“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
[ Day 91 of 2000 ]
There are enough studies and articles describing how childhood memories shape you and your behavior for the rest of your life. I decided to look at my childhood, and see if any of those actually influenced my life. And my financial decisions, in particular.
When I first realized that I was pregnant, I was scared. I didn’t know a thing about kids, and I was going to be the one he looked at when he needed something. Although I was 27, mentally, I was still a kid. I probably, still am. I turned to books, and the internet. The first few searches were about how big the fetus was at that point. Then came the “how to change diapers” kind of queries. It progressed, until I got to the stage when I was reading articles on how what I did would change his behavior.
The first few years just passed in a blur. I barely had time to breath, forget about deep interospection. However, a few years later, it dawned on me. Who I am, and how I behave is deeply rooted in whatever I experienced as a child. I thought about it, sometimes correcting some of my behavior. It wasn’t easy. I still give undue importance to what happened to my parents, and what they did, even when it is not strictly relevant to the way my life is.
Lesson 1: Our money is none of their business
The earliest memory I have about money was paying my school fees. I went to a private school. My parents would send it with me to school, and I would pay it in the school office. When I was about 8 years old or so, they didn’t have enough money to pay my fees one month. Since the late payment fees were high, they scrambled to find some money. Out came the jar in which my mom would save all the coins.
I remember that the school fees was about 24 Indian Rupees. Imagine – You are 8 years old, and you have to take a $10 bill, $5 bill, three $1 bills, and $6 in quarters and dimes. I was mortified beyond I thought I could be. The kids in my school were all rich, or so I thought. I refused to take the money to school. And my mom told me not to worry about what anyone thought of us – that didn’t matter. I still remember this incident when I sometimes worry about what someone else would think about our financial decisions.
Lesson 2: Unplanned expenses are definitely coming
I wish my mom could get this into my dad’s head. May be I wouldn’t have learnt this lesson in that case. My mom was financially responsible, my dad was not. And he had the more dominating personality, so things didn’t often go well financially.
There were times when we had more money than we needed. I might even say that it was true most of the time. However, some unexpected expense would crop up every now and then. I have heard my mom ask my dad to not spend everything when we had the money. If I were in her place, I probably would have said “I told you so” so many more times.
Lesson 3: I can always cut down some more expenses
I remember one occasion when we were short on money. I was in fourth grade. We thought we were living very frugally. And then, we had some guests. They didn’t have a place to live, and they stayed with us for about a month. We didn’t even have enough space at home. I slept in my parent’s room, and my brother slept in the dining room. My mom had to feed two extra adults on a budget that was already stretched on 2 adults and 2 kids.
My dad tried to borrow some money from some of his friends, and I think he couldn’t get much. His friends were like him, all financially broke most of the time. He was one of the more successful ones.
We ate a lot of tapioca instead of rice, because that was cheaper. She would buy mixed vegetables meant for a particular dish and separate them to make different dishes. We ate all kinds of leaves and vegetables that she grew in our backyard. We hardly ate any meat, fish or egg. She bought them once in a while, but it was only for the guests.
I remember that year very well because my birthday was when they lived at home. My mom took me aside and begged me not to remind my dad that it was my birthday. We celebrated it a month later, after the guests had gone and my parents could afford the cake.
Lesson 4: It is okay for your kids to know how you are doing financially
To be honest, I don’t think I knew the full extent of how bad the situation was most of the time. However, just the fact that I knew that it was okay to have “lean” and “fat” periods gave me the confidence later on in life.
My brother was younger to me, and he wasn’t really told about the difficulties. I don’t even know if he could have understood it then. I also have some friends who were in a similar situation, but didn’t know that growing up. Right now, I am better at handling money than most of them, and I think this has definitely helped.
Was it all good?
Of course not. I have issues with financial uncertainty. I am reluctant to leave my job and find an alternate career even when I don’t like it too much. I fear that I would end up like my dad, doing something I don’t like for the rest of my life when my passion doesn’t work out. I will probably die rich because I am too conservative financially, and regret it on my death bed.