Finance, Frugal Living

Childhood Memories and Financial Decisions

childhood memories“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.

childhood memories

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.

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Mom, Software Engineer, Dreamer - Can't wait to be less busy! . Please leave me any feedback you can think of. I am still learning and anything you can tell me about making this blog better is very much appreciated. .
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16 thoughts on “Childhood Memories and Financial Decisions

  1. Wow! Your story is so interesting. I also find it inspiring because I have known people that grew up with parents who weren’t exactly “financially responsible”, and they live their lives the same way. It sounds like you really took that lesson to heart and are more thoughtful about your finances. That’s not easy to do.
    I think it’s good to reflect on our past every once in a while so we can see how we have changed for the better.

  2. “All the extra days I worked to get to “too much”, I could have been curled up with an awesome book”

    I feel the exact same way when I am reading at work. I always want to be reading what interests me and not what I feel forced to read to be competent at my job. You may be a fellow fiintrovert, although perhaps extroverts and ambiverts like to curl up with books as well.

  3. “I will probably die rich because I am too conservative financially, and regret it on my death bed.” I struggle with this on a weekly/monthly basis. Sometimes it feels like I’m saving for a very luxurious retirement, but am I going to regret not spending more during the years when I was accumulating this wealth and had the ability to spend more on things I really enjoyed?

    Nice introspective post!

  4. In my experience, often the ones who grew up with little, are often the ones who look after their money better. Those who never had to worry, find it harder to be careful, because they didn’t learn how to, when they were little.

  5. I’m not sure how much my parents’ attitude to money shaped my childhood but in the last year or so I’ve realised they aren’t very good with money. We often were late with school fees, knew that my parents sometimes needed to borrow money for basic expenses and that savings didn’t seem to play a major part in my their financial planning.

    My sister’s reaction to our “boom or bust” childhood has been to abhor debt, and value savings. All of my brothers live above their means and haven’t got clear plans for how to increase their income. I’m also naturally spendy and outrageously generous – just like my dad. My only positive response to my childhood experience has been to give myself earning options / power. I currently live below my means but I have to battle my nature everyday – and win only half the time.

    If I had children, I’d teach them to live below their means and save for a rainy day because they will be able to live their best life when they have options available to them.

    1. Yes, I have found that different people react to same experience in wildly different ways. For you, you are aware of your behavior. And that is a huge plus. Keep battling your nature – you will get good at it with time.

      About raising kids- I have one. And he is nine now. I try my best to teach him that, and he is even saving up for college right now. I wrote about it here:
      I don’t know if he will value these lessons when he grows up, or resent it altogether.

  6. I love how you have broken this down into lessons. Our family’s money relationship was inherently negative and until I looked at this, my relationship with money stayed the same and was dictated by these ideas that were ingrained at such a young age. Thanks so much for sharing.

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