Money, Love, and Food

This is a repost from 2010 back when we had great blog posts but few readers to appreciate them!  Feel free to comment as if it’s new since there weren’t many comments to begin with.

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 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.

Do you intertwine love with money or with food?  Do you have healthy or unhealthy associations with money and/or food?

14 Responses to “Money, Love, and Food”

  1. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Arrrrrr, we be associating dubloons with our grub.

  2. chacha1 Says:

    LOL is it that day again?! Arrrrr!

    I probably read that GRS post and I probably commented on it, but it’s been six years, I don’t remember what I might have said then, and my brain has evolved anyway. From the vantage point of my ever-increasing age, I come firmly down on the side of “money is a tool.” And I don’t believe that feeding the primate brain’s inherent acquisitiveness (by, e.g., material gifts) is a proof of love; I believe it’s a method of ego gratification – on both sides. Having your ego stroked can feel a lot like being loved, but it actually isn’t the same thing. The only ways that money can be employed to prove love are to buy TIME to do things with the people you love, and/or to buy SPACE in which to do those things.

    By which I mean, for example, you need a certain amount of money to take a family vacation at the beach. That money is buying the time away, and it is buying the environment for the time that you’re using it. Or: you need a certain amount of money to buy or rent a larger residence, so that someone can have a dedicated craft studio or woodworking shop; and then you need enough money to buy the time to use that space.

    You can buy time for a stay-cation and that can also be a proof of love. But I venture to guess that for most adolescents, a change of environment makes a much bigger statement of “I am investing in my family’s happiness” than does a week spent at home puttering around the house. (My parents hate to travel, but they took us to Disney World anyway.) Something DIFFERENT from the usual is generally what’s recognized as a gift aka proof of love.

    For the same reason, taking someone out for a nice dinner for a birthday or anniversary shows a lot more love than buying a fancy bottle of wine and nice steaks to eat at home, even though the second option might cost just as much. Money without time can feel like “I don’t want to spend more time on you, I don’t want to trouble myself with thinking about where you might like to go and making a reservation, so I’m taking the easy way out.” The subtext is *you’re not worth the effort,* which does not read as love.

    The scenario of saying no to every request a child makes, while simultaneously saying “we have plenty of money,” is one I have trouble relating to. I always knew my parents were budget-conscious, I knew that when Mom took us for an ice-cream cone while we were out with her running errands it was a treat, and I don’t think I got bent when she said No. I mean, obviously, you try to get the ice-cream cone every time. But if you get it every time, it ceases to be a treat.

    • becca Says:

      It’s funny you say that about taking someone out to a dinner. I actually feel getting a nice meal to eat at home would “show more love” as someone has to plan what to cook, do the shopping and cook the actual meal. The amount of thinking about what I like is actually far greater than picking a restaurant, because at a restaurant I have choices and there are relatively few places I can’t find something.
      Granted, I would appreciate the effort in both gestures, and in a long standing relationship would view the effort/time/money tradeoffs as more about their own feelings for where they pinched than anything about the emotion or the relationship. I also agree it depends a bit on what is a *different* from the usual, which may be why having someone make me a dinner is more “special” to me than eating out.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I guess a theme is that use of scarce resources, be that time or money, signals what is valued.

        Even that is muddled though, because if you don’t care for home-cooked meals, having your partner make one is a huge waste of time no matter how much sacrifice your partner makes. If you don’t want to have to get dressed up and leave the kids (or don’t want to take the kids), going out to a fancy restaurant, even if paid for with one’s partner’s allowance, isn’t going to signal thoughtfulness.

        Not getting meals out much as a kid didn’t signal to me that I wasn’t valued, but that my family had different priorities for the family money. Which were realized when my sister and I both graduated college with no debt. The monetary trade-offs were on our behalf, but it was our parents making the delayed gratification choices instead of us.

      • chacha1 Says:

        My life is spent in two boxes: my apartment, and my office. I like to go out.

  3. xykademiqz Says:

    I didn’t read the original article, but I do understand not spending money as a proxy for not caring.
    For instance, my parents did not have a good marriage and eventually divorced. My father would spend (and still does) his last penny on my (spoiled) sister’s every whim, but would forbid and raise hell about anything that my mom spent on herself. There is definitely such a thing as “I don’t care about you, you are worth nothing to me; therefore, you are not worth spending any of my money on.” It has very little to do with frugality.

  4. Norwegian Forest Cat Says:

    This post reminds me a lot of the love languages – I think *some* aspects of the books are woo, but find a lot of utility in thinking about the idea. Looking at the people close to me, the ones for whom gifts are a primary love language are often not so good at budgets or financial things in general. They’re the ones spending money on things for their friends and family instead of saving for college. They may or may not save for vacations, depending on how much they also value quality time. Could it be that the PF world self-selects for people who speak some of the other love languages more fluently? Obviously relationships with kids are different, and I have no experience in that arena.

    FWIW, I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of paying attention to how people receive love in different forms. Even though I’m not a spendthrift, I find myself spending just a little bit of money on people who speak the ‘gifts’ language (even though I don’t). It does seem to make a difference in a way that is sometimes surprising to me – I have to remind myself of this though, because sometimes my feathers are ruffled when someone just gushes about a gift but not the thoughtful handwritten note accompanying it.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      DH’s family definitely has gifts as a love language. Mine, not so much. It’s a good thing DH is so flexible since I gave up decades ago on trying to find good gifts for him and just give him money. Since the best gift for him is the ability to spend hours picking out exactly what he thinks he wants (but may then never actually use, depending on the item).

      • xykademiqz Says:

        Engineers are hard to shop for. I either buy clothes for DH (he for some reason always buys clothes for self and the boys that are too small; I buy better-fitting clothes for him without him present than he does for himself, it’s really weird) or he buys himself an electronic gift “from me” for a given occasion, because he wants exactly what he wants and I don’t care very much about gadgets and certainly not about the latest and greatest or to spend eons researching.
        Personally, I don’t care for gifts. I find them intrusive and guilt-inducing, because I too like what I like and I don’t like wasting money on stuff I don’t need, no matter how cute or romantic the gesture seems. I would take a dinner out and a movie or concert over a gift any day. I also appreciate relief from chores as a gift!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I like it when people buy stuff off my amazon list for me at Christmas and my birthday. That works well with me not buying what I think I want right away and gives me a chance to see if I really actually do want it without forgetting about it. But in a world absent amazon wishlists, I think I would still assume my family loved me even if we stopped exchanging presents. I feel like it’s a social convention more than a symbol of thoughtfulness. But I also usually give my mom a barnes and noble gift card because that’s what gives her the most happiness. At least 2 people on my gift list like shopping without guilt as the best present of all! (And really that’s what my amazon list functions as as well…)

  5. Cloud Says:

    I agree: associating spending money with love is a bad idea, no matter how it happens or how it manifests. I’ve never been a fan of “retail therapy” for this reason. I did, however, have a real cookie problem in my early days of motherhood. Cookies felt like one of the few treats I could give myself. It sorted itself out when I regained the time/space to give myself better treats, and I guess I’m lucky for that: both for the regaining of the time and space for something better and for the fact that there are better things I can use to treat myself. (Walks on the beach! Naps in my hammock! That sort of thing.)

  6. CG Says:

    I guess I do believe that sometimes money shows that you love and value someone. For example, people show their families that they love them by acquiring skills and working hard enough so that they can provide for them. Another way you might show your love through money is by spending money to allow your kids to do something they want to do. For example, my parents sent me to Interlochen when I was in high school because I was a serious musician and they wanted to support me. They let me know that it was a big expense, but they were happy to do it because they loved me and valued my music education. The same thing went for my sister when she was seriously into riding horses (especially because school was much more of a struggle for her, the horses were a way to show that they took her interests seriously). But those were not gifts in the traditional sense.

    • Rosa Says:

      the real key is that, no matter what YOU think shows love, if the person receiving it does not feel loved, you’re not getting through. You have to figure out what their perception is, as well as what your meaning is.

      Sometimes parents just can’t do that, and their kids grow up and develop enough theory of mind to figure out that the parent meant love even if the kid didn’t always feel it. But sometimes parents can’t/won’t do that and the kids never feel loved. Some people are more able to do theory of mind than others, and some are more resilient than others, so it just varies a ton.

  7. Donna Freedman Says:

    Thanks for the re-post, because it made me go back and look at that piece. Since it’s from 2010 it had no illustration (I was new to blogging) and it also contained an old, broken MSN Money link.

    Fixed ’em both! And I appreciate your kind description.

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