Do Our Parents Money Decisions Define Us?

[Gypsy family.]From a young age I was given the ability to choose how I would spend my money. I was raised in a “typical” family unit with two hard working parents and a younger sibling.

We weren’t rich, we weren’t poor we were considered middle class, I suppose.

My dad worked long hours as a small business owner (he was a mechanic) and my mom worked part-time so she could take care of us. The family business was passed onto him by my grandfather who came to the states with nothing except the clothes on his back.

My grandparents immigrated to the US from Romania when my dad was just thirteen years old. They lived in New York and my grandfather established and ran a very enterprising used car sales and repair business.

I will forever be inspired by both my grandfather and his strong business sense and my father’s work ethic.

My parents raised my brother and me to understand that life is not a “free” ride; hard work and smart decisions will take you where you want to go.

We were given the ability to make our own decisions, good or bad and learn from them.

Spend or Save?

When we were younger the choice to spend or save our $2.00 / week allowance was ours to make. They never told us what to do with it, we had to decide on our own and face the consequences of that choice.

Spending all of our allowance on the day we received us left us broke until next week. That meant no “extra” treats at the store or stops at junk machines in the grocery store lobby.

Saving afforded us the ability to purchase a sought after item or a splurge if we wanted it at the end of a tortuous trip to the store.

I was the spender, my brother was the saver. I often visited his room prior to a shopping trip begging for a loan; his response was usually ok, but with interest.

Own or Borrow?

As we grew older the choices became more difficult. Get part-time jobs to pay for car insurance and gas or live the lackadaisical teenage life borrowing a car if it was available?

I jumped at the chance of freedom and responsibility and got a job as soon as I was sixteen. My family as I mentioned earlier, was in the car business, so I was given a beat up Volkswagen, but only after I had saved enough to pay the first six months of car insurance. I was never so proud of anything in my life and the fact that I could drive myself to school, work, and practice made me giddy.

My brother having no interest in obtaining a job happily borrowed a car and loved that he didn’t have to spend any of his money.

Work or Education?

Then as high school came to a close and our college years were upon us we had a choice to make; attend college, go to work, or both? We both opted for a college education but approached it in two totally different ways.

I worked full-time while carrying a hefty course load. I had been given a taste of the freedoms afforded to me while earning money and I wasn’t willing to give them up. I wanted to live on my own and that meant I had to pay for it. It was definitely hard to juggle work and school; looking back I have no idea how I survived but, somehow I did and to this day I have that same work ethic.

My brother also took on college life but chose to enjoy it to its fullest—work free living at home with mom and dad.

Did the way we were raised and the ability to make our own decisions early on in life shape our relationship with money and guide the decisions we make today? As an adult I feel that the choices I make today are based on the principles and values I gained as a child and young adult.

I hear my father’s voice in my head every time I have to make a big decision…

“If you can’t afford to pay cash, you don’t need it.”

“Do you realize how long you will have to work to pay for that?”

“How will your decision affect other aspects of your life?”

I am thankful to have been raised to appreciate hard work and given the ability to make my own decisions; learning from every one of them. Believe me; I have had some tough ones.

How about you? What did your parents teach you about hard work and money?

photo credit

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About Suzanne Cramer

15 Responses to “Do Our Parents Money Decisions Define Us?”

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  1. My parents taught me to save out of each paycheck, live below your means, and pay cash for the things you buy. Unfortunately when I headed out on my own to college I forgot all of it.

    I guess that’s not exactly true…somewhere in the back of my head there was a voice telling me that I was headed down the wrong path, but I didn’t listen.

    The quote from your father, “Do you realize how long you will have to work to pay for that?” is a great one. I use a similar one with my kids when they tell me what they want to save their allowance for – “How many weeks of allowance is that?”

    I’m happy that they’re thinking in terms of saving up for things…I just hope they don’t follow in my footsteps and go down the wrong path when they leave home.

  2. Suzanne Cramer says:

    Travis: I think because they are “along for the ride” on your journey to become debt free they see the sacrifices and daily struggles everyone has to make to accomplish your goal.

    Like you said they are already thinking about saving and concerned with how long they have to work to earn money.

    Keep up the great work 🙂

  3. DebtTips says:

    I’m not sure I’d say they define us, but they sure shape our money habits. My parents told me about the value of hard work and saving, and were living examples. But they made it too easy on me because they had hard childhoods. And those actions did more to shape me than their words or examples. Eventually I learned my own lessons so there is no blame, but it did affect me somewhat.

  4. I know I have been heavily influenced and helped by my parents’ financial decisions, so I would be in a much different place financially had it not been for their decisions. I think parents have a responsibility to do right by their kids, but kids, once they become adults, need to realize that they have a choice to be defined (or not) by their parents’ actions.

  5. Suzanne Cramer says:

    @DebtTips I think some of the most powerful lessons I learned were when I was given the opportunity to make a mistake, and learned from the consequences. The way my parents lived “financially speaking” certainly molded how I live today.

    @WellHeeledBlog Well said! They (hopefully) give us the tools we need to be successful financially. I am a firm believer the personal finance lessons begin at home.

    • Brad Chaffee says:

      I agree Suzanne! We are shaped by example in the homes we grow up in and that is more powerful than any other outside influence. People often blame peer pressure for the stupid things we sometimes do, but I believe that if the right example and principles are taught in the home then the chances are greater that our children will make better decisions as they grow up. That’s not to say they won’t mess up and learn from their own mistakes because they will, but I believe if someone is given proper guidance it will give them a better chance to make the right choices.

      On the flip side, you can be taught something until you’re blue in the face, know it like the back of your hand, and still refuse to do what you know to be correct. There are so many slippery slopes when it comes to personal finance. Then there are children that grow up seeing the wrong thing, know it’s wrong, and decide to go the other direction in life. Sometimes what we see at home causes us to want better for ourselves and our families, so we make a more consistent effort to make better choices.

      Great post! I love these type of discussions!! 😀

  6. sophie says:

    I think in one way or another our parents money decisions do define us. I grew up middle class. We always had enough food, new school clothes, went on vacations regularly, it was very the “norm”. My boyfriend on the other hand grew up poor. His dad is disabled and could not work. His mom has bad epilepsy and could barely hold down a part time job. They had to utilize government aid programs and always had to use food stamps. He is determined to live a better life than his parents and even more determined to make enough for them to be able to retire decently. We both want to be better off than our parents were but he has a real passion to do so.

    • Suzanne Cramer says:

      @Brad We just have to hope that the lessons we teach our children about money (and everything else for that matter) stick with them and help them make better choices as they go through life. We can’t hold their hand forever, but we can make life long impressions and hopefully the voice in their head will help guide them in the right direction.

      @sophie Wow, that sounds tough for your boyfriend and I am quite certain he understands and appreciates the value of money. I wish the both of you the best of luck and I know that you will work hard to make the lives you for yourselves.

  7. Leisa says:

    My parents decisions with regards to work and money certainly influenced my habits today. During the recession in the nineties things were really tough and sometimes our cupboards were bare of food. This was because they made sure they paid the bills as well as the 17% mortgage interest on the new house bought just before the recession hit. It taught me not to take on something that stretches my finances to the limit unless I was willing to make the sacrifices and dig in for the long haul. I certainly don’t think I would have saved up for a deposit on my own place as soon as I had my first job. They also taught me money isn’t everything in that promotions at work were knocked back if it interferred with their ability to be there for their kids prefering to keep a nice balance of work and home :-).

    • Suzanne Cramer says:

      @Leisa That is something many of us forget to think about when it comes to climbing the proverbial corporate ladder; work-life balance. A few years ago I left the rat race to be there for my son and watch him grow up. While I still work full-time the best benefit my company has given me is true work-life balance. Money isn’t everything and sometimes we do struggle, but I wouldn’t change a thing!

  8. I really enjoy this article. My parents taught me to save and never have debt. I too came from a hard working back ground; poor but proud. The tapes from my parents teachings still ring loud and clear in my head today. Unfortunately times have chanced. There are times that I have to do my own thinking in the moment when it comes to money. I am grateful though for what was taught to me.

  9. @workingboomer Thanks for the comment! Times have changed and decisons are always tough but those lessons learned early on can make a huge difference.

  10. Dennis says:

    Thank you Suzanne,

    My experience growing up was very dynamic and complicated. There were 13 siblings in the family and we all had to navigate the multiple pathways to decision making. My basic values with money are: pay cash!!
    I’ve been in trouble in the past with credit (this is the complexity factor kicking in 😉 My parents did a fantastic job of managing the family … but along the way … some of us (me being one) did not get those “gems” of wisdom that the parents were passing along to other siblings … it was simply a numbers game and how much time my folks could spend with each of us along this unique journey.

    I followed my creative impulses early (music) and have had an awesome life playing music for the last 38 years and for the last 15 years I’ve layered in Web Development for fun (and profit)

    I’m just now (in my 50s) putting all the financial pieces together…and you’re piece today … gives me another piece of my puzzle: To pull up the full learned values (either directly or by proxy) of my experience growing up and specifically the value of saving and spending carefully (I’ve had some speed bumps along the way) … but for the most part… “I’m getting it right”

    Thank you and many blessings,

  11. Suzanne says:

    @Dennis Thank you so much for sharing! I am glad this post added another piece to your financial puzzle. I know my parents have had a huge impact on the way I view money and I hope to pass those views on to my son.

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