Childhood Lessons of Money

Several weeks ago, Sophie was playing with an old plastic gift card. She took the card to the stereo (of all places) and made a sliding motion, gently running the card through a slit in the stereo. When I asked what she’s doing, Sophie said, “I’m getting money from the machine.”

Wow, clever, I thought. Clearly she pays attention when I go to the ATM to deposit money or get cash. I wasn’t expecting that she knew that the motion of sliding the card meant getting something. (I’m picturing Suze Orman cringing at this moment.) It was quite a reality-check for me that I should soon think of how to teach Sophie the value of money. Lessons like, plastic cards don’t necessarily equal money.

Watching Sophie slide the plastic card through the stereo got me thinking of my own childhood. It’s amazing how much you learn from your parents actions toward money and things.

Let’s flash back to my younger days. I grew up with a father who worked and a mother who stayed at home with us (until I was in high school and she went back to teaching). My parents paid cash for all their purchases and always paid credit card balances in full at the end of the month. We weren’t rich. We didn’t take fancy vacations. Didn’t eat out a lot. And we didn’t buy new cars frequently. But we never suffered either. We lived comfortably, and my parents always made sure we had food, clothes, and … things.

When I was a kid, I pretty much got whatever I asked for (within reason). Books, clothes, the newest toys — it wasn’t a problem. If we wanted a new Barbie, my mom would buy it for me. The My Little Ponies and Care Bears — we had them all. What I wanted, I got right away. The only time I recall using my money to purchase something was my first Cabbage Patch Kid. But I did not pay for the following three kids.

Don’t get me wrong — this was a great way to grow up, never feeling deprived of anything. But looking back now, probably not the best way to teach children about money because I never learned budgeting and patience with respect to getting things. I don’t blame my parents; it’s just the way it was.

The result was that for much of my adult life, I had a hard time waiting to buy things. If I wanted something, I’d go get it. Just like childhood. Problem was that I didn’t have the money in the bank to back up those purchase the way my parents did.

It’s taken many, many years until I finally realized that, in the words of Mick Jagger, “you can’t always get what you want.” Now I only buy what I can afford and budget for the things we need (and want).

I do miss the days when I would go to the store and buy new clothes, books, DVDs, and what-not. But I will say that my heart and mind (and bank account) are much more at ease than ever before. I’m confident I can teach Sophie these important lessons as she grows. Maybe the fact that there is not an infinite amount of money in the ATM would be a good start.

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