If you know me, you know my parents. My mother and father are not only two of my best friends, they are also two of the most intelligent and hardworking people I know. For as long as I can remember, my parents have always been incredibly responsible about money. Their financial style is smart, frugal, and gracious. I took note of this while growing up, and even before I was earning my own money, their values were impacting me. While I have faith that I could’ve made smart money choices on my own, I was incredibly lucky for their example, because it saved me from a lot of mistakes I may have run into when I was learning to manage my own money. I am not mistake-free, and I have complete admiration for everyone who established their own good financial habits without their parents’ guidance. As I become financially independent, I realize how often I refer back to these truths in my everyday life. Here are six financial lessons that I have learned from my parents thus far:
Live below your means.
I may have only considered this important when starting my adult life, and career, but from my parents’ example, I know this is crucial at any point in my financial life. My parents spend practically, instead of being attracted to “fancy” things. They buy good quality items (but shop rarely), and they like to go out and enjoy themselves, but aren’t extravagant very often. They enjoy going on vacation, but have worked very hard and saved diligently to allow themselves to travel.
They live simply. We did not live in a huge house, with a huge mortgage. We lived on a nice, humble ranch that my mother decorated beautifully and intelligently. My siblings and I were given gifts here and there as kids, but weren’t handed every item we wanted even if, at the time, my parents could afford it. We worked for the things we wanted. And, honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. We had a very lucky and fun childhood, and honestly, we had good life. But we still weren’t made to believe we had all the money in the world. We knew the value of a dollar, and that we weren’t just handed money, we had to work for it. I learned that having the money to buy something doesn’t necessarily mean you need to buy it, which has helped me exercise restraint in my current life.
If you’re going to splurge, splurge wisely and on something you love.
My dad loves to golf. His one splurge is his sport. He has belonged to clubs, and treats himself to rounds of golf often during the spring and summer months. Once again, it wasn’t always this way: when he was first starting out, he approached his passion in a much more frugal way. He always said you can’t indulge on everything you want: dinners, clothes, cars, vacations, etc. because then it is no longer a treat, it is a lifestyle. I want to live like they live: treating myself here and there, within my means.
You need to exercise caution with your credit card.
When I opened my first credit card during my last year of college, they sat me down and made sure I understood how it worked. They explained that credit card debt can sneak up quite quickly. I took them seriously, and now have good credit, which helped me end up in a good apartment and have a solid credit score. I recently moved to NYC, and my credit card balance has been higher than I would like it to be, but because my parents made sure I knew how to handle having a credit card, I am confident that I will be able to pay it off in full — and I know that I need to prioritize paying it off when looking at my monthly budget.
If you’re interested in donating to charity, find a cause you’re passionate about and research it thoroughly
When I was growing up, my parents always gave money to the cause we were collecting for at school. However, they once told me and my empathetic heart that I may not be able to save the world all at once, but I can focus on a cause I really care about, and donate within my means when I’m able to. I donate to a charity that helps women in low-income housing who are looking for work. No matter what you give to the causes you care about, you are making a difference, and you should research the organization thoroughly before giving to make sure you verify where your money is going. I have noticed that when I can give a solid chunk to one organization, instead of a small amount to multiple organizations, I feel really good about the contribution I am making. This is completely subjective, and everyone has a different way of trying to make an impact on a cause they believe in, but I prefer to focus on one specific cause. I’ve also learned that if I don’t have the funds, I can volunteer my time to the organizations I care about instead.
Don’t obsess over splitting the bill.
This is a personal opinion, but I think it’s important to not agonize over a few cents when you’re splitting a meal with friends. If you have weekly drinks with a coworker, pick up the tab every once and a while. Occasionally, when you go out to eat with your partner, pick up the whole bill. Saving money is important, but so are your relationships with these people. My parents always said not to sweat the small stuff, and to offer to pay here and there, especially if you know a friend is going through a rough time. It means more than you realize and, in my opinion, paying it forward is a good thing.
Don’t be afraid to talk about money.
While I definitely learned this from my parents, they’ve never had to specifically say it. When I started my first high school job at the YWCA, my parents and I talked through exactly how I was going to use each paycheck to help build my savings, and then my checking account. I always spoke freely to my father and mother about my finances and never felt uncomfortable asking for financial advice. They were honest about financial mistakes they’ve made, and their successes, which is an important (and rare) quality to have in a family.
Abby is an IT professional living in Manhattan, originally from the beautiful land of Ohio. She’s obsessed with humans, solving problems, and tuna salad.
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