I’m thrilled to have one-half of the Cash Cow Couple duo at The Heavy Purse today. Please welcome Vanessa as she shares how money secrets from her childhood affected her relationship with money as a young adult. If you would like to be featured at The Heavy Purse, please review my guest-posting policies. Take it away, Vanessa …
I don’t have any children of my own yet, but I do have a lot of opinions about how to raise them well, and they line up with the fantastic work of Shannon here at The Heavy Purse.
Even though I don’t have kids, I do have a miraculous ability to tap into my memory and remember through the eyes of a child. Parts of my childhood are still vivid memories, and today I would like to recount a story that may help you relate to your children about money.
“Mom, I’m hot. Can you turn the air vents towards me?”
It is so hot in the van, and the only air vents are all the way to the front. Mom and Dad always have them pointed in the wrong direction and the summer heat trapped inside the car is unbearable.
I can’t wait til we get to the restaurant.
“I’m hungry. Where are we going to eat?” my little brother complains. He is always hungry.
“Home. We’re going home to eat lunch today.”
My heart sinks, and all of a sudden, I’m not hungry anymore.
At first I think I am nauseous when I remember the cold leftover spaghetti waiting for me in the fridge. But then I realize it’s something more.
“Why are we going home to eat, Mama?” It’s Sunday. We always eat out on Sunday.
“Well, hun. We’re having to cut back for a little while. Things are tight, so we’re not going to go out to eat for now.”
That’s when I knew that the sickness I felt wasn’t a fear of leftover spaghetti. It was a fear that something deeper was wrong.
Even though I was only 9, anxiety about my familyís finances was a very real part of my life.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like my family lived on the edge of poverty or financial ruin. I grew up in middle class financial security. My family always had plenty of money.
So why was I, at 9 years old, worried about how much money we had and whether or not we’d be ok?
The answer is that the situation was handled in the wrong way.
If this situation had been handled better, my mom would have taken the opportunity to explain to me how money works. She would have showed me that my dad worked hard to bring in an income and that we had to choose how we would spend, save, invest, and give it.
She would have also told me specifically how much we needed to cut back in order to reach our financial goals and how long it would take us.
Then, she would have associated eating at home with positive things like family time, learning cooking skills, and how to eat healthier meals than the meals we would eat out.
However, the improperly handled situation produced the following 2 consequences. One was an immediate consequence, and the other, was a more unexpected and lingering problem.
Because I didn’t have full disclosure about why we had to cut back or for how long, I stressed about every penny we spent as a family for a long time.
Even though I was alerted to the fact that we needed to cut back, I was never told when we were in the clear. I just knew we were in trouble. This put a lot of unnecessary pressure on me as a young child. I stressed about matters I had very little control over and of which I was not fully informed.
I’m sure my mom did not realize how traumatic financial ambiguity can be for a child. My mom probably thought she was protecting me from the family financial burden. After all, I was only 9. The state of my parent’s finances was of no concern to me, right?
Unfortunately, a resource like the one here at the Heavy Purse was not available to my mom back in the 90’s. Otherwise she would have known that teaching your children about your family’s finances raises financially literate and responsible children.
If we were eating regular meals out, then we were fine and I didn’t have to worry. But if we were cutting back for a while in the out-to-eat department, then, “Mayday mayday! We’ve got a problem.”
This was particularly bad because as I got older, I found comfort in going out to eat. Even if I was not doing well financially, I spent money eating out because it made me feel like all was well. I had an unhealthy emotional tie between eating out and financial affluence.
Not only was eating out regularly unhealthy for my 20 something body, it was also devastating to my meager college-aged, part-time-job budget. This emotional tie took years of frugality and disassociation to break.
Of the two consequences, this one was the most surprising, as well as the most important lesson for you to take away.
Please realize that your children are smart and intuitive. They know when there is financial strain in your family, so keeping them in the dark about the financial situation you are in not only cause anxiety in their precious little lives now, but could potentially contribute to the development of an unhealthy relationship with money in the future.
For this reason, I want to strongly encourage you to include your children in family financial decisions, problems, and resolutions. If you are having to cut back, tell your kids why and for how long. Give full disclosure to your children to eliminate anxiety and to promote a healthy and informed relationship with money. Take moments like these and use them as teaching moments to instruct your children about where money comes from and how to save, spend, invest, and give money wisely.
Editor’s Note: Thank you for sharing your story with us, Vanessa. This is a great reminder to parents that even though we think we are protecting our kids by not talking to them about money, their imaginations are running wild. I can recall a similar situation growing up and worrying in silence. Years later, even thinking about it now still makes me tense. Don’t force your kids to worry privately. Be open and help them work through any fears they have together.
Author bio: I’m Vanessa, one half of the Cash Cow Couple. My husband and I enjoy teaching others how to live an abundant life on a very modest salary. In our first year of marriage we only spent $10,000. This year we are attempting to resist lifestyle inflation and continue the challenge to live large on on less.
To the eating out point: you'd hate an ad that runs here in NYC for Seamless (a food delivery service). It says, "So you think you're a New Yorker? Then eat dinner like a New Yorker. Order on Seamless." It makes me blood boil each time I hear the ad.
Wow, that's such a manipulative ad! Unfortunately, it probably works.
I also don't have kids yet, but when I do I'm going to do my best to keep them in the loop. My parents didn't hide things from me, they were just as clueless as I was when it comes to finances. I'm actually teaching them now.
Even though they were clueless, they didn't make the same mistakes I made. But they also don't have enough savings or any money for retirement.