Just last week, I had a revelation. I stumbled upon a pair of thank-you notes written by my brother and me to our grandparents nearly three decades ago.
His went something like this: "Thank you for your generosity. You really shouldn't have -- especially since you already gave us a set of encyclopedias. I don't need the money... but I promise to spend it responsibly."
Mine read: "Thank you for the 5 dolars [sic]! I bought a doll!! Her name is Cinnamon!!!"
Jordan: I will consider my options and vow to treat the money in the spirit in which it was given.
Dayana: Cinnamon is mine!!!
Reading those notes, sent in the same envelope so many years ago, was not among my prouder moments. (Granted, the three-year age difference between my brother and me is evidenced by our respective choice of stationery and reliance on exclamation points.) But it was nonetheless revealing in light of the financial path I would eventually tread.
Early on I determined that allowance and earned money was to be saved. But gifts of money would be gobbled up with glee. Even now, unexpected windfalls (and sometimes expected ones, such as insurance reimbursements) inspire in me a free-spending giddiness, which thankfully I have learned to curb. Most of the time.
My money memories are not extraordinary. But viewed through the corrective lens of adulthood, they do reveal a straight line from my earliest experiences to how I handle my financial affairs today.
Motley Fool member Storytelr1 raised the topic of money memories on the Consumer Credit/Credit Cards discussion board. In eighth grade, he was clocked with a soccer ball when his old cleats didn't give him the traction to get out of the way. In the car on the way home from practice, when his mother saw blood on his nose, he told her what happened and alluded to his need for a new pair of soccer shoes:
There, with my friends in the backseat and me in the front, Mom proceeded to absolutely unload on me -- we didn't have the money for new shoes. I'd just have to deal with it and stay out of the ball's way; if this was going to be a problem I could just stop playing soccer altogether. I can still feel the weight of the silence in the car when she finished.
I believe that this is what experts refer to as a "teaching moment." Or it could have been, had his mother more clearly articulated the notion that, for many families, money is a finite resource to be allocated accordingly. Storytelr1 heard simply a stinging admonishment that made him feel greedy.
Other Fools chimed in with their money memories. Wingenit's long-held money attitudes can be traced to the Depression-era grandparents who raised her:
I guess I got really lucky. They taught me to be responsible, save, save, save, and spend my money on the people I love rather than frittering it away on silly things I didn't need. They may not have taught me good grammar (West Texans, dontcha know), but they did give me a good grounding in money sense.
Johnmoni's parents had three simple money lessons that he heard so often he still quotes them verbatim:
My Mom: "You can have it all, you just can't have it all at once."
My Dad: "Don't wait for someone else's money, go out and earn your own."
Dad and Mom: "If you can't afford it for cash, you can't afford it."
Though it is never that black and white for sure, as I got older I understood that home mortgages were smart credit, but the real lesson was that buying things you really couldn't afford on credit didn't make any financial sense.
Leaving the financial nest
As an adult, I understand that my freewheeling attitude towards "found" money was a whiplash reaction to the freedom every child craves.
For years, there was a protective fence around the finances in our household. I was beholden to others for every single purchase. If I wanted to buy a friend a birthday present or even go to a movie, I had either to ask my parents for money or save my allowance for an entire month. Yes, even at yesteryear's movie prices.
It's no surprise that I gorged on those checks from grandma and grandpa.
I certainly do not take my parents to task for their tight financial reins. Their instincts were well intentioned -- perhaps even cutting edge given the temptations kids face these days.
A brand-new day
My money memories changed dramatically in eighth grade, thanks to one of my mother's best friends, Beverly, who suggested that my brother and I be given a clothing allowance. Handing over that responsibility, she said, would (1) prevent ugly hormone-induced bickering at the shopping mall, and (2) teach us the real-world discipline that a budget demands.
"Dear Beverly, thank you for the $500 dolars [sic]!!!"
I should also mention that Beverly was a CFP with three teenage daughters.
That generous clothing allowance changed my attitudes about saving and spending. Doled out on a quarterly basis, it taught me that with financial freedom comes the burden of accounting. I started to forecast my needs instead of getting grabby at the checkout counter, as I had when I'd been forced to prove my case. I even started to save the birthday checks from my grandparents to add to the kitty so I could afford that spectacular winter coat and matching moon boots.
It wasn't long before my mother and I were having frank talks about money. She told me how much my dad made as a professor. I learned about mortgages and which bills came due when. I learned that as a real estate agent, my mother didn't earn a flat salary, but subsisted on commissions. When we had to replace the carpet, I asked how much it cost. And she told me.
And to this day, I remember the first thing I bought under the "Beverly Clothing Plan."
Dayana Yochim no longer owns any pastel argyle sweater vests like the ones she purchased with her clothing allowance in the 1980s. She is a proud member of Adult Survivors of Parents. And she's just kidding, mom and dad.