Saturday, January 8, 2011

Money Matters: Where I come from

After the holidays is when many people turn from the fun and excitement of the holidays to practical matters, and I'm no exception. This post is intended to give some background to the "Money Matters" posts I will be publishing over the next few weeks.

I have never had financial problems. I grew up poor, but it was situational (as opposed to generational)-- meaning that we were poor, but it was for a reason (my dad was in medical school) that would eventually end.  And my mom is and was a phenomenal money manager, so we always made do just fine. We never had a lot, but we had good nutritious meals (even if we couldn't go out to eat) and plenty of (hand me down) clothes.

My parents share responsibility for my good financial skills. My mothers example throughout my childhood showed me how little you really need, and her careful budgeting and creativity meant we never had to do without.

My father was in medical school until I reached junior high, and my parents divorced soon after that, so he did not play a role in everyday finances. Interestingly, I can recall my father as an example at both extremes of the spectrum. He always wants the next big electronics item or car, but is very (obsessively) careful with what he has, so things last forever. For instance, he refuses to put things with printing on them (like pyrex measuring cups) in the dishwasher, because that will make the writing disappear. Eventually. This includes the plastic cups from burger king that came free with a kids meal and that we have no particular attachment too. Luckily, this serves me well later in life as nothing he owns ever wears out, and his inherent cheapness won't let him just throw it away. Enter his only local daughter, ready to take cookware and furniture off his hands.

The real key though, was how my father paid for college. When I moved off campus after sophomore year, my father told me that he had been paying $x for the nine months a year I was in school, and would instead divide that total by 12 and send me a check every month. He had me research if that amount would be reasonable, and when I confirmed it was, that was the end of it. The money was mine to do with as a I pleased, but I wouldn't get anymore. I paid my rent, utilities, groceries, sorority dues, and usually had some left over. While I wasn't working for it, it was good practice in making sure I could pay for things, and I think it helped me as I moved into paying for everything myself.

When I returned to Chicago and lived with my father, he didn't charge me rent (I was unemployable as a teacher for a longer-than-expected 16 months while I waited for my certificate to transfer, working in retail). Had he charged me rent, it would have gone into an account in my name, repayable when I needed a mortgage or something. I think at that point I had proven myself to be good enough with money that he didn't really worry about it.

Now I have a good grasp on what I need (as opposed to want) and a generous family that has spared me from most major purchases through hand me downs. My dad bought me a used car in college, but I paid for my new car and my condo on my own. My furniture is a combination of hand-me-downs and inheritances, but much of it is very nice. So much so that when I moved in, I needed to buy a rug pad (for my oriental rug) and that was about it. Most of my furniture is very nice, I just didn't choose much of it. Actually, until my sister moved back five months ago, I hadn't bought any of the furniture. And it was great to be able to wait a year to adjust to my new place and not deal with furniture expenses on top of furniture expenses.

Are you a spender or a saver?

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