I spend a good amount of time trying to teach my kids about money. Sometimes I’m transparent with my lessons, other times I’m more discrete.
Years from now, once my kids have grown up and become adults, I’ll be interested to talk to them about money once again, but this time I’ll want to know what their first ‘money memory’ is, and whether or not it’s had an impact on how they manage their personal finances.
Will they remember how I forced them to save 50% of their allowance and how “totally unfair” that was of me? Will they remember me droning on and on about “the best thing money can buy is freedom. yadda yadda yadda.” Or will it be something else entirely?
Whatever their earliest money memory is, my guess is that it will have had an impact on how they handle their cash. After thinking about my own earliest memories of money, I can see how my financial habits began to take shape.
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Ever since I saw a post from Family Money Plan on this same topic I’ve been trying to think about what my first experiences with money were. I’ve come up with two distinct money memories from my childhood that stick out. The earlier of the two comes from a bank drive-thru. I was with my mom and her sister that day. It was in the middle of the afternoon which means I wasn’t in school, which means I must have been about 5 years old or so – too young to attend at that time.
I was patiently waiting for the customary sucker which bank tellers never failed to provide, when from out of nowhere my aunt, who was sitting in the front passenger’s seat, turned to look at me and said “Do you know what Ty? If I give the bank one hundred pennies, they’ll give me back a dollar!”
I’m not sure why my aunt thought to share this crazy magic money secret with me, but from that second forward I was on a mission. Pennies could be found just lying on the ground and all I had to do was collect a hundred of them? I could not believe it was that easy!
Funny how even as a five year old kid I understood that many people didn’t place much value in a penny. They’d just toss them aside. Well if people didn’t want their pennies then I’d take them back. I’d take them all back!
Alone, a penny wasn’t worth much, but when combined with other pennies, they had value.
FIFTY DOLLAR BILL! FIFTY DOLLAR BILL!
The next money memory I have comes a few years later on the first day of summer. I’d just finished 5th grade and was excited for the summer to get started, but I was also looking forward to the next school year to start because I was going to be a 6th grader. In my elementary school grades went from Kindergarten to 6th grade – it was finally my turn to be B.M.O.C! The older kids had had their time, well this was my time!
That evening when my dad came home from work, he handed me the most crisp $50 bill my young eyes had ever laid eyes on. And it was all mine. The summer was off to a very good start.
Dad told me I could do whatever I wanted with the money, but that it needed to last all summer because that’s all the money I’d be getting. If I wanted to blow it all in one day I could, but then I’d have zero cash for the rest of the summer and he wasn’t going to be handing out another cent.
“Estoy en una casa loca!” I thought. My dad just gave me $50 bucks – I’m freaking rich! For those of you that have seen the classic 80’s movie, The Goonies, remember how excited Data was when he found the printing press that was cranking out “fifty dollar bill! Fifty dollar bill!” That’s EXACTLY how I felt! I figured that amount of cash would last forever and a day. Well, unfortunately it didn’t last and you can probably see where this is going. :/ Two things from that summer stuck with me.
- I had very a hard time breaking that crisp $50.00 bill. I didn’t want to crease it, let alone spend it! I knew that it would be a long time before my prepubescent fingers ever touched that amount of cash again, so I needed to be smart! Despite thinking that I had all the money in the world, I still had a difficult time letting go of that large bill. I was often tempted to buy this or that, but I couldn’t bring myself to part with a fifty dollar bill!
- Of course I did finally spend the money on something, and once I did my aversion to spending was instantly gone. Breaking the bill had broken the trance that I was in and suddenly the rest of that money was burning a hole in my pocket. Compared to my original $50 bill, the smaller bills just weren’t that great and it was much easier to part with them.
I don’t remember the exact timeline that summer, but I’d guess it took me three weeks before I spent a cent*. But once my big bill had been broken, the rest of it disappeared shortly thereafter and I ended up spending the majority of my summer broke as a joke.
In the end, Dad’s lesson stuck. I’d learned about budgeting and planning as well as instant vs. delayed gratification – all lessons that are still with me to this day.
What was your first money lesson? If you’ve got kids, how are you teaching them about money? At FinCon 2016 I met Clark Howard and had the chance to talk with him for a minute or two about this very topic. Mr. Howard is very much against giving kids a debit card or a cash card because it’s much too easy for them to spend money that you they can’t put their hands on. He recommended that kids learn about money with cash – I think he’d approve of my dad’s approach. What about you? Please leave a comment and let me know.
Thanks for reading!
* I broke my $50.00 bill and bought a fishing pole at the local hardware store for $14.99 and I can’t recall ever once using it. I have no idea where the rest of the money went, but my guess is that most of it was spent at our local pool ($0.75 per entry), at the dollar dollar theater, and on baseball cards, which cost $0.50 for a pack of Topps.