Thought provoking post at GRS, for anyone with children or who grew up with parents.
To sum, a woman grew up with a father who told her they were wealthy but would not spend or let her spend on things. Now she feels guilty whenever she does spend, despite having a healthy (100K) emergency fund in place.
The comments contain a lot of conflicting arguments about how we’re destroying our kids. It seems like parents can’t win.
The things her father said to her sounded a lot like the things my father said to me. I had many of the same experiences growing up. Yet I did not take away the same lessons and overall I am very happy with my relationship with money. Sure I felt guilty spending on luxuries when we had no money and we were trying to pay off DH’s college debt, but once we got into a comfortable place, I got comfortable with spending on things I could afford. Take care of myself and my family first, then spend on luxuries without unhappiness.
Over the past couple of days my mind has been grappling with the question about what’s the difference between my situation and hers. At first I thought it might be the autonomy I was allowed with my own small allowance (nobody made me save it– though I did learn to save on my own for larger items). But I don’t think that was it. It also isn’t talking about money as a family or not talking about it. Or knowing the parent’s financial situation or not knowing the parent’s financial situation. It definitely isn’t being denied an ice cream cone out or getting every wish granted.
The real problem is when we associate tools with love. The poster and most of the commenters are taking for granted that how money is spent is a sign of where love lies. That isn’t the case. Money is just a tool. After basic needs are met, you can spend nothing or spend a ton aligned with your family values about what is important, but that is not love. The child in the post perceived the soda or ice cream as lack of love. As a child I perceived it as not wanting to spend money on an item that my father did not value. A commenter talked about how he felt guilty when told that they couldn’t go on a vacation because they were saving for his college. As a child I saw that as information that my family valued education over trips to Disney World (not that we didn’t travel– we went on countless road trips, but generally on the cheap and often to visit family) and that my future was important enough to delay gratification for (and corporations are really good at getting people to spend money).
There’s a reason I’ve never understood the women who want their husbands to buy them expensive jewelry to prove their love or to apologize for an argument, especially at the expense of quality time as a family or true financial security.
In my family, we were also encouraged to ask questions and test limits. I think my father was proud when we made a counter-argument about how we were willing to pay the additional money to get a cold drink *now* or that the ice cream in the small pint is better quality than the ice cream in the large tub and we don’t need a large tub’s worth anyway. It was most important to him that we understand why and how we were spending our money– not to be skin-flints but to truly understand frugality and value. For my own parenting, I think we don’t have to worry about the money messages we’re sending if we talk them out, encourage communication and even disagreement, and let our children know if we’re worried they’re taking the wrong message. It’s like teaching undergrads, if you encourage students to ask questions in a safe environment, teacher mistakes can become valuable teaching moments rather than a disaster. They can lead to more rather than less learning.
How does this juxtapose with Donna Freedman’s wonderfully sweet column today on material gifts from her mother? It’s the gesture, not the item. But the gesture need not be a thing at all, and it need not involve money at all. It really is the thought that counts. Maybe it’s ok to think of buying a soda as an act of love (though it’s an odd thing for most Americans where soda flows more freely than water), but it is never ok to think of the lack of buying it as a withdrawal of love. There are many ways to show love, and a homemade toaster cozy or a timer that brought order to a mother’s life are examples of things where the thought is much more important than the money spent.
For me this connection is more obvious with food– emotional eating. Culturally this is a big problem for us… chocolate chip cookies do cheer someone up when they’re down. I love it when my husband bakes me a batch. It reminds me of vacations with my late grandmother or brownies from my mom. But it is important to separate the thoughtfulness of making the cookie from the cookie itself. And maybe the few extra pounds is worth it for immediate comfort. It’s when that emotional food connection becomes a problem, or that emotional money connection becomes a problem that we really need to remember that love is love and money is a tool and food is something to eat.