A big part of your financial education is what you learn from your parents. A mother living paycheck to paycheck – whose only entertainment is going to the mall on weekends – likely won't raise you to be a financially responsible adult. I give a lot of credit to my parents for my financial wellbeing. But as a teen, I thought they sucked.
My mother grew up in a family of nine in post-World War II Europe. Times were tough and there was a lingering feeling that another war or recession may hit, so even when she married a successful businessman, she kept her spending in check. “Mend things,” “make do with what you have,” and “save for a rainy day” were her life mottos.
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In spite of growing up better off, my father had no help from his parents after high school. Instead, he paid his own way through college. He lost his job when I was 12, and while they still had savings, they acted like it was a real crisis.
My small allowance was just meant to cover school lunches and books. Everything else I wanted, I had to work for.
I envied my friends, who had better clothes and way more stuff than I did. Through high school, if I wanted brand clothes, my parents gave me the money for the generic item. I had to cover the rest. I had to fully fund nights out, movies, and gadgets that I wanted, as well.
So I started working for my things. My mom was a great at referring me to odd jobs.
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She often sent me to babysit my cousins. And she even talked to my music teacher so that I could have the music room during lunchtime at school to teach piano to younger kids. After school, I tutored a couple of primary school siblings whose parents had talked to my mom about needing someone.
At 17, I left home to go to college and paid for all of my living expenses. Thankfully, I got a scholarship and free tuition.
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I kept my grades up and never lost a year – that would have meant working to fund 12 more months of student life, and I really didn't want to do that. I couldn’t afford the luxury of skipping school or getting behind in my classes.
And I can tell you that when you work hard for stuff, your “needs” shrink like ice under the sun. When your parents write a check, you want to buy the whole shop.
When it took you eight hours of work to afford an $80 pair of jeans, you think twice. Often, you'll forgo the purchase altogether.
While I sometimes wished that I had it easy like my peers, I'm still glad that I learned the value of hard work early on. I worked through lunchtime during the day and I worked until 7 p.m. every evening. And yet there was still time to study and have fun.
When you build the habit of working from the time you’re a teen, you find the time. If you're used to watching four hours of TV instead, you feel overwhelmed at the prospect of a part-time job.
I'm grateful for learning that hustling attitude early in life. Sure, it was hard. But now, when I look at people my age whose parents are still partially sponsoring them, I thank mine for their toughness. I resented them back then for making me work so hard, but that work ethic would have been much harder to build in my 30s.
I also think that having a low-paid job is something you should experience in life. It is humbling. It helps you relate to the struggles of waiters, cleaners, and other low-skill workers in a way that you would never understand if you joined a big firm right after graduation.
There is definitely a middle ground between what I went through and treating your kids like disabled adults. If I have kids someday and they need my help, I think I'll try first to help them live up to their full potential and support themselves. If they really can't? Then I'll pitch in.