What My Parents Have Taught Me About Money

by Kelly · 4 comments

in A Frugal Family

My parents have been divorced since I was six months old, so suffice it to say that there isn’t much they agree on. This includes money. My mother could charitably be described as a skinflint, my father as spendthrift.

My mother works as a bookbinder in a professional bindery, where she earns about $1200 take home per month. She has a home studio where she teaches classes and takes letterpress printing commissions; she earns anywhere from $600-$800 a month doing so. Her three roommates pay almost enough to cover her mortgage; she has reconverted her dining room into her bedroom. This income has allowed her, a single woman, to buy her ex-husband out of his share of the house, save $20,000+ dollars in five years, have no credit card debt, fully fund her 401K, travel often (she’s visited me five times in seven years) and fully indulge her love of books, fine art and theater.

My father has his own rare books business. He and his two partners, my stepmother and my aunt, have, in good years, made over $1 million dollars in sales. They own their home, but recently took out a second mortgage to do some desperately needed renovations, including fitting a new kitchen. My father often makes remarks about how tight things are for them, how hard it is to pay their bills, and about how they hope that X future event does really well. They don’t have any savings, nor retirement accounts. They use their credit cards liberally, and often rob Peter to pay Paul.

So who do I take after? A little bit of both I think. Unfortunately I have a bit too much of my father’s ‘you can’t take it with you’ attitude. This was especially true in the past, as I only focused on his habit of whipping out the credit card, not on his inability to pay the bill. I’m now starting to become more like my mother as I try to get my financial house in order, specifically earning extra income.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from my parents is that I don’t feel comfortable running my own business, and being completely financially dependent only upon myself. I rather like the security of working for ‘the man’. My mother has often used her business to top up the family coffers, but I’ve too often heard my father worry about when the next big book was going to sell.

What lessons do I hope to teach my children? First the importance of being financially independent: being able to pay your bills on time, saving every month and spending responsibly. But also the ability to have fun; that sometimes having a great experience is worth spending a bit of money.


1 Shan February 10, 2008

Hi I just found your blog and I’m trying to get my financial house in order. I wish I’d have gotten it together when I was younger, but here we are and there’s not much to be done about the past.

I’m not really sure what I learned from my parent’s about money. My mom raised us on her own and she always seemed to do okay, but I think she did less okay than she let on. I really don’t understand why a practical money managing course is not compulsory in all high schools. I think it’s a necessary life tool, that you sort of have to figure out on your own.

2 K February 10, 2008

Hi Shan,
Welcome! I think what you said about being less ok than you let on is key. I always knew my father was/ is haivng problems, but never by how much. Interesting.

3 Sophie February 12, 2008

My background is interesting too I think…
My parents were frugal and complained about how expensive things were.
I learned in my early 20’s that they did have money… only they chose to use it on real estate (some I had no knowledge about) and savings and travel.
They said they saved their whole lives to be able to buy this or that house or apartment but so is not the truth… they had assets and did not tell us about it.

For personal reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with money, I no longer talk to my parents and haven’t seen tham in almost a year (took a long time to make the decision) and moved away from them.

But with all the harm they did to me and my couple, I cannot wait to benefit from their money.

Too bad if it sounds cruel.
They were even more.


4 FIRE Finance February 25, 2008

Fantastic post. We cited it in our Sunday Review as one of our favorites.
Keep up the excellent blogging.
FIRE Finance

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