What makes some people spendthrifts and others tightwads? My undergraduate biology degree requires that I frame the question in terms of “Nature or Nurture?” I wonder about my grandmother who lived through the depression? Did a frugal nature simply allow her and others like her to survive it? Or did the circumstance itself create the financially disciplined woman I knew?
I think my parents are middle of the road and so are my sisters. So, why am I so frugal?
Can adults intentionally instill a certain financial philosophy in children?
I remember several influences in my life that shaped my financial outlook, but did I seek them out because I was predisposed to such things? Or were they so compelling that no matter what, I would’ve had to tune into them? After all these years, I believe it was a combination. I think these characters stood out in my mind because in a way, they were rebels to me; my first heroes. They did things that made others shake their heads. As a middle child, this sort of thing got my attention.
If Life (or your waitress) Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade
At restaurants, my grandmother used the lemons that were served in her glass of water and the sugar on the table to make lemonade in her glass instead of paying for a drink. She also drank the remainder of any cream left on our table so that it didn’t go to waste. And when we stayed with her we sat spellbound in the evenings and watched her curl her own hair, parting it into sections and twisting it into pressed circles held to her head with a bobby pin “x”. (My other grandmother paid a pretty penny to have her hair curled and set each week.) All the while she rocked in her chair and hummed along with Lawrence Welk. How she could do all that without a mirror we never could comprehend. She also planned expenditures and it peppered her conversation; “I’ve set aside $20 a month for a trip in April,” or “If strawberries cost more than $1.50 per quart, I don’t buy them.” There was clarity of thought and intention in her financial life.
Don’t Worry What Others Think
Another character was a family member, who lived in another state. He wouldn’t buy charcoal for his grill. Instead, he walked around his suburban neighborhood, gathering sticks and pine cones. I remember hearing that story and being intrigued because I had never seen anyone burn regular old sticks in their grill. Some in my family were embarrassed for him but I thought, What else am I missing because I accept the norm?
Less Is More
Another early memory that I believe shaped my minimalist tendencies, was watching Little House on the Prairie and The Waltons. Besides the fact that I had a super secret crush on Pa Ingles and John Boy, I was fascinated by the simplicity of their existence. They hung a single item on a single peg, like Pa’s hat, and each room was sparse but functional. In contrast, the tops of our closets were avalanche danger zones and my own bedroom was littered with papers, plastic horses and softballs. I longed for the simple peg existence.
As a teenager, before I was paying my on way, a friend and I used to giggle at her mother’s habit of washing and reusing plastic baggies. We thought that was a bit extreme and a little embarrassing. However, as soon as I had my first apartment and bought my own baggies, they suddenly turned into gold and I too washed and reused them (unless I had stored raw meat in them).
What sort of example does your financial behavior set for young people around you? You may get by just fine, but would you sit down and intentionally teach your financial habits to the children in your life? If not, what would you do differently? Remember that you may not be the only one who is hurt by your financial philosophy. And you won’t be the only one who would benefit from rethinking how you spend your paycheck.