I grew up in a household of three children, my older sister, brother and I. Both my parents were working parents. How they managed to raise us along with trying to make a better life for us in Canada is beyond me. I know having family helped. We had Aunts and Uncles, but they had their own families to take care of and their own lives to build as well. My maternal grandparents didn’t come to Canada until shortly after I was born and my paternal grandmother didn’t arrive until I was at least 3 or 4 years old. Parenting in our family from Monday through Friday was mainly accomplished by shiftwork. My mom would take the morning shift to care for us until she had work in the afternoon. From afternoon (when my dad got off work) to night, it was my dad’s turn until he had to return to work early in the morning.
Besides trying to be good, loving, encouraging, yet strict and disciplining parents, I think one of the most important lessons, if not the most important lesson I learned in life as a child was financial responsibility. In my earlier post I mentioned that it was my mom whom the duty of handling the household finances fell to, so naturally it was my mom who imparted this wise knowledge on us. I’m not certain if her words had as profound an impact on my older sister and brother as they did on me, but I am deeply grateful that it was something that we were taught. Not all families are lucky to have at least one parent capable in these matters.
At a young age, my mom taught us the value of money and how it takes hard work to earn every cent. Money wasn’t something that was going to be easy to come by. She taught us that money was a scarce resource and should be saved whenever possible. This didn’t mean that we couldn’t enjoy some of the pleasures in life with the money that we earned, but that it should be spent wisely if it was not to be saved. She said to not spend money on food eating out, as food could be ate and prepared for much less at home. Her main point on also not spending money on eating out was because you wouldn’t have anything to show for the meal you just spent X amount of hard earned dollars on. Sure, your tummy would feel full, but it’s only a temporary feeling – you will get hungry again.
It’s not quite a classy thing to say, but my mom had a saying that made a whole lot of sense (maybe a lot more sense in Chinese than in English), it went something like this, “no matter how rich or expensive the food that goes in your tummy, it will still come out the same.” (I hope I don’t have to go into more detail!) Instead, money if it should be spent on things other than necessities, should be spent on things that last more than once, like a nice sweater for winter, a new pair of shoes to replace your old ones, a car or a house. Remember, that my mom’s words came at a time when my parents barely had anything to their names except a rusty green, used Oldsmobile that broke down way too many times for my dad to continue driving it – still the relevance of the lesson on financial knowledge and responsibility still holds.
I’m not sure if you were as lucky, but I think the greatest gift that a parent can give a child is to teach about financial responsibility and form the solid foundation upon which the child can further build on from experience. My mom even opened bank accounts for each one of us, where she managed to save whatever earnings of lucky Chinese New Year money we made. Later on, when she could, she deposited a few thousand dollars of her own hard earned savings into our accounts, which was later drawn upon for education purposes and the likes. I’m no parent, but speaking from the point of view as a child who was taught early on about the importance of money and financial responsibility, it is something that can help set the pace to the way they handle their finances in the future. It’s an important lesson. Don’t forget this one as you remember to teach all the other important ones.