What Our Parents Teach Us

When I was growing up, I remember hearing my parents discuss money. It wasn’t usually pleasant: my father loved to find bargains, while my mother’s nickname was “Mrs. Rockefeller” for the way she spent.

Now that I am grown, it is difficult for me to feel neutral about money. I always have the struggle within myself between spending (I can afford anything I really want) and saving (do I really want it bad enough to spend the money).

Our money attitudes are both financial and emotional, and how our parents handled money has a large impact on how we deal with the green. We either embrace our parents attitudes, or we reject them, but either way, we are a product of our parents’ views on money.

Whether you can’t hang onto a dime and find yourself deeply in debt, or save compulsively and agonize over each expenditure, take heart. If you think back to your childhood and give some serious thought as to where your attitudes come from, you can learn to deal logically with money rather than emotionally.

Once you understand how your parents’ money attitudes impact your money life today, you can begin to separate your own attitudes from your parents’.

But what about your kids? Are you passing your own money dysfunctions on to them? Here are five money attitudes you might be passing on to your children.

Money is Love
Did your parents used money as a way of expressing their love to you, spending rather than expressing their feelings in actions and words? Or perhaps they pinched pennies and also withheld their feelings, so you grew up equating the two. Either way, you may have made a connection between money and love.

Gift giving helps us express our love for family and friends. But when you go overboard, that’s when the problems begin. If you’ve fallen into this trap, your kids may demand financially when they really just crave your affection. Giving them time and attention can go farther toward satisfying their cravings than money ever will.

Try to treat money as a commodity, just as the food in your refrigerator. Some is to be used now, some saved for later. Just because it’s there, it doesn’t have to be consumed at once.

Spending is Irresponsible
Did you grow up in a household where your mom would drive across town to save a quarter? Or where debt was an anathema? If so, the money behavior that was shaped by your parents’ attitudes may be sending a confusing message to your kids in these days of instant everything.

You refuse to spend money, wasting precious time searching for bargains or making things from scratch. Yet your kids know that time is far more valuable in your crowded days than is money. So they are learning that money has some sort of value in and of itself. It doesn’t.

Money is only valuable in terms of what it can buy, today or tomorrow. Save enough to meet your future needs, and begin to spend the rest in ways that give you and your family pleasure and happy memories. Those are investments too.

Money Has No Place in Polite Conversation
“We don’t talk about money – it isn’t nice,” is a message that many people, particularly women, received as they grew up. If that happened in your family, as an adult you may feel squeamish about money. Perhaps you refuse to think about money, and so never ferret out the best investments. Or perhaps you pay full price, or even more, rather than seeking out the best bargains.

Kids need to be educated about money, just as they need an education about everything else. So make money a topic of conversation in your home. Teach your kids the value of money, and how to save and invest. When your kids are pre-teens or teenagers, form a family investment club, together researching and investing in shares of stocks that are kid-friendly, such as McDonald’s and Nike.

Money is Control
You may have grown up in a family where money was in the control of your parents, and the kids were given little say about where it was spend. Or perhaps one of your parents used money to control the other, and you learned that money has value very different from what it can buy.

A friend of mine, who grew up wealthy, hates money. She has impoverished herself as a result, giving her wealth away or spending it at every turn. “I don’t want to be like my father,” she says. “He lorded his money over everyone, and was roundly disliked as a result.” Her reaction is extreme, but it shows how kids can react to what they see in their parents.

Be up front with your kids when you talk about money. If you alternate between spending on them and saying “we can’t afford it,” they’ll get a mixed message they won’t understand. Consider setting aside a set amount of money each month to spend on the kids, and enlist them in figuring out how it should be spent. You’ll be shaping savvy consumers who weigh the cost and benefit of purchases.

Money is a Reward
Don’t use money as a reward for your kids for good behavior or obedience. If you do, they may never grow up, never feeling self- fulfilled, always seeking the person who will reward them with money so they can feel self worth. They will reward or punish themselves by spending or not spending. And that can lead to spending disorders and enormous credit card debt.

It’s not too late to teach your kids that money is neither good nor evil, it just is. Once you have your savings on target, the rest is available to spend, or to save for a pleasurable expenditure down the road. Good money management demands discipline, but it also embraces pleasure. Money is not magical, and money itself should not be a goal. If you save every dime compulsively, your kids may learn to save but might never learn how to enjoy they money they’ve amassed.

As you teach your kids the balance necessary for a healthy relationship with money, you’ll be improving your financial attitude as well.

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