Over on the Grumpy Rumblings blog nicoleandmaggie have regular posts about money. The last two weeks there have been some particularly resonant posts. In one, readers were asked what they would do with a windfall, and in the other they were asked whether their parents struggled financially when they were growing up. I feel that these two posts can be closely related to each other. After all, most of us learn about money from our parents, even if that is only indirectly.
Growing up, money wasn’t something we had in great supply, but we weren’t poor. Both of my parents worked, but as far as I can recall my mother worked mostly part-time jobs (one memorable job was crossing-guard) until I was in high school. At that time mom got a full-time job doing phone work and data entry that she really enjoyed. My father was a foreman at a paint factory and worked the night shift most of the time. He said it was because he was paid extra for that shift, but my parent’s marriage wasn’t great and I’m sure he was glad to be away from the family stress, too.
We lived in a house in the suburbs. It wasn’t a prestigious suburb and we lived on the less desirable side of town. Sister and I were sent to private, Catholic school from Grade 1 through Grade 12, but private high school was outside my parent’s means. We went on vacations every year that usually involved camping using one of a series of campers my parent’s bought used. We didn’t get a “new” car that hadn’t been previously owned until I was 15. (And that car was hard for me to learn driving on it because it was a manual transmission!)
It wasn’t until I was in high school that I started to understand we weren’t as well off as many of my schoolmates. Wearing uniforms every day really helped equalize things in grade school, but when I was getting clothes and shoes for high school it was always at Kmart and never at the nicer stores. As soon as I was old enough to work (15 with a work permit) I got a job. After that I was expected to pay for my own clothing and fill the tank for the “beater” car my dad bought so I could get to and from work. When I was 17 my parents separated. It took three years for the divorce to become final and much more was revealed to me about my parent’s finances during that time.
I think my mother was the more frugal and cautious person who managed our money very well during most of my childhood. Dad seemed interested in money-making schemes that involved more risk, such as flipping houses. (He failed miserably at it and never paid back all the money he borrowed from me to get started in it.) Mom’s frugal habits could be over the top, but she did teach me practical habits about running a household on a budget. Overall, I don’t think I saw much struggling going on around money, but that doesn’t mean we had a lot of it, either.
Mom now has very little income and is very reliant on stepfather for her support. I’m not sure what my father and stepmother’s financial situation is, but they seem to be able to take care of themselves. We never talk about money, though. The crappy things dad did during the divorce make money talk something to avoid.
As for what to do with a windfall, well, there are only a few times I felt like I had a personal savings windfall or one I received in some other fashion. The first time I recall getting what seemed like a generous sum of money out of the blue was after my parents separated. Since I was still a minor at 17, dad had to provide some money for child support. The amount he had to fork over seemed very generous and mom gave me the green light to purchase luxuries like clothing from trendy stores. I had a blast buying funky tights, skirts, and tops to wear in my last months of high school. (Think Cyndi Lauper “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” fashion.) As I recall, dad only paid that generous child support a couple of times and then stopped the payments a few months before I turned 18, but I still enjoyed those one or two brief splurges.
It was several years later that I received my next windfall of cash. I had completed undergrad, was working full-time, and had moved to my first apartment. My grandmother died and left a little money for sister and I in CDs that we were able to cash in when they matured. The first round of money was around $2,000. While I could have used the money to pay down student loans or start a retirement account, I instead decided to use it on a two-week vacation in Europe with some college friends. I don’t regret it one bit. The next CD that matured was around $800, I think, and I used most of it to buy a TV and VCR.
In the years that followed I never had windfalls, but I supported myself, paid my bills, and succeeded in paying off my student loans at 31. I was married by then and had found that living with a financially stable partner really helped me be more financially successful, too. My (now ex-) husband was nothing like my father; the ex was conservative with his money and was a great saver. We built up quite a bit of wealth together as DINKs, and I miss having such a high degree of financial security.
I learned good money habits from my marriage and have been able to take care of myself quite well, but I’d likely have a much higher net worth if I had never divorced. I can see how that could work the other way around, though, if my spouse had poor money skills.