This post is part of an editorial series, “Money Matters.”
Our money habits as adults are almost always shaped by our parents’ money habits when we were kids. Some studies suggest that children form their own money habits by observing their parents and that those habits are solidified by age seven. Given this information, it can be daunting as a parent to make sure you’re passing along the useful habits while discarding those that lead to turmoil, anxiety, or instability.
To be brief, we didn’t have a lot of money growing up. As a child, there were often things I wanted or felt I needed, but didn’t have and wouldn’t even ask for given the expense. We didn’t spend money on trendy items, such as Lisa Frank school supplies or name-brand clothes. Our clothes were hand-me-downs that didn’t quite fit. Instead of buying new coats each season, we often wore two or more sweaters to keep us warm. We drove a car that didn’t quite fit us all and shared ice cream cones from McDonald’s on more than one occasion. That’s just how life was.
When I got to college, having my own income was great . . . but so was the excitement of credit cards. Credit cards felt like free money! Not having a lot of financial experience up to that point, I didn’t quite know what to do with all my newfound freedom. I ended up getting into quite a bit of debt and taking a semester off of school to pay it off.
As a parent who’s been dealing with money longer than my former college student self, I feel like I understand the concept of money much better. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made and continue to make more than my share of financial mistakes. We’ve been through unemployment, massive credit card debt, living paycheck to Thursday, and other scary money-based seasons of life. It’s taken several years to be a bit more at peace with money, but when I feel off kilter, I ask myself three things that seem to bring me back to center:
What do I want my money to do for me? Sometimes (frequently) I get in a cycle of spending too much and I have to take a step back to regroup and reprioritize what I want my money to accomplish. Do I want it just get me through the day to day? Do I want it to take my family on vacation? Do I want it to last a lifetime and have enough to spare for my children to have an inheritance? Thinking long-term enables me enough time to pause before my next purchase to ensure my goals are being met.
Am I purchasing items because I need them or just because I feel an impulse to purchase? Even now there are days that I think back to my childhood and feel deprived. I’m eager to spend too much at Target so I can fill my home with beauty as a strategy to feeling fulfilled and satisfied. And while my husband and I both work and enjoy an okay income, we have other financial priorities — like paying off student loans, credit cards, and saving for unexpected medical bills. These are goals we won’t be able to accomplish if I gave into every whim and desire. (Because let’s face it, there are a lot of cute things at Target that I think would go great in my home.)
Are my money habits reflective of what I want my children to do when they’re older? As a parent, I want my kids to be empowered when it comes to money. I want them to exercise restraint and learn patience when the latest gadgets and toys come out. I want them to focus on the important things in life, such as people and peace. I never want them to prioritize someTHING over someONE. Am I using my money in such a way that they’re seeing how money should empower us and not control us?
I don’t know many people who feel totally happy with their financial life. It can be a constant struggle and a form of stress if you don’t have enough to make ends meet. I’ve found that refocusing and enabling myself to realize MY goals helps me to stop the competition I feel with others and find fulfillment in the many joys I have in my life.