I grew up in a family where financial resources were extremely limited. I don’t use the word “poor,” because I understand we were still not the worst off we could be. But I can use the word “broke” very liberally in truth, LOL. I have so many stories…Anyway, as an adult I see how this impacted my relationships, my perspective, even my relationship with food. I’m so thankful for every lesson I learned from my upbringing and how it shaped my character. Here are just 9 of the many lessons I learned about money, and subsequently about life.
1. Money comes from work.
Watching my Dad and several other family members work for themselves gave me a direct, straight from the “factory” view of how a living gets earned. There was no mistaking that every dime he made was hard-earned with his bare hands. Furthermore, our parents didn’t just give us everything for the heck of it. This was in part because they couldn’t, but also because they wanted us to understand that nothing in life is free. Even if it’s free for you, it costs someone else, whether it be time, money, or both.
Life Lesson: My greatest pet peeve is waste, especially wasted time. Ungratefulness is climbing the list right behind it the older I get. Everything I own and every cent I earn represents time I spent that I cannot get back. When I treat the things I have with respect, I respect myself. Furthermore, I am grateful for everything given to me because I don’t know what was sacrificed to acquire it.
2. The difference between want and need is subjective to your experience.
Growing up in a “limited resource environment” quickly teaches you to assess need based on what you can live without. For example, central heat and air are important, but I don’t NEED it. A window unit or fans and space heaters will do the job, albeit not as well. A more extreme example: If your hot water heater breaks you learn how to use every heating element and appliance you own to boil it. You technically don’t need hot water from the tap, but it is EXTRAORDINARILY nice to have. For better or worse, I define need based on whether or not it’ll kill me. It is these experiences that developed my patience and ability to survive and withstand adversity.
Life Lesson: Just because you can endure does not mean you should. Being able to withstand and bear with things is a double edge sword. This mentality has spilled over into my emotional life. I have a hard time asking for the things I want because I’ve learned to live without a lot. I’ve also given too much grace for too long in some situations.
3. Cost and value are not synonymous.
I come from a proud lineage of bargain hunters who have good taste. I grew up getting my clothes from discount chains and salvage stores. For many years my wardrobe was almost exclusively from Dirt Cheap. My parents are also avid thrifters. They taught me the ins and outs of inspecting goods for quality before purchasing. For example, having a veteran professional seamstress for a grandmother has its perks. She taught me to sew and took me to the fabric store with her growing up. I learned at a young age to estimate how much the material in a garment probably cost the manufacturer and inspect the inside and outside to see if it was cheaply made and quickly thrown together. My family helped also me develop a sense of taste for things that felt more elevated than their price tag.
The upside is that I set ceilings for how much I’m willing to spend and get pretty good deals on most things. The downside is that my ceiling is sometimes way too low. I have to constantly convince myself to stop being cheap and adjust to the rising cost of goods.
Life Lesson: Money doesn’t make the person either. Ladies, just because a person has money or spends a lot on you does not mean they are a good person. Likewise, fellas, just because she looks “expensive” does not mean she is quality. Turn that person inside out and see how they are sewn together before you sign up.
4. You cannot afford to be disorganized.
I’ll never forget the day my mom taught me to budget. Hefty produced some garbage bags at one time that came in a plastic refillable container. Momma gave me the container and showed me how to allocate percentages of my little money to different areas. When you don’t have a lot of money on hand you have to make sure it lasts longer than you think you need it. When you don’t have a lot coming in or your income is sporadic you learn to forecast what you need and make the adjustments necessary to survive.
I’m currently working on furnishing and decorating our home. I have a running spreadsheet going that lists everything we need and what it should cost so I’m not just randomly buying stuff. I’m also doing this with the improvements we want to make to our home. This sheet will eventually include the timeline or phases we’ll work in so we can budget appropriately. My husband gets frustrated at me sometimes for working our finances so far in the future, but it’s my way of helping us stay afloat and reach our goals.
The downside of this is that I still operate with a conservationist mentality at times. For example, buying tissue in bulk is a great idea for most people and gives the best value. When you’re broke or close to it, you’re more concerned about stretching your money at the present moment. If you only have $10 until next week, and that $10 has to buy you food and gas, you’re not gonna buy $9 worth of tissue, even if it is 50 rolls that will last you the rest of the year. I thank God I’m not in that place anymore, but old habits die hard.
Life Lesson: Just like money, every decision you make has a downstream impact. You can have the things you want, but going about it haphazardly can cause “leaks” in your life, where you lose what you have as quickly as you gain it. Think past tomorrow. Think about how it affects others. Have a plan.
5. How you steward your “little” determines how you steward your “lot.”
If you don’t manage money well when you don’t have a lot, winning the lottery ain’t gonna solve your problems. To piggyback on #4, budgeting and stretching my money didn’t stop because things got better. Those are skills I still use to keep as much money as I can in my pocket.
My parents instilled a healthy fear of credit when we were growing up, based on their learned lessons. As an adult, I did have to overcome that fear – I looked up one day and found that I didn’t have any credit when I needed it. However, having a good understanding that credit wasn’t free money has helped me not to abuse it.
Life Lesson: Treat people well. Do a good job. If you don’t handle your business at the most basic level, you may not be trusted to go to the next.
6. Minimize risk.
This is one of the things I kinda regret learning. Despite the apparent calling on my life to blaze trails, I have usually taken the path of least risk to get there – and I feel like I’m paying for it. There are so many things dreams I haven’t realized and parts of my purpose I haven’t fulfilled because I’ve never had the courage to take big risks. It all boils down to being so afraid of being broke again.
I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth. I’ve always felt like every decision I made had to count because I literally couldn’t afford to fail. What if I had instead looked at my glass as half-empty – as in “nothing to lose” – and gone for broke? Where would I be? I was too comfortable miserly holding on to what little I had to go out on a limb for more. Daddy once showed me his fist, opened and closed it. He said, “nothing in, nothing out.” He was right. Just as money comes from work, returns come from investments, and I wasn’t willing to make the kind that yielded more meaningful fruit.
Life Lesson: In retrospect, my fear of poverty was really a front for my fear of failure. If I had believed in myself – and God – enough to pursue my purpose, I wouldn’t have entertained poverty as my portion. It’s good to be wise and calculating in your risks, but don’t limit God. He can and will do radical things with you and for you.
7. “Pay” God and pay yourself.
This was one of my grandfather’s adages referring to tithing and saving money. As for tithing, many may balk at it, concentrating on the idea of giving money to a big bad church or a pastor. (I have many gripes about that ideology from a practical standpoint, but that’s an article for another day.) However, going deeper and understanding the principle of offering God the first fruits of my labor allows me to give cheerfully and in faith. Besides, to quote a Happy Planner sticker, “gratitude is a magnet for miracles.” I truly believe God has honored my sacrifices in this area in many ways, not just financially.
I don’t have nearly as much saved as I should but hiding money from myself has saved me on many a rainy day. As soon as I started collecting a paycheck I set up my direct deposits to send a certain amount to savings before I see it. I try to increase that amount with each raise. I also keep my main savings account at a bank that I don’t have close access to. That way, I have to think long and hard about drawing on it (and paying fees).
Lesson Learned: These principles have taught me more about faith and discipline than finance. It is very difficult to think about tithing or saving money when money is tight; all you can think about is how YOU will make things happen. But I can personally say I have tried God and seen HIM make ways out of no way – and way better than what I could do.
8. It is truly better to give than receive.
When you’ve been down and out, it is easy to be sympathetic and less judgemental toward other people. Even when our family was struggling, my parents let us see that there were people worse off than us. It helped us put things in perspective and be grateful for what we had. Valuing what we did have made us understand what we could offer – how we could help the next person.
When you’re only a couple jobs removed from an eviction notice, you understand that most people are just one missed paycheck – or layoff or illness or family emergency – from destitution. I have a hard time spending money on myself without guilt, but I generally don’t think twice about doing things for others. There’s nothing like the joy of restoring someone’s faith in humanity by demonstrating an act of kindness in their lives.
Lesson Learned: Giving is another form of gratitude. When I look back at the hardest times in my life, and the kindness of people that helped me, even in the smallest ways. I can’t help but pay it forward.
9. There is more to life than money.
My home growing up was money-poor, but it was love-rich. I’ve lost everything I owned twice. I’m not overly attached to stuff, but I am attached to my memories. I cling to things that are not fleeting and appreciate in value, like time, family, dignity, character, etc. When I focus on these things and take the focus off material things, I feel forever rich.
We were never the type of family that kept up with the Joneses. Shoot, we couldn’t afford to! Kids are merciless, and I was teased for things that were really symptoms of our lack of funds. In order to survive, I had to embrace the idea that what I did or did not have didn’t define who I was. My self-worth is not tied to what I have. This has caused me to have a greater sense of self and an appreciation for my intrinsic awesomeness.
Lessons Learned: You can be up one day and down the next. Build your hopes on things eternal. Anything less leaves you subject to instability and being tossed to and fro like a ship without a sail.
What lessons did you learn about money as a child? What advice do you wish you had received?