May Moore has a new meme and it is one that I know I am excited by. The MONEY MATTERS series starts this week with the theme: EDUCATION. May has posed two questions as a guideline for this week’s theme:
- Where does money come from?
- What would you teach others about money?
I am going to start with a generalization. I know generalizations can be tedious, but when I was growing up there was some truth in this one (I am sure there were plenty of exceptions too). I remember someone saying to me that you can ask a Brit all about their finances and they will tell you how much their salary is, show you their latest bank statement, confess how much their house and car cost, and how much debt they are in – but if you ask them about their feelings they won’t tell you a darn thing! Whereas if you ask an American, they will tell you all their emotional turmoil, the childhood traumas that have led to years of counselling and prescription drug addiction and all their screwed up relationships – but if you ask them about their finances they will feel offended.
Things have changed. But for a long time there was a culture that I grew up around (my parents are American) in which we did not discuss money. If you asked me where money came from – I would have replied “Daddy”. I literally had no idea how much my father owned. I had no idea how much money was in his bank accounts, the value of his shares or if he carried any debt. Even now, I only have a very vague idea. My parents did not really try to educate me until I was a young adult about money (when I gave up a well paid job at a law firm). As a child, I was the recipient of a steady stream of excessive gifts and hardly aware of what money was.
My father was devoted to his career. We moved around but there are two properties in two separate US states that I guess were our homes (they still transfer between their home in the north and their home in the south according to the season). I did not spend a lot of time in either. I actually spent more time with relatives in England than I did with my parents. That is another subject. But I have to say, I am so grateful for the British aspect of my upbringing. Whereas my parents have put education and a good marriage in front of me as goals (though they steered me more to education than marriage), in England I saw simple roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty hard work.
I also saw something in my English relatives that I did not see in my own parents. My English relatives were more open about the cost of “things” and less wasteful. There was a resourcefulness there, a practical DIY mentality. Repair rather than replace. Free-cycle. Buy second-hand. They talked openly about the world created by banks and commercialism and how it is threatening our planet. They enlightened me that we all have a choice to make about how we view our planet’s resources. I remember being aghast as a little girl that they did not change their towels everyday. This might sound ridiculous, but my mom used to tell me to put my clothes into the laundry basket after one wear, and after one use towels would be laundered again. My British relatives would not do that. Clothes would be re-worn into they were actually dirty or smelly. Bathroom towels would be replaced once a week (other than the hand towel).
I don’t think I should be comparing American and British mentality. I should be comparing the habits I saw of my parents, who happened to be American, with what I saw of my other relatives, who happened to be English. I remember my parents spoiling me, perhaps because they had been away from me for long periods. I was Daddy’s little princess as a child, and I always sense my mother was proud of me.
But with the relatives I stayed with, there was so much unconscious training. For a start, my Uncle had travelled extensively in his military career and would tell me about the way of life in many of the lands in which he had been stationed. I remember listening in horror when he told me that in some lands little girls my age would work all day in fields or in factories. But he also taught me practical lessons. One example that comes to mind is that my Uncle would place a limit on how much we could spend on a treat, so we had to make a choice. We could either choose sweets or a toy. We could not have both – we had to decided what was more important to us. It was not that he could not afford both I am sure – we are only talking a small amount of money. I don’t know if it was intentional, but he taught me placing limits on desires.
I also remember that if I was asked to do a chore, I would be given some money as a reward for my money box. My Uncle would encourage me to save my “wages” rather than spend them straight away. My cousins had money boxes. My Uncle and Aunt gave me a money box too. I was taught to put spare coins or change in the box and that when it was full, then the seal would be broken. I also remember the day I felt my money box was full. My Uncle actually took me to the high street bank and told the cashier that he wanted to open a bank account for me. It was an enormous revelation to me. I felt like an adult, even though I was probably about ten years of age.
I love my parents. But my Dad never said no to anything or placed limits on my whims. Quality time with my mom was a trip to the mall. She turned me into a shopping spree fanatic and mall worshipper. I credit my Uncle and other relatives I stayed with in England for providing me with an education in money matters. Observing their mentality towards money and work, a culture of saving wherever possible, not wasting anything, not throwing away spare change, was essential to my outlook now.
Regardless of your upbringing, it is never too late to learn how to wisely manage money – which is a tool at the end of the day. Any tool can be used for good things, or it can be used recklessly. Generally speaking money comes from honest work (the Kardashians prove me wrong here) and it is satisfying to earn your own way. (Dishonest ways of acquiring money will likely rob you of sleep and peace of mind so don’t go there!) My advice on money is – stay in control, don’t let it control you. Be aware of the difference between needs and wants. Know the cost of things not just in terms of their price tag, but how much time it would take to earn that money.
One of the best nuggets of advice about how to view money is an enlargement on the rather ugly phrase TIME IS MONEY. But if you think of it the other way round then you may have more motivation for how you spend. Benjamin Franklin is cited as the source of a famous proverbial saying: “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.” Squandering money is squandering time and therefore life!
If you do happen to have more money than you need – how can you use that tool to help others? At the end of the day – people will not value you for the size of your bank account or your house, and they will not care if you wore designer clothes or had a flashy car – they will treasure you for your kindness.
I am going to throw this in – maybe it’s a bit of a curveball – I know my parents provided everything I needed materially and gave me the best opportunities for schooling. They paid for my tuition in dance and other subjects. They made sure I had the best of everything. But I would give every cent I own just to have been able to spend more time with them. I am grateful to my English relatives, and I know I am who I am because of them, but I wish I could have spent more time with my parents. All those gifts – long forgotten, meaningless to me. I spent most of my childhood playtime day dreaming, playing sports and dancing.
I have spent years of my life aware that we hardly know each other and trying to close that gap. It is a gap as large as the ocean which divides us. I even feel I have a different nationality to my parents. But it is hard to close a gap that started in childhood. It feels like I need to swim across the Atlantic to close that gap, only my parents are busy people. Ben has spoken to my father about how much we want to be close to them and he also makes sure we call them once a week. Before Ben, it could easily have been months of no contact between my parents and I.
There is a balance to get right with money. We need money to cover the cost of what we need to live a healthy life – shelter, food, clothing. It takes some time to earn money. But once we have covered needs, where will we stop? Taking time away from family life to earn money for luxuries is not worth the cost. I had nicer clothes and toys than my cousins, but they were much happier than I was. My parents seem to be financially secure. As mentioned I only have a vague idea of their finances. They have multiple properties, cars, a boat and many friends. But our family is broken.
Now I am going to tell you now – Jenna Kirkpatrick is not a money guru – and I have had to learn hard lessons about money. But those stories are for other weeks in the MONEY MATTERS series.