used to drink Laurent-Perrier every night, then fly to New York for a fun date?!), and I’m now all about saving and paying off any debt we have. Which we do, thanks to being a SAHM for two years now, and living in a very expensive city.

It’s really interesting to read about filial piety and how in Asian cultures you are expected to take care of your parents! Here it would be a huge shame for parents to ask / take money from their kids, which is kind of sad, because I would definitely want my parents to ask me if they needed money, and would be honored to help if that was the case, and I would imagine I’m not the only one who feels this way.

AnnieNilsson (#406)

@navigateher Oh please do write about it. I am always so curious to hear about what concrete differences people experience after having kids. I get that “everything changes” but it’s still hard for me to picture what that means in specific terms.

Evergreen (#826)

To be honest, I don’t really understand people who need money from their parents to buy something as non-essential as a house. Believe it or not, home ownership is not a basic human right, nor is it a necessity.

I’m also Asian, and I understand Cat’s sentiment about it being important to own a home. But the whole point of the cultural emphasis on buying a house is that YOU have the money to buy a house. You have been successful enough to buy a house yourself, not because Mom and Dad helped you out. Your house is a tangible result of your own hard work and success.

I find taking money from one’s family generally just really embarrassing and infantilizing. I come from a well-off family who paid for my college education. They’ve already given me a significant head start already — thanks, Mom and Dad, but I can take it from here.

Evergreen (#826)

@Evergreen Pardon my extra “already” in the last sentence.

neener (#242)

@Evergreen But the whole point of the cultural emphasis on buying a house is that YOU have the money to buy a house. You have been successful enough to buy a house yourself, not because Mom and Dad helped you out. Your house is a tangible result of your own hard work and success.

this strikes me as a very odd sentiment (maybe i’m the odd one–not trying to be critical). to me, home ownership is much more about family relationships–a place for your children to live, a place for your parents to visit and maybe one day live–than it is about keeping track of success. (i’m not denying that nice home = status, but i think the home part is more important.) in that sense, a house is exactly the kind of thing it makes sense for your parents to chip in for.

i’m also also asian, but i don’t think that has very much to do with parents helping with houses. when i was a summer associate at a fancy law firm, some partners who managed rich people’s money gave us a talk about finances. when somebody asked them how to save up 20% for a down payment, the über-WASP-y law firm dude’s immediate response was: “ask your parents.”

neener (#242)

@blahstudent this part may be because i’m asian: i don’t think it’s a necessary aspect of maturity to require absolute independence from one’s parents when you are an “adult.” financial support is draining and it can be unfair to expect it of your parents–they have financial concerns too! but financial support is also intimately tied up with the emotional support we expect families to provide one another–to adults and to children, although in different manners–forever, from life until death. parental support can be helpful or harmful, depending on the circumstances, but i think a strict cut-off for everybody under all circumstances would also just create more distance between parents and children, and not always in a good way.

navigateher (#555)

@Evergreen Exactly how I feel. I also come from a well-off family, and my parents have supported me in so many ways, but at the same time my parents are of the “we didn’t get anything for free and you don’t have to either” school of thought. This is a good thing and I would never take money from my parents to buy a house. However, now that I’m a parent myself, I would very much like to buy a small apartment in the city and give it to my kid someday to live in or to sell, whatever she wants. I guess it’s just natural to want to support your children if you can even if you don’t need to.

@Evergreen It’s made clear in the article that Cat’s parents are the ones who wanted her to own a home and agreed to advance her money that was alreay to be hers someday… While I agree that one should generally be able to live/function as an adult without your parent’s assistance, I don’t see anything wrong with a parent who wants to spend their ‘extra’ money on their children and be able to see them enjoy it while they are alive. A couple questions I wondered when reading your comment:
If you had decided not to go to college, but your parents wanted to give you the money they saved for tuition to start a business or family, would you have taken it? If not what makes college special/different? Also, if someone’s parents pass away and they use their inheritance to buy their first home, is that also embarrassing/infantalizing? If so, what is an appropriate thing for them to spend that money on? I’m genuinely curious to hear your answers!

MuffyStJohn (#280)

My mother is incredibly financially responsible – outstanding credit score, always pays her bills on time, has a huge retirement savings, etc. My father is mentally ill and excessive shopping/fiscal irresponsibility are a primary feature of his psychosis.

I, of course, naturally take after my dad, but I try to be more like my mom. I’ve never had a credit card because I can’t handle it (and also because I have crappy credit from not paying my bills on time). I keep a good amount of money (from an insurance settlement, not anything I earned/saved on my own) locked up in mutual funds that I can access when necessary, but feel like a guilty slacker whenever I do, which deters me. I’ve started making automated contributions to my HSA, my short-term savings, and my investments. I’m also just talking about money with my mother more, trying to suck up her good habits and using them to replace the crappy ones I’ve developed over the years. And perhaps most importantly, I try to ignore people like my sister who obsessively save 25% of their net income (seriously) and then talk down to me about not having a retirement savings account while I struggle to pay half my income in rent.

RocketSurgeon (#747)

My parents are both pretty frugal, partly because they were school teachers in WV, partly because they both came from pretty humble backgrounds. They were good with the day-to-day business of money and we never lacked comfort, but my childhood wasn’t extravagant. They balanced their checkbooks, but weren’t very knowledgeable about the bigger-picture stuff of loans, debt, investing, trusting others with your money, etc. Life circumstances- divorce, chronic illness/disability for my dad, and a second (brief) marriage to a con man for my mom- took their financial toll, but both of them have been financially stable for the last 5 years or so and are doing pretty well.

It’s been a long learning process for me to fill in the gaps in terms of larger financial understanding, and to get a handle on using credit debt. I used to think of credit/loans as a way to climb out of the economic situation I came from, as a way to buy a new life for myself. The school debt for undergrad and Masters in two expensive cities ($45k total) did help toward this end since I’m lucky to have a decently-paying job in my field in a city I like, but the consumer debt run up on credit cards in my 20s, which is thankfully gone now, did not. If I had it to do over again, I’d take out the school loans, no question, but I never would have opened that MBNA Mastercard from the solicitors on campus.

helloimgreen (#998)

my parents are terrible with money and they never talk about it. growing up, it seemed like we could afford things, but i think i was smart enough to figure out what was going on (that, and the “FINAL NOTICE” envelopes are pretty hard to miss when getting the mail is one of your chores).

while i am lucky to have landed a full-time job within 6 months of graduating from college, i still have a part-time side job to start saving what i can. it’s hard for me to resist spending my money on things i don’t need and not live the way i am used to, but the consequences of my parents’ financial mishandling is ingrained with me forever. it’s helped me budget better and live more realistically, especially when i think about the possibility of having a family of my own in the future. i want to be able to provide properly for them and not have to put on a facade like my parents did.

also, student loans, woof.

Marissa (#467)

My mom is very responsible with money and luckily, I seem to be taking after her. I’m still learning the ropes (like I opened a Roth IRA…but I don’t quite get how it works!), but have a decent foundation for dealing with money. My dad on the other hand runs his own one-man business which sometimes does well and other times does not. He’s been doing this forever and he’s stubborn so he’d never consider getting a regular job with steady work and benefits. I can’t imagine him getting to a point where he’s able to retire. It worries me. And financial issues were absolutely a part of my parents’ divorce.

CubeRootOfPi (#1,098)

The men in my family were thrifty (e.g. using a defunct fridge as a dresser) while the women were spendthrifts.

I take after the men. My parents think I’m too “tight-fisted” with money.

My parents never really bought me anything growing up, but I was given an allowance for chores that I would then be able to spend – but not before presenting my buying decisions to my parents as to why I wanted said new thing. I had to make the case for ANYTHING from a soda to a video game and I think that’s driven me to go the other way now that I’m spending my own money on my own – I click and buy in a carefree manner that I rarely justify to myself.

NoReally (#45)

Best Dad lesson ever: You do not pay interest for something that you cannot expect a return on. You take a mortgage because you expect the increase in the value of the house to exceed the interest you paid on it. Else you find a cheaper or more undervalued house. You take student loans because you expect to earn more money with the degree. You do not EVER pay interest on a car, because cars only depreciate. You do not even consider paying interest on anything consumable. That includes clothes, household good, basically anything you just buy.

If you want something and do not have the money to pay for it, you save money until you do. That’s how it works. If you can’t afford it, then you definitely can’t afford to pay more for it.

Easy to say, tough to live.

And, wow, Mike Dang, the parents with no savings because they have kids instead. Have invested in kids instead, I guess? If that were my parents I would be sweating bullets.

@NoReally Your dad does not believe in Net Present Value, then?

VolcanoMouse (#420)

I still don’t KNOW if my blue-collar parents were good or bad with money. I remember accidentally seeing my father’s paycheck lying on top of the microwave one day in middle school. I didn’t see any numbers, but the idea that I MIGHT have made me feel a bit queasy. The subject was taboo with a vengeance (my mother threw a fit over FAFSA and student aid forms– horrors, having to disclose your yearly income!). These days I’m bewildered: were they generous with what little they had or cheap with their surplus? Were we still making mortgage payments? Were our very occasional vacations extravagances or paid out-of-pocket? How much debt are both carrying? I know in general how many thousands each makes, but I have no idea where it goes or why.

And as a young adult, I procrastinated looking at college tuition bills, loan interest rates, and my bank account balance EVEN when they were manageable. That got me into some very scary trouble with a state collections agency. Now I’m rigorous about knowing bills and balances. And damn it, I’m going to talk to my kids about finances, whether we’re scraping by or flush when we raise them.

EvelynGarcia (#849)

@VolcanoMouse You sound just like me. A right wing policy institute in my state created a searchable online database of salaries for state, local, higher ed. employees. Knowing that the my parents’ public employee salaries are but a few clicks away makes me really anxious for some reason? I’ve still never checked it.

EternalFootwoman (#1,096)

My mother is good with money (sits down to pay her bills twice a month, has a system of which bills come from which paycheck, keeps old statements well-organized, knows what she will retire on, etc.) and talks about it. As a kid, I knew that I couldn’t have X toy because it was too expensive, I knew what things cost, and I knew that we had some things (private school tuition, for example) because we were frugal with other things. I am way more tightfisted than she is. I hate spending money on anything, and I will always buy the cheapest possible item (although in recent years, I have started thinking about long-term quality as well as the immediate cost). I think some of my childhood monetary awareness has contributed to my adult anxiety about money. Like, because I grew up hearing about which bills needed to be paid and being told that we couldn’t have the yogurt with the sprinkles because it was too expensive, I am more thrifty than I necessarily need to be.

Katzen-party (#219)

@EternalFootwoman I’m kind of the same way, in that I hate spending money on anything. But my parents didn’t seem to really talk explicitly about money–I just KNEW somehow that we couldn’t afford a lot of things that everyone around us seemed to be able to afford (like vacations and granola bars to eat after school and Guess jeans and nice houses). I get anxious buying anything that isn’t a great deal (good value AND good price)–downthread I talked about “treating” myself to produce that isn’t on sale and I realized after writing it that I sound RIDICULOUS.

Faintly Macabre (#1,043)

@EternalFootwoman We have very similar mothers! My father is from a pretty well-off, professional family. He’s probably the least materialistic person ever (he was once robbed at gunpoint and the robbers looked at his tattered wallet and threw back at him) but he was never raised to be very careful with money. My mother, on the other hand, is from a working-class family and was the first generation to go to college.

My grandfather once suggested she was marrying him for his family’s money. My mom said, “Who do you think had the savings to put the down payment on our house?”

My mother is pretty obsessively frugal, possibly excessively, and made sure we always knew the tradeoffs in spending. She gets upset if I buy something from a thrift store that she doesn’t think I need, and hoards coupons from the Whole Foods flyer. Other kids got video games and full-price/new clothes, but we went on international trips for vacation. Because of their frugality, my sister and I got to go to private colleges without worrying about loans or scholarships, they weathered cancer and her losing her job and their health insurance in the same month, and they’re able to support me now. The same savings allow my mom to do difficult social services work for no salary instead of doing less meaningful paid work. They’ve been told by their accountant that if they give any more of their income to charity, they could be flagged by the IRS.

Our fights now mostly come from valuing things differently–I consider value over price, not just price, and care more than she does about the environmental impact of things like food. But otherwise, my sister and I follow their values. We both consider ourselves extremely lucky to have been raised this way.

EternalFootwoman (#1,096)

@Faintly Macabre It actually sounds like I am your mother. My mom will buy things for fun, which I have a very hard time with (@Katzen-party: I completely understand buying fruit or a coffee as a big treat). She’ll buy new clothes or materials to try a hobby or some fancy seven-dollar box of crackers, which are all things that would make me feel way anxious.

i’m intrigued by this whole paying bills as soon as you get them thing. i’m into it in theory because then there’s no chance it will be late, you get it out of the way etc, etc

but then your money isn’t sitting around in your bank account earning interest! of course, my chequing account earns negligible interest anyway so i guess there goes that argument.

Katzen-party (#219)

@redheaded&crazy Speaking only for myself, most of the reason I pay them when I get them is so that I won’t forget. And although I don’t make a lot of money, I am lucky to have enough sitting in checking account that I can usually pay everything except the rent and my student loan bill immediately (ie, I don’t have to wait until a paycheck comes in or something). And as proof that I am at risk of forgetting when bills might be due, talking about student loans reminded me that my student loan bill is due in two weeks–I forgot because they don’t send me a bill for it so I have to remember it on my own!

Do you have a checking account with interest on it? How often is the interest applied? I don’t have interest on my checking, but on my savings I think they only apply the interest to it quarterly so I wouldn’t have to worry about having money in it every month. And as you said, the interest rate right now is basically jack shit.

@Katzen-party i think i get like 2 cents of interest every month. I just hate to think of the evil credit card companies getting my money any earlier than they deserve it.

also, i kind of have to wait until i get paid before i can pay off my VISA, but maybe I’ll see if I can work towards paying it off sooner rather than later and see if it helps.

Marissa (#467)

@redheaded&crazy I don’t think I quite understood credit cards when I first started using them. I would purchase something, go onto the card website the next day, and pay it back.

Then again, I’ve never had credit card debt.

bgprincipessa (#699)

@Marissa I still do that a lot of the time.. I’m just paranoid about forgetting it!

@Marissa I do this sometimes too. I’m just going to use this space to try and figure out what the heck was going on with my last CC statement.

I try largely to only use my VISA for work expenses so that when I get reimbursed it’s roughly equivalent to paying off my VISA bill. Any personal stuff I use it for, I try to pay off as I buy it because I like to pay for things with real money.

BUT last month I didn’t get paid in time to pay my bill off in full, so my statement for this month has some stuff from this month, and some from last month, and some little bits paid off here and there.

And basically it’s making my brain hurt trying to figure out what from this statement I still owe. I think I’ve figured it out. But clearly I’m not doing VISA right.

elizabeast (#629)

You know that part of mafia movies when suddenly the main character has money so he’s buying his girlfriend fur coats and his mom gets a cadillac, etc? That’s basically my dad (except he’s not in the mafia). When I was a kid, one month we were rich, the next we were poor. I like to think I haven’t followed in his footsteps.

My mom is totally different. She’s always had this rob Peter to pay Paul system with her money. She’s constantly shuffling around credit card balances and utility bills and it’s just a huge old mess that’s landed her in a lot of debt. Because of her, I’m really organized and simple with my money. I get paid once a month, I pay my bills first, I pay for myself second. If money is in my savings account, it stays there.

Quinn A@twitter (#1,008)

My parents taught me from an early age that I had damn well better be financially independent and responsible as an adult, and so I am. I actually don’t know whether or not I handle money the way they did, because they always pretended that they were on the verge of bankruptcy when really they had more than most people I knew. They wanted their children to understand that money was finite and that debt was bad.

I’m grateful for the fact that I was taught to be independent and responsible, though some of their methods were incredibly hard on me and impacted my university education in ways that I don’t like to think about (though yes, I’m aware of the privilege inherent in the fact that I was able to get one at all).

The “financial independence” thing has taken on a whole new dimension in my late twenties, though. I used to feel comfortable asking my parents for financial advice, though never for their money. Now I don’t even want to do that. The thing is: they’re in their mid-50s and retired with really good pensions. Their home is paid off, which is great, but…it’s also massive. 5 to 7 more people could quite comfortably live in their house. They’re concerned that as they get older, they won’t be able to use the stairs safely – so their solution is not to downsize to some nice little bungalow, but rather to build another giant master bedroom and bathroom on the main floor and upgrade the deck.

Okay. Cool. It’s their money, and they should do what makes them happy. And though their income made my siblings and me ineligible for student loans, I do understand that they’re not actually required to help their adult children in any way.

But. How does it make sense to massively upgrade their home after retirement with the idea that eventually they’ll basically close off three times as much space as I live in now?

I just feel like I can’t trust the advice of the people who made that choice. They’ve lived a very comfortable upper-middle-class life, so ostensibly they do know how to make good financial decisions, but that just makes no sense to me. And I’m not going to lie: it pisses me off that they were and are stingy about their children’s educations, while spending tens of thousands on something that they don’t need and that will not improve their lives in any meaningful way.

I don’t want to make the decisions they made. I want to spend more on experiences and less on an ostentatious home and things to fill it. I want to be generous with my loved ones. I want my girlfriend to feel free to get any kind of education she wants if she burns out in her current demanding field. If it wouldn’t be incredibly stupid to give up a federal government job in one of the few areas that didn’t take a massive cut in this year’s budget, I’d want to get the education I couldn’t have when I was younger.

sony_b (#225)

@Quinn A@twitter My folks are similar. They are fine financially but are talking about “scaling down” from their 3000 square foot house to 2-3 different 2000-3000 square foot condos/townhouses – one where they live now (Northern WA), one near where I live (near San Francisco), and one near where my sister lives (Santa Barbara, CA).

It’s their money. The one thing that drives me nuts is that they are convinced they need two guest rooms in every home, for me and my sister to stay in should we ever visit at the same time. That kind of visit hasn’t happened outside of the holidays in 20 years. And if they get a place near me, I won’t ever be staying with them. Same with my sister. (no grandkids, and not gonna be as far as I can tell.)

The two biggest things I learned from watching my parents are:

1. Fund your 401k as fully as you can, and don’t touch it. I did break the don’t touch it rule and took a loan against it to pay off a massive amount of credit card debt I ran up in grad school. No regrets there – I’d rather pay me 6% than citibank 20%. I won’t touch it again. And because I’ve been paying into it for years, there was plenty of money to pay off those cards when I wanted to.

2. Don’t fall into the two income trap. My mom didn’t get her first job until I was 4th grade or so (late ’70s). Long story short, nobody ever intended for her to work for longer than about six months. It was about proving to herself and my dad that she could work and support us financially if she had to. In one of the great ironies of life, she took some of the first programming courses offered at a junior college at the time (she already had a BS in math), and within that six months she was earning triple what my dad was (astrophysicist, university professor). Suddenly, work was kind of awesome for mom. And dad is really lucky she didn’t drop his whiny ass at the time.

After she decided she liked having a paycheck, they finally got their relationship back together and decided to continue to live on his income, and bank hers. She ended up being a guru in her niche, and because of his benefits she always worked as a contractor for a much higher pay rate. They retired when he was 55 and she was 48.

Given the state of the world, I have no illusions about retiring at 55 (or desire to, either). I walk away from that with the lesson that I should never allow our lifestyle to inflate beyond what we can support on one salary. We aren’t perfect – but we are in the process of buying a house and let the one salary rule determine our price cap.

EternalFootwoman (#1,096)

@Quinn A@twitter I am exactly the same way with my mom. She talks about downsizing for retirement, but then she starts listing what she “needs” in a house. It always includes a full-out guest bedroom for me (even though I don’t come for extensive overnight visits and would be more than happy on a couch), a big living room for guests (even though she’s never thrown big parties), and a kitchen big enough to do serious cooking (she hates to cook). It’s like she wants the house for who she wishes she was, rather than for who she actually is.

peacheater (#733)

My parents have an interesting background when it comes to money. I grew up in India, where they’re definitely upper middle class, not so much in terms of salaries, but in terms of the perks of their jobs — lots of household help, good subsidized housing and healthcare, cars and computers paid for by work. Comparatively their take-home pay was quite small, even by Indian standards, but we had an incredibly comfortable and secure life.

They had paid off the mortgage by the time I was in my early teens and suddenly had a fair bit of money left for investing as food and education costs were minimal (they paid for my college but it was a miniscule fraction of what the average American college tuition). A series of good investments and they suddenly had a rather substantial portfolio (by the time I was about 20). Sometimes I have the urge to get them to sell all their real estate and put it all together in a nice tidy savings account but they seem to be doing okay without my advice really. Anyway they’re all set for retirement and should pay off the last bit of their debts fairly soon after selling a piece of land. My maternal grandparents are also doing rather well now after selling off some pieces of property at a very substantial profit. I think they and my parents feel they worked too hard when they were young and are always urging me to relax and enjoy myself more because you’re only young once. My grandfather even tried pulling me aside and urging me to accept an extra $2000 or so a month to help me through grad school, after he found out that my mother had paid for my plane tickets home. I didn’t accept and was embarrassed by this as I have a rather generous grad school stipend and should easily have been able to make ends meet, but was spending somewhat recklessly at the time (though I didn’t get into any debt). I’ve gotten better about spending within my means now.

@peacheater my grandmother has a saying that when somebody offers to give you money, you should always accept it graciously.

she is a very generous and wonderful woman.

peacheater (#733)

@redheaded&crazy You’re probably right :) But I didn’t really need the money at the moment and my grandmother has Parkinson’s so I’m not sure what sudden expenses they might have.

Katzen-party (#219)

This is a great question, and it’s so interesting reading everyone’s responses. It’s especially interesting to me to see what people are saying about stepparents and/or close relatives aside from their parents.

My parents don’t talk much about money, though the unspoken truth seemed to be that we didn’t have much of it. I grew up in a nice neighborhood (my parents bought at the right time) where virtually everyone I knew was comparatively richer than us (and I was ALWAYS aware of this), and all my friends’ parents had cooler jobs–they were architects and professors and doctors, while my parents had the sort of working-class jobs that held no cache.

My parents as a unit are quite tight with money, though that’s mostly due to the influence of my mom, who handles the finances and has been the primary breadwinner in the family for most of my life. My father is a bit more irresponsible and carefree with money–he spends a lot on himself in comparison to my mother (but so do most people). I think I take after my mother a lot when it comes to money. For example, I am (like my mother) an absolute savant when it comes to grocery store prices–I scrupulously read the weekly ads and compare prices, so I know when a sale is actually a sale and the store isn’t just marking something down by 10 cents and putting a “sale” sign on it to get you to buy it. I feel like I deny myself a lot of things, especially when it comes to buying things like clothing–expensive (to me) but necessary things like bras or shoes are difficult for me to shell out money for. I pay all my bills on time and in full, and I keep my checkbook in perfect balance, recording every transaction. But sometimes I feel like I do spend like my dad–I sometimes find it hard to deny myself a little treat (though because of my upbringing, my tastes are not comparatively expensive so the treats really are little–a mocha, a paperback book, a package of grape tomatoes or some nice nectarines that are not at all what I would consider a good price–so I don’t mean “little treat” as in a Marc Jacobs bag or something). But I think my mother, for all the scrimping and saving she does, really doesn’t know much about money. I’m worried about how much (or little) she and my father have saved for retirement, so I’m trying to educate myself about saving for my own retirement (big ups to the Billfold for helping me with that!). My mother almost never uses credit cards (she only has one, and my dad is really the primary user on the account), but I have two cards that I use to help bulk up my credit a bit since I don’t have a house or car (always paying the balance in full and on time, of course). So, I’m thankful that my parents (especially my mother) are cheap because they taught me by example to always live within my means, but I would like to gain a little more education about money, and I sometimes wish that I could spend a not-crazy amount of money on a reasonable purchase without getting as stressed and anxious about it as I often do…

This sounds similar to my finances. I buy bras on Ebay to save money. But of course take a month to decide to actually do it – apparently $10 for a new with tags Victorias Secret bra is too spendy.

Katzen-party (#219)

@The Dauphine Ha, yes–I’ll wait months for one of those “buy one get one 50% off” sales and then freak out because I still have to spend like $45 (even though I get two bras).

Do you thrift a lot? All my clothes are secondhand, except pants because pants are so hard to find in a good fit. I secretly love it though because every time someone asks me where I got something “oh Salvation Army.”

Katzen-party (#219)

@The Dauphine I actually don’t, but I used to shop at thrift stores a lot. Then I got really fiendish about rummage sales, which make thrift stores look expensive! But there are actually a lot of things I never bought at thrift stores–pants, shoes, and of course underwear and bras. That may explain why I have a trillion tops and sweaters I never wear and only two pairs of jeans and three bras… I kind of stopped thrifting because I suddenly didn’t find it as fun as I once did. I felt like the “scores” were getting to be few and far between for me, and I didn’t like getting cramps in my arm while flipping through rack after rack of faded Old Navy tops with grease or bleach stains on them that were inexplicably priced at $8 (which is probably about what they originally cost!). But I live in a big(-ish) city where there’s lots of stiff competition at the few thrift stores around, which is part of what has made it less fun… I mainly hold my nose (because of their overall aesthetic and ad campaigns) and buy most of my new clothes at American Apparel (in the men’s section because the women’s section is pretty much completely BANANAS and not my taste at all). But now I’m feeling like I should go thrifting because I haven’t in AGES, so maybe I’ll stop writing a novel here and get out there!

brinsonian (#646)

It’s only been since I’ve been an adult and working in nonprofit administration for six years that I’ve fully appreciated what my parents managed to do. Both of them work for nonprofits (my mom part time while my brother and I were young), and they were so on top of things! They saved up enough to pay for both my and my brother’s undergraduate degrees, still put lots in their retirement funds and just downsized to a house in the city from where they had been in the suburbs (i.e., smaller house = still more expensive). Lots of coupons and consignment store shopping, which I still live by.

My mom is generally very responsible, but it’s my dad who is the financial manager. I’m so lucky I inherited that from him; I track everything I spend, have targeted savings accounts for big purchases and the only debt I have is on my credit card, which I pay off every month. Thanks, Dad!

PetitPrince (#1,104)

My parents had a very emotion-driven relationship with money, which means that they kept money on complete lockdown unless they wanted to punish or reward (just like with their emotions! Yay therapy!). This meant I never learned to treat money as numbers you could just deal with, but as love or punishment. It has some interesting side effects – I never naturally look at prices for anything, because psychologically what matters is only whether I’ve been good enough to deserve it. That makes for some awkward situations, and leads me to shy away from anything that might be unpredictable because I fear totally losing control of my money. As long as I do what is “safe” and “good” I won’t need to think about it.

Anyway, my parents have made damn sure they won’t ever have to depend on anyone, and that’s reassuring. They paid for my education in full, and for a graduation present mailed me a box full of receipts from what they’d spent on me over the years (while not showing up to the ceremony, because: Bad Kid).

The best part of all this is that I have two postgraduate degrees in economics. Well, the best part really is that I’ve survived it without going bankrupt and have finally moved on to a point where it is slowly becoming Just Money. My parents no longer speak to me anyway, so I hope they are happy sitting in their Scrooge McDuck castle of cash.

Thanks Billfold for letting me vent on the internet, this came at a really sensitive time.

My mom never had ‘a talk’ with me about money, but she used to scold me in high school for not saving my summer job paycheck. ‘Do you want to beliving paycheck to paycheck forever??!?’ – to a 16 year old this makes means nothing.
I am still really afraid that my ‘emergency fund’ will never be big enough. Thanks Mom!

I’m terrible with money in exactly the same way as my dad is.

In other news, Mike, I just want to reiterate that I hope when you address the student loan issue you point out that almost never should one use a windfall to pay off a student loan. (I assume this is what any professionals you have talked to are telling you, but still.)

Marissa (#467)

@stuffisthings How come you shouldn’t use a windfall to pay back student loans?

@Marissa They’re long term and low interest perhaps? If I had a windfall I would (try to) use it as a down payment on a house, because I have to spend money on housing regardless of my loan situation.

EmKat (#1,105)

Growing up, I always knew we were poor, and that it was a constant source of strain between my (since-divorced) parents. My mother is extremely frugal. She will not, under any circumstances, spend money on herself. Occasionally she will spend money on a hobby of hers, but only if she can give it as a gift to someone. I grew up in a Mormon household, a religious tradition that emphasizes preparing for lean times and having ample food storage. My mother takes this to an impressive level (she has a stockpile of freeze-dried shelf stable food, I kid you not, that could probably last five years if rationed properly). My dad lost his job when I was young and we were always short for cash; this terrified my mother, whose primary concern was and always will be her four children. I can recall very vividly being six years old and my mother teaching me how to price items by the ounce to get the best value for our money at the grocery store. I cannot go grocery shopping with friends without having a small panic attack about their lack of concern about prices or value (I also have the added bonus of being an insufferable snob, so I’ll spend 30 bucks to make homemade truffles that are gone the second my friends see them instead of just buying the damn chocolate bar I want for a dollar. Go figure).

My father is an idiot when it comes to money, which is funny, because growing up, I think that some of my siblings thought he was a genius, mainly because he’d buy us what we wanted and worry about the unpaid electricity bill later. We were always, always, ALWAYS just scraping by; they never had the “talk” with me about money, I just knew we didn’t have any and all of my friends did and that being rich was something to aspire to.

I worry obsessively about money, and I know that my childhood plays a big part in this. I didn’t go to University because I was able to pay for community college with cash through my jobs (I got a paper route when I was ten and have worked nonstop since then), and I knew that this wasn’t feasible for a 4 year degree. When I was 23 I sustained an injury that left me on disability pay for 6 months and with about $20,000 of bills insurance didn’t pay, and I decided that the Ostrich approach (and getting and maxing out some credit cards) was the best strategy. I am just now coming to terms with how growing up poor in a very wealthy community, with parents who are terrible with money, affected me. I am shoving myself out of debt, rather frantically and not always in the best possible ways, but it’s a start. I don’t have my parents to fall back on, and I wouldn’t even if this was an option. I want more than anything to be able to take care of my mother when she is older, and I have to remind myself that every time I pay down a debt or turn down something I really want because I know that I can’t afford it right now. I also know that I’m terrified of money: having it, not having it, needing it, and it’s really important to me that if I have kids, they will be educated at a young age about it, in better ways than overhearing arguments and learning how to horde food.

Katzen-party (#219)

@EmKat “I cannot go grocery shopping with friends without having a small panic attack about their lack of concern about prices or value”–me too! One of my friends is always like, “Oh, they had this great sale on XYZ at the grocery store near my house!” and I’m like, “How much was it?” And when she tells me what she paid I have to bite my tongue to keep from screaming, “That is not a sale price!” Also, my sister told me that one time she and her boyfriend went to the store and the cashier accidentally charged her boyfriend for FIFTY-FIVE lemons instead of five lemons and he didn’t even notice! My sister had to step in like, “WHAAAAA??” as he was handing over the money. It seemed especially crazy to us, considering our mother, who keeps an eagle eye on prices and argues with the cashier when the total is higher than she thought it would be (though, embarrassingly, she is often in the wrong when she does this…).

guenna77 (#856)

my parents are both pretty good with money, but in different ways. they’re both very responsible. my dad taught me a lot about credit- cards, scores, reports, loans, etc. my mom’s the more tight-fisted one, and her influence was more on my spending habits. i’m probably a bit more like her. she always impressed upon me the importance of having savings and got me into the saving habit early with a little passbook account at her bank. jesus, i loved looking at that book, seeing the interest add up. free money! FREE MONEY!!!

Things i then did before i was 12 (when babysitting became my primary source of income) to make more money:
* I got really into recycling as a kid (thank you girl scouts!) but there was no curbside recycling program back then. so my mom found a scrap metal dealer who would buy the garbage bags full of crushed cans stuffed into the station wagon, and pay us the $1-$4 they were worth. then we’d go to the bank. the day i found some old rain gutters was my best payday ever.
* sometimes my mom would need cash to pay people (lawn mowing, etc). if she had no cash on hand, she would borrow it from me and the stash in my cashbox. and like a good loan shark, i charged her exhorbitant interest rates that went up the longer it took her to pay me back. she fully encouraged this.
* i worked other parents shifts at the little league snackbar. it was all volunteer and all parents were required to put some hours in. i would take their 2 hour shift for the bargain price of $10.

but seriously, i really do owe my good habits to them. Through their hard work and generosity, i came out of school with no student loans, which is just about the greatest gift ever. what that really taught me was not just about saving, but why you save – so that you can spend it on the big things you *really* want down the line. i’ve done a semester abroad, and traveled a lot, including all of my friends’ out-of-town weddings, i lived in a tiny 1-bedroom garden apartment so i could save up for a condo i love in the heart of the city. and i feel like i can honestly say that there isn’t anything i can think of that i regret not buying myself.

Beans (#1,111)

As a 23 year old, I credit my solid financial footing to the stellar example set by my frugal New England parents. They made sure that I understood from the get-go that credit cards are not free money and that it’s important to constantly monitor activity in your checking account. They gave me an allowance starting at a pretty young age (a small one) and helped me open a savings account at the local bank, which I think really helped me develop a sense of how to save and how to budget. If I ran out of money, that was it. No bailout from them.

They also encouraged me to sign up for a credit card when I turned 18, which might raise some eyebrows. But due to their good example (and my own fastidious nature), I paid it off in full every single month and continue to do so. I’ve never paid one cent of interest. I was able to build up enough credit to not need a co-signer on my first post-college apartment, which felt pretty damn good.

call_her_alaska (#1,113)

Thinking about who my parents are in regards to money seems like such a complicated task. We were quite poor when I was a kid (though if you are going to be poor anywhere, Australia is a pretty good place for it). My father is a musician who never really wanted to do anything other then his music and so only had a regular paying job for about half my childhood (and quit that as soon as he split with my ma). My father is perfectly content with making a small amount of money. He lives quite meagrly and is perfectly content doing so. He has very low bills that he always pays on time, he gives a bunch of money to charity every year just before tax (even though his income is very low) and if you ask to borrow money he will do so without question (and will never really ask you to pay it back – though he does keep a log, just so he can remember where he spent what). My mother on the other hand always wanted for more. Both my parents didn’t finish high school so even when they both had full-time jobs it wasn’t exactly a high-paying bonanza. When I was younger my Mum saved so she could go travelling and eventually started her own business but things were tight and as soon as I was 14 I got a job and at 16 I started chipping in money to the household. When I was young the pressure was always on in regards to money – my mum had to borrow money from her mother more then she would like. When I was a teen I was fully aware of our financial situation and always felt that it was my issue also. My mother always managed to afford to have a good time though and it was always considered important (maybe too important?). My sister grew up to be very frugal because of knowing how we were always on the edge of real money trouble. I find myself more easy-going with money and whilst she has no credit card bill I have a pretty high one. I like to buy things and do stuff (now! not later!) and my sister would usually prefer to save and only get things she needs and do things when it is financially viable. It could be because she was 3 years older then I was when we were in our worst financial period or it could be because she is more of a realist then I am. We both are pretty good about giving money to charity though (which I think we got from our dad).

mouthalmighty (#165)

My mother has a fraught relationship with money, to say the least. I was raised poor – the kind of poor where you depend on government assistance for literally everything. So… there weren’t many sit down “money conversations” between my mother and I. What I know about managing finances, I learned in a “what not to do” kind of way. I didn’t learn about savings or investing or anything of that nature until I went to college. (I’m still learning this stuff, actually.) And, truthfully, it wasn’t until college that I realized how desperately awful with her finances my mother actually is. I knew things were bad (we lived on the verge of poverty, obviously they weren’t good) but two months into my freshman year, I got the first (of many) frantic phone calls from home about her money woes and they were eye-opening. At 19, I made the decision to take over her finances entirely and began the slow process one bill at a time. It’s taken a few years (and a lot of squandered personal savings) but I finally have (almost) absolute control over her money. I still have to subsidize her income (she’s disabled and only receives social security) but she’s debt-free, which makes that easier, at least.

Because of all this though, my relationship with money is as equally fraught as my mother’s. I’m very careful with it (I only just got my first credit card, at 25) and worry about it constantly. I do my best to not spend extravagantly and I have a savings account, as well as a small (but there) retirement account which I try to funnel money into whenever possible. And since I’m laying it all out there anyway (plus because it’s relevant to some of the side discussions happening here): I also HAVE to be frugal, to live a quality life, since between my partner and I, we owe more than $120,000+ in student loans. (Yeah, for real. His parents weren’t exactly on the up-and-up when it came to the financial aid process.) 32% of our combined income (I did the math a while ago) goes to our student loan debts so unless I want to (once more) be beholden to the government for basics like food and housing, I pretty much have to watch our finances like a hawk. WHICH I DO because I’d like to never be beholden to the government for life necessities again, if I can avoid it. Thanks, mom!

charmcity (#1,091)

This thread is probably completely dead by now, but I have to say that I read through all of the comments, and the combination of money and parent/child relationships was both incredibly interesting and emotional for me. I was raised in a very sheltered, insular household, and didn’t realize how little money we had until I went to college (scholarships and one loan) and realized how common it was for my classmates to, like, order takeout. Or go to the movies. Or buy a pair of shoes or a tshirt or new dress. We had lots of great things growing up, including music lessons and vacations (all camping, but to great places) but we went out to eat once or twice a year and got one new pair of shoes at the beginning of the school year, and my parents never EVER spent or spend any money on themselves. It is a pleasure now to be able to do something like buy my mom a nice (like, J. Crew nice, not FANCY nice!) top or something for her birthday, because I know she is wearing the same things she’s worn for 20 years and would never do that for herself. Or buy a book for my dad, because otherwise he would just wait six months to get it from the library. At the same time, I don’t know anything about how to use my money to make more money. We never talked about it. I am afraid to spend it. There’s a line on 30 Rock where Liz describes her retirement plan as “like…$12k in checking?” I laugh-cried in recognition.

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