Everything I Needed to Know About Money I Did Not Learn in Kindergarten

Money as you Grow screenshot

What did you learn about money as a child? Although I never received any formal financial education, I remember a few lessons that trickled down to me from my parents or other authority figures:

+ Don’t take any wooden nickels. My father was fond of saying this to me when I left the house. It works as literal advice, of course, but it primarily means, Don’t get cheated by some slickster, like a so-called banker with a sob story on the Upper West Side.

+ Prioritize buying nice essentials that will last. Over the course of my entire childhood, I remember our getting one new couch and … that might be it? Most of the furniture — which was lovely as well as sturdy, for the most part, our awful kitchen table excepted — predated me, and it might outlast me yet: my mom still has it around. I read something once as an adult that it’s a good idea to buy one nice piece of furniture a year, and if you embrace that wisdom, apparently the time to buy furniture is January (also a good time for linens, suits, and video games!).

Feed the meter even if no one’s looking. If you can’t be sure whether or not you need to put in the $.50, err on the side of putting in the quarters. Make following the rules, and being safe rather than sorry, a habit, and it will become much easier to do.

Pay your traffic tickets. Twice in one short span of time, two members of my family were formally detained by police officers for non-payment of one particular speeding ticket. To protect their reputations, I won’t say who they were, except that one of them had a gray beard and was led away from a crossword puzzle in handcuffs. The other member of my family arrested for the same ticket got the full monty: shackles, fingerprints, a mugshot. Render unto Caesar, guys, or Caesar comes after you, guns blazing. Trust.

Always leave the house with cash. Don’t rely on being able to find an ATM when you need one, or on the generosity / patience of your friends. In emergencies, be able to help yourself as much as possible.

+ Invest in AAA. This came in handy numerous times, including one afternoon when my brothers and I were driving home from school in the minivan and the minivan suddenly decided it maybe didn’t want to be a minivan anymore, maybe it was always meant to be a boulder, and it made this realization while we were on I-495 during rush hour. Whoever was driving managed to guide the recalcitrant vehicle gently to the shoulder without anyone dying or hitting us so that we could flag down a stranger and call AAA for help.

Cook. We had breakfast and dinner together as a family every weekday, which is kind of insane now that I think about it, but nice. We weren’t allowed to watch “the Simpsons” while we ate, either. We had to talk to each other. So we mostly quoted “the Simpsons” while the parents sighed and zoned out.

In the morning, my dad made us eggs, because he believed in that Protein in the Morning thing, and in the evening, my mom often made us salmon, because she believed in that Fish is Brain Food thing and also the thing about how Family Dinners Keep Kids From Becoming Delinquents. We graduated high school and went to college, so maybe the magic worked? Also making food at home saves money and when you see cooking done every day as a child it reminds you that it is a possible thing people do.

Even at work, be ethical. My dad kept the Book of Isaiah on his desk at the office to remind himself who he was working for. Or so he said. Maybe it functioned as good bathroom reading.

Be generous when possible. My mom often allowed me to bring a friend with us on family vacations, so that it wouldn’t just be my brothers fighting over video games and me in the corner reading a book. Though I was very appreciative, it never occurred to me then how much extra expense and annoyance this occasioned, and she never mentioned it, either. She was a gracious host to all of my friends and in her honor I still press food and drink on anyone who comes through the door. Also, one time, my dad secretly picked up the tab for a group of old ladies at the deli where he was a regular. I only found out at his funeral. They never found out at all.

This train of thought has been inspired by an interesting site someone pointed me to called Money As You Grow, which advises starting to teach the basics of financial literacy in age appropriate ways to children 3-5 years old and all the way through their teens. Although I’m grateful for what I did learn, I could definitely have used some of these basic lessons back then too.

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31 Comments / Post A Comment

PicNic (#3,760)

1. love the jab at Mike Dang :)

2. this was really stinking cute!

I think I’ve mostly spent my adulthood trying to unlearn what I unintentionally picked up about how to handle money growing up. But, I’m getting there, so that’s something.

bgprincipessa (#699)

@PicNic those 2 numbered items were my exact thoughts reading this. I love the adorable-ness of this!

And I, too, think I picked up some not great things, or just wasn’t taught much at all…

Heather F G (#6,074)

@PicNic Yes, my initial thought was: sweet burn, Ester!

Wendy T (#7,420)

@PicNic I keep thinking about Mike’s possible banker scam, and I’ve decided that it was the right thing for him to do. Think about it: this Morgan Stanley guy is probably puts a lot of his self-worth into material things, so when his entire backpack gets stolen in the middle of the night in an unfamililar area (which would be scary for anyone), he freaks out because he’s so sheltered that he’s never been this vulnerable before. He awkwardly asks someone “safe” looking for money, and, out of fear of having to keep begging for money, asks Mike to pay the whole fare. He probably went home and told his wife that he wished there was some way to get back in touch. Mike, check Missed Connections!

Titania (#489)

I have no idea what parenting book my parents got this from, but when we started getting an allowance (1st grade, and we got a dollar amount that matched our age, so $6) we were given four piggy banks. We labeled them long-term savings, short-term savings, spending, and charity. And we sat down with our parents to decide how what percent of our allowance we wanted to go into each piggy bank. We had a long talk about what someone might buy over the long term, what you might need to save for in the short term, how if you spend all your money you won’t be able to do any of those things, and how everyone has to give something to charity. We talked about how the amount we gave could shift as different things we wanted or needed came up, and we were given our allowance in singles so we could physically divide it for ourselves.

It worked pretty effectively. The methods and products are a little more sophisticated now, but that’s still basically how I organize my personal finances, making sure something is allotted for every category. I think the best habit it taught us was that saving was an expectation, not an optional thing; I sometimes get stressed as an adult when I feel like I’m not able to save enough, but I think that’s better than the stress that would come with getting old and discovering I’d not saved at all.

As for less formal lessons:
-Cars are not an investment.
-No matter what Vogue says, clothing is not an investment. At the very best, it is a worthwhile purchase.
-Leftovers are good and will be eaten. If you think you can’t eat it again, put it in a sandwich.
-If you have debt, you don’t have savings. Pay your bills first.

bgprincipessa (#699)

@Titania I’m not sure I fully agree with that last point. Maybe if by debt you mean credit cards, yes. But student loans, a mortgage, even a car payment? Not sure I’d consider that full debt.

Katni (#6,141)

@bgprincipessa I think that’s kind of in line with a lot of Dave Ramsey’s teachings. He goes overboard and advocates not even having a mortgage (yeah right), but he does say that if you have “true” debt like credit cards, that you should save a $1000 emergency fund and not a penny more, and put all other surplus funds towards your debt. My thoughts are, if it “only” costs $1000, is it really an emergency?? That’s not a number that I would really be comfortable with.

Titania (#489)

@bgprincipessa Oh no definitely meaning credit card debt, unpaid bills, etc. A response to my first encounter with a credit card at age 18, when I kept letting a balance roll over month to month while still putting money away for savings.

Titania (#489)

@Katni My emergency fund is currently at $8000 and that’s only because I am in a bad job situation and had to use some of it. We’re Jewish, he’s definitely not a Ramseyite, but I think it’s fairly sound advice.

andnowlights (#2,902)

@Titania WE TOTALLY DID THIS! Except all our money was kept in a ledger book and not cash!

Katni (#6,141)

My mom created a faux checking account for me when I was 10 or so, complete with homemade checks that she typed up so that I would learn how to balance an account and get a basic knowledge of how banking works (this was 25 years ago, obviously a lot of it doesn’t apply today!) I would write checks to her for various frivolous expenditures, out of money put in from my allowance and/or extra chores. She also insisted that I give some to charity, and much to her dismay I picked the Humane Society, because even then I was more altruistic towards animals than towards people. Anyway, it’s still one of the best “lessons” I think I ever learned, especially now that I’ve worked in banking and have seen how many people have NO CLUE about basic concepts like “don’t spend more than you have”!

Lily Rowan (#70)

@Katni That is so sweet!

Titania (#489)

@Katni That is adorable. I was checking my bank balance on my phone the other day in front of my mom and she was like “Why do you have to do that? When’s the last time you balanced your checkbook?” and this was clearly going to be a Big Discussion until I burst out laughing and was like “3rd grade, when you made me learn how, and the same goes for everyone under 30.”

andnowlights (#2,902)

@Katni That is such a cute idea!

LookUponMyWorks (#2,616)

Oh, lovely. <3

My folks also instilled the better safe than sorry attitude in me, and were also big proponents of cooking and eating together (and cleaning up afterwards together). They were also generous when possible, and I am constantly the one at parties making sure people have plenty to eat and drink.

Other:
-nothing wrong with hand-me-downs/thrift stores/wearing the same shoes/shirts/pants until they fall apart.
-You’re never getting an allowance so stop asking
-saving is non-negotiable
-giving is good
-having to put money in a jar every time you curse will not cure you of your tendency to curse like a sailor

HelloTheFuture (#5,275)

There’s a Billfold post that I’ve had sitting in draft forever that I can’t finish writing because it sounds totally arrogant. But the basic thesis is “when parents give kids allowances, they don’t really intend for kids to have purchasing power and the decisions the kids make are largely constructed by the parents anyway. BUT WHEN YOU GIVE KIDS FINAL FANTASY VIDEO GAMES, they have the power to earn and spend gold in real, “adult” amounts, with real consequences.”

And then there is this bit where you’re supposed to secretly watch your kid playing video games and see if the kid spends all the GP at once, or saves up to buy the airship.

Like I mentioned, there’s a reason this post is still in draft.

TLeela (#5,849)

@HelloTheFuture YES ALL OF THIS and also you also learn about depreciation because I’m pretty sure when you sell back old weapons/armor to those jerky shopkeeps they only give you a fraction of what you paid for it. Really prepared me for the college textbook scam.

moreadventurous (#4,956)

I’ve had a bank account since I was like… 6? Maybe? My mom went over all of the things I needed to know about a bank, checking versus savings, etc. I remember getting an ATM card when I was super young too, and learning how it worked and having to keep it safe. My mom definitely is a frugal person and I’ve picked up on that in a serious way.

But also, the tooth fairy always gave me Susan B. Anthonys (for money lesson, and feminism lesson!) and I remember being really confused that I got back regular dollars after taking some of my special dollar coins to the bank.

Heather F G (#6,074)

My MIL went to the same eggs in the morning/ salmon in the evening/ DINNER. TOGETHER. School of Parenting! It’s a good school.

My parents tried a lot of creative things with our allowances to try to teach us the value of a dollar, such as doing an a la carte system for chores where we’d earn, say, 50 cents vacuuming on Saturday, a dollar washing dishes on Tuesday, and then added it up at the end of the week for a payout. Freelance chores!

Then again, they were very against debt, to the point that in college I just ended up getting all my loans and credit cards in secret because it was that or a broken-down car and crackers with jelly. I’m trying to reconcile this guilt with my experience of actually being in debt… I’ll get back to you on that.

@Heather F G Yes I love the term “freelance chores” – in retrospect, as a soon to be parent, I realize it also allows the parent (boss) to put a premium on the work they would least like to do to motivate the kids to do it for you. I made much less clearing the table after dinner every night vs. mowing the lawn once a week, a chore both my parents loathe so much that they hired a professional lawn service about two weeks after I left from college.

Heather F G (#6,074)

@JNC Musings Factory Haha, glad to know my parents weren’t the only ones. I felt so shorted back then! When is your baby due?

shannowhamo (#845)

My parents, who are actually really quite good with their own money, instilled nothing useful in me! I was a spoiled brat, didn’t get an allowance but got whatever I wanted, but also had no chores. It’s crazy that I’m as functional as I am! And from childhood I only remember my mom always “getting in trouble” with credit cards and my dad going into a blind range over the tiniest expense (buying a cup of ice for water, late fees at Blockbuster) but bought huge, expensive things all the time (electronics and hobby stuff for hunting and fishing mostly.) I did not learn the value of a dollar until…I’m still working on it? My husband and I both have decent jobs and don’t live lavish lifestyles but I’m still terrible at saving and have a bunch of cc debt. Let’s just say, I wish I had one of these elaborate piggy bank systems when I was a kid! I love my parents and thing they are great in general but they dropped the ball on the money stuff and I’m still trying to get a handle on it.

Chel (#2,960)

My parents were not consistent in the money lessons they taught us. We always had the newest toy – my dad waited in lines overnight to get us Cabbage Patch kids when they came out – but sometimes we were on the free lunch program at school or my mom would go to the food bank instead of the grocery store and tell me not to tell my sister since she was too young to understand not to tell my grandmother. My dad worked in the feast or famine industries of commercial construction and long-haul trucking so paycheck to paycheck was just the way things were. They bought their house through a rent-to-own program and my mom got her first credit card about five years ago.

Every once in a while we would get an allowance but it would fizzle after a few weeks even if it was tied to chores. By the time we were in middle school we were punished for not doing chores but not rewarded for doing them. They also tried paying us for good grades but never kept it up for more than two report cards in a row. Looking back I suspect there just wasn’t enough money to cover what they had said they would give us but they never told us that so we were always complaining about how unfair everything was. We probably would have still complained if we knew there just wasn’t enough money.

My sister got a piggy bank for her kids; they were sharing one but quickly realized they would each need their own. My nephew understands that if he saves his money he can get a toy later. He knows which toy he is saving for and whenever he gets money he has his dad help his count it and tell him how much more he needs. The kid is four and a half so I think that level of patience and understanding it pretty good. The toy in question is $100; my sister said if he saves half they are going to pay for the rest as a reward for saving. My niece just turned three- she hasn’t figured out you can spend money yet but she does know that if she asks the grandparents she will always get a handful of change for her bank. We’re all in trouble when she learns about paper money.

Aconite (#6,401)

My parents are also great advocates of having enough cash at all times. This is not something I’ve taken on board and sure enough, it catches me out sometimes. They are not advocates of saving leftovers or generally being food waste conscious, though, and somehow I turned into a crazy leftover machine who will happily put uneaten sweetcorn back into the fridge to serve again (to myself, I’m not the worst host or anything) the next day.

Cat Named Louise (#1,943)

From my Mom:
-always pay your credit card balance in full
-call the bank to ask to get out of late payment fees (works!)
-no car payments! Only ever buy a car that you can afford outright
-if you buy something you didn’t really need (usually shoes), you must spend the entire car ride home justifying the purchase. “They will look great with that blue dress, and you can wear them to teach, and your sister can borrow them, and and and”

Heather F G (#6,074)

@Cat Named Louise The “this must have at least three things to match it” rule is actually super helpful when it comes to buying clothes!

andnowlights (#2,902)

This was really, really lovely! Love it.

A-M (#4,317)

–I remember being given a quarter or two as a child when I went out “in case I ever needed to use a pay phone, it’s good to have change on hand.”
– We all learned there are people on the street who will try to scam you and most strangers who approach you with a gold ring they found and will give it to you to sell assuming you give them money are in fact not telling the truth about the value of the “found” ring.
– When my parents were first married they budgeted for one parking ticket a month (though they did pay them off).
– No allowances. Sometimes my sister and I could earn 1 penny for every two weeds we pulled.
– Quality over quantity, with everything, but especially food.
– Watch out for exchange rates! They can get you.

Beans (#1,111)

my parents gave me an allowance but always made it clear that 1. it was not in exchange for doing chores- you don’t get paid to do chores, you do chores because you’re a member of the household and that’s just what you’re expected to do. 2. when the money runs out, it runs out. you don’t get any more until next week so don’t bother asking. it was a good lesson in money management, i think.

I am so thankful to my parents (primarily my dad just because that’s who the financial piece of the household fell to) for the financial tools they gave me, especially after marrying someone whose parents followed the path of giving them $20 here and there whenever they needed it without any thought to budgets, saving, etc.

My dad sat me down some time around when I was 12 and helped me make out a budget of my expenses for the year in Excel. We covered makeup, toiletries (not toilet paper, that would just be cruel), clothes, gifts for friends, going out, etc. I proposed a budget I considered “fair” and we negotiated from that a twice weekly allowance, which was to cover everything from buying myself shampoo to going to the movies with friends. If I wanted more money, I had to bring it in myself, mostly via babysitting and tutoring gigs, but also by taking on more duties around the house like mowing the lawn at a rate set by my parents.

This continued until I graduated from college. My dad and I would meet annually to go over an updated, proposed budget I put together, and use that to settle a fair bi-weekly allowance which my dad direct deposited into a debit card in my name, but underneath my parent’s account. I basically knew how to manage a “paycheck” years before my friends did, and learned skills like “drug store makeup can be cheap AND awesome” and “buy clothes on sale, dummy” early on.

It taught me the value of money, which I think was especially important because for big things, my parents did spoil me. I got a new car that I was allowed to help pick out on a set budget from my parents when I turned 16 (nothing fancy, but because I knew I would have to cover gas, maintenance and repairs I went with a cost effective Honda Civic that I kept for 10 years) and I was told early on to go to whatever college I wanted to and tuition would be covered.

I really hope to replicate this with my kids, because it is so clear to me that this put me miles ahead of a lot of my peers when it came to financial management and household budgeting. The only they they didn’t emphasize as much was savings, I think because that’s where they felt “kids should be kids” and where they enjoyed me being able to have/buy things they didn’t as kids.

And props to my mom for telling me to always have an emergency $20 tucked into my wallet. That thing has gotten me out of so many jams in my lifetime. Way more than AAA has.

amaeve (#5,095)

@JNC Musings Factory This sounds like a great idea, and also I wish it’s how grown-up salary negotiation worked.

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