Money makes the world go round, and it surely doesn’t grow on trees. There will never be enough of it to argue about, and it’s important to save for a rainy day. These mantras were ingrained into my brain as a child and, although humble beginnings have shaped me into the person I am today, I have financial trauma from my childhood and I refuse to pass this on to my kids.
Growing up, I always had everything I needed but not everything I wanted.
I got my first job at the age of 14 and have worked ever since. Our greatest luxury was not an annual trip to Disney or weekends up at the cabin. It was swimming in our above-ground pool and splurging on ice cream when the Schwann’s guy came once a month. Asking for a themed birthday party or to play on a travel sports team were literally beyond my comprehension and purely out of the question. The realities of our finances were that we were low income and we knew it.
My parents were always honest with us when it came to what we had and what we didn’t. They did the best with what resources and finances they had to work with. However, I remember hearing the arguments over which bill to pay, I could see the looks on their faces when the holidays rolled around, and I knew even then that we were struggling. As a fully functioning adult, I now understand even deeper just what my parents had to go through behind closed doors, and it pains me to think about it.
Money was always on my mind as a kid.
From home to school, I was constantly crunching numbers in my head. I qualified for free and reduced lunch at school. While my friends were spending their allowances (Allowance? You mean you got paid to take the trash out?), on candy and soda at lunch (before the government stepped in and swapped treats for veggies), I was pulling out my four dimes to pay for my student lunch.
Speaking of dimes, when it came time to pay for my elementary field trip, I remember my dad pulling out the change jar off of his dresser and counting out five dollars in coins for me to bring to my teacher. I was mortified. While others walked around with crisp, white shoes with the swish on them, I was rocking my Payless shoes while covering the label with my Salvation Army flare pants (thank God skinny jeans were out during the late 90s/early 2000s).
In 2007, I was nominated to be homecoming queen.
When the other girls were leaving school early to go get their hair and nails done, I used my student council responsibilities as an excuse to not go with them. The truth was that I couldn’t afford to go. That night when the other nominees took the field in their nomination dresses with makeup and hair to the nines, I wore a dress that I wore the previous year and had my hair in a ponytail. I ended up winning. Even though I was happy, a part of me felt really embarrassed and ashamed in front of all of those people because I didn’t have the money to get as dolled up as the other girls.
Working as a kid was really stressful.
Needless to say, when I wanted something extra, I had to pay for it myself. All through high school I held a job. I busted my butt to ensure that I could go to college. In fact, I’m still paying on those government issued “low-income” student loans. I worked four jobs through those four years while studying a full course load. Honestly, it was really hard. It was entirely stressful. I learned how to fill out social service paper work at the age of 19 when I applied for food stamps. Sitting in the office of human resources was incredibly frustrating and eye-opening at that age. Money management left me with financial trauma and motivated me from then on.
I decided to change the narrative.
At the age of 23, instead of planning a huge wedding, we went to the court house and paid $15 to commit to forever. Our parents didn’t have the money to help us put on a big to do and we didn’t dare ask and put that burden on them. Instead of going on a honeymoon, we signed up to take part in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University money management classes at our church. It was time to change the narrative in my own head about how I viewed finances. I was no longer living in poverty, but my brain still was.
It became my mission to start parenting with positive perspective towards money.
Please hear me out. There is absolutely nothing wrong with good, old-fashioned hard work. In fact, financial literacy is at the forefront of my parenting values today. We use the envelope system with our kids, they know how to tithe at church, and how to bargain shop. They know that mom and dad have to work to pay for things, and they respect that. Sharing abundance with others and actively supporting the community is important in our home.
Parenting with positive regard to money has been a complete mind shift for me. I still experience financial panic attacks and crunch numbers. The financial trauma is real. I look at my students who are struggling at home, and I see myself in them. The old me sits in my class every.single.day. I understand what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck and to grocery shop only when the bridge card gets renewed. Although I don’t live that life anymore, I deeply understand it. It is important to me that my children know that they are fortunate and blessed, but that it comes at a great cost.
You don’t have to work, you get to work.
When the time comes and my kids want access to their own money, I won’t ever force them to work. It is my hope that they’ll want to. That they’ll understand the value of a dollar and hold it in high regard. They won’t have to work, they’ll get to work. Working is a privilege and a means to an end. Money doesn’t need to motivate you, embarrass you, or hurt you. Money is a tool, not a torment. When you grow up in poverty, you have to make the choice to overcome the fear of not having enough. You have to make the conscious effort to move toward understanding how to properly manage your finances. You have to give yourself permission to enjoy life beyond the trauma, even if your trauma was indeed financial.