Your Perspective On Money Changes….When You’re Paying the Bills


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My son looked at me like he didn’t believe what he was hearing. He believed that his parents have an unlimited source of money.

My son has been saving his allowance as well as the money he’s earned mowing lawn this summer to get his own computer, and has amassed a pretty good chunk of coin. We had planned on a building a computer together as I thought it would be a cool father and son activity plus save us some money by assembling the computer ourselves. However, recently he found a pre-built computer online that had the required specs, and was on sale for a very reasonable price.

It’s hard to say, “No,” when the kid does his research.

The problem was, he didn’t have enough money. He asked if I could advance him some money to buy the computer while it was on sale. I apologized, but told him I couldn’t due to expenses we had in the next few weeks associated with the start of a new school year. There’s also this situation of me being furloughed for a week in September that has Vonnie and I doing a bit of a financial scramble.

I could tell he didn’t like my answer. His body language, and his tone of voice was borderline disrespectful. He showed me the regular price of the computer, telling me that if he didn’t get it soon he would have to save up even more money. I reminded him of some games he purchased during the last few months and hinted that had he not bought them, he could have had enough to purchase the computer.

Our conversation ended with him being extremely unhappy. I don’t think he understands that even though his parents are adults, we don’t have a limitless supply of money.

It reminded me of a childhood grocery shopping trip with my mom. I wanted her to buy name brand potato chips, and instead she plopped a bag of the store brand in the cart. How embarrassing, thought the pre-teen version of me. For the rest of the time we made our way through the grocery store isles I gave her an earful for daring to try to save what I thought was an insignificant amount of money.

I’ve thought of that grocery shopping trip often over the last four years as my perspective on money has changed. I’ve even apologized to her for that embarrassing childhood memory.

It’s amazing how your perspective changes when you’re the one paying the bills.

I wonder if my son will look back at his behavior in a similar way. I wonder if one day when he is an adult trying to handle the finances of a family he will have a similar experience and think of how he acted, and realize how his perspective on money has changed.

Do you have a childhood memory that you’d like a “do over” on now that you’re perspective on money has changed?

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22 Responses to “Your Perspective On Money Changes….When You’re Paying the Bills”

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  1. Good for you!

    With five kiddos myself, I can relate to how hard it is to teach those financial lessons. It is easier to cave and make them happy! That’s when I have to remind myself that their happiness long-term is much more important than short-term.
    Watching them learn financial lessons can be difficult, but as your mom has witnessed – it worked!

    • Travis says:

      Thanks the Recovering Coupon Queen – the hardest part for me wasn’t saying “no” now….as we honestly don’t have the funds to advance him (I wouldn’t have anyway). The hard part was watching him spend a significant amount of money on other things (even to my objection) knowing that something like this may happen. As in my case, it sometimes takes YEARS to recognize a lesson…maybe this is one of those times!

  2. Daniel says:

    Another great article Travis! I have more instances than I could count, unfortunately. I’m still embarassed when I think of some of my more extreme antics and it’s been 20 years. My folks were not good with money (unsurprisingly, credit cards were the culprit) and having me on the “payroll” didn’t help, of course. At the time, I thought they were put on this earth to pay for everything I wanted. Never giving a thought to the fact that they often went without anything they wanted / needed for very long periods of time. I think the financial education I’ve gained through many trials and errors in my own financial life has helped me understand what they were going through and why the words “we can’t afford it” were spoken so often in my house growing up.

    I’m now counting down the days until my daughter is born (about 2 weeks to go) and I certainly hope to teach her sound financial habits at a reasonably early age in hopes of avoiding some of the ugly exchanges I remember having with my parents. I guess only time will tell.

    • Travis says:

      Oh boy, Daniel, your sentence, “I thought they were put on this earth to pay for everything I wanted.” I know some kids like this……my son has his moments, and I’m *determined* to keep him from going all the way in this direction. Cross your fingers for me.

      I know from experience that it seems so embarrassing to utter the words “we can’t afford it” to your children. It’s like admitting failure….but it’s not, it just being REALISTIC. Very few people in this world can go through life affording everything and anything they want.

      Congratulations on the coming of your daughter, Daniel – is it your first? I wish I would have been in a better financial state of mind when my kids were born to really get them going on the right financial path from the get go….good luck to you and welcome (soon) to Fatherhood!

      • Daniel says:

        Thanks for the reply Travis. This is our first (and most likely the only) one so hopefully we can pass on a few good habits when the time is right. I’d like to thank you and the rest of the EOD team for posting great, thought-provoking articles each week. Keep up the good work!

  3. Great that your son is earning some of his own money! Maybe there’s something you and he could do together during your furlough time to earn a little money that could be put toward the computer. Put a few items (maybe some of his?) on eBay? Run a garage sale?

    • Travis says:

      Anything I can do during the Furlough to earn extra money would have to go towards our own budget, Kurt, as I’m only being paid 1/3 my usual salary. We’ve been able to piece together a recovery plan (blog post coming on that soon), so what I’m hoping to do is to get ahead with my freelance writing so when I return to work I’m refreshed, recharged and ready to kick ass. 😉

  4. Stephanie r says:

    oh man, I totally relate to some of my own bratty behaviors as a kid! Sounds like you’re on track with your kids. I actually clicked on an article titled something to the effect of ’29 signs you grew up in a frugal household’ and expected it to be a walk down memory lane from growing up. Uh, it was more acruately a discription of my OWN house now . . . so yeah, I’m sure as my kids get older there will be lots of ‘teachable’ moments coming up for us.

    • Travis says:

      I’m finding that as my kids move into the age where they want to buy things, continuously hammering the right message is freaking EXHAUSTING. But that’s what I signed up for when I decided to become a parent, so I will keep hammering away. 🙂

  5. Good for you Travis! Our kids are not at that age yet, but I imagine it was difficult, on many levels, to say no to your son. The easy thing would’ve been to say yes, but this is such a much more valuable lesson in the grand scheme of life. I had plenty of do-overs from my childhood. It’s embarrassing to remember, but it’s all a part of learning I guess.

    • Travis says:

      It feels almost like hiding treasures to find later…..maybe my son doesn’t get it now, but (as in my case) 20 years later something happens and BOOM, a revelation…..”OOOOH, THAT’S what my Dad was trying to do!!!!” Looking forward to seeing some of that happen. lol.

  6. I know parents who would have caved. Great job – your son will thank you for it in the long run!

  7. Kathy says:

    I have found it so much easier to say NO now that I don’t have it due to job loss. And a relief. So very very difficult to say it when I did have the money to front them. Sometimes I did cave in and then berated myself afterwards for doing so, because it quickly undermined all the previous times I had said no. Stay strong!

    • Travis says:

      Consistency is definitely key, Kathy – as soon as they see a crack in the armor they wedge themselves in and take advantage of it. Thanks for the encouragement!

  8. Mackenzie says:

    Great post Travis!

    Isn’t it funny how being a parent completely changes your perspective on you acted as a child? 😉
    “Just wait till you have kids”, they would say! Now it alllllll makes sense!! 😀

    • Travis says:

      I remember when my parents would say that to me….I absolutely hated it. Now, I find myself saying to to my kids. My parents seemed to get so smart when I turned 19 or 20. How did that happen? LOL.

  9. Oh, those lessons are SO hard, aren’t they? Our oldest is saving for a computer right now too, and it’s the same deal. We’ve committed that we won’t let her go into debt with us for the computer, but the earning is slow going, and of course, she wants it NOW. But I feel these are some of the very best money lessons we can teach our youngsters, Travis, so, good for you for sticking to your guns.

    • Travis says:

      The hardest thing in not chipping in (other than we really can’t anyway at the moment), Laurie, is the fact that him having his own computer would be SO helpful for our entire family. He uses our desktop A LOT and we constantly have to kick him off so we can use it – and he’s not all that happy about having to stop in the middle of something. It only gets worse as school begins because much of his homework requires looking at material online. But he’ll get there….it’ll require patience on the part of both him and us, but he’ll get there!

  10. Lisa says:

    My mantra of “we just can’t afford it” did eventually sink in to my daughters. As young adults they are frugal and watch what they spend.

    • Travis says:

      That’s great to hear, Lisa! That phrase “We just can’t afford it” is so hard to say because it’s almost like admitting failure. But it’s simply reality – very few people will ever be able to afford everything and anything they want!

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