July 4, 2013
Anybody else out there remember the baby bonus cheque? Also known as the “family allowance,” it was a tax-free payment that parents received from Ottawa for each kid. In 1976, each month my mum would hand me her cheque from the government, which was about $30. It occurred to me just recently that she could have spent this on household items but she chose instead to give me the opportunity to learn about money. Perhaps because there were no rules or advice that came along with it, I never thought twice about it and I’d promptly go out and buy my favourite magazines and some new clothes. I know my mum meant well but the lesson I took away was that money was a fun thing and should be spent! Although later on I worked hard and had great jobs and always had enough money for my current needs, it took me a while to grow up financially and I spent all that I earned until about age 30. I still wrestle with this issue at times – I have an underlying feeling that I deserve to enjoy the fruits of my labour. But of course this attitude comes with a cost! My money upbringing was more or less trial and error but others had different experiences. For example, an old work colleague and her husband used to share their grocery bill evenly – she told me “right down to the cost of a lime.” It wouldn’t surprise me if this is still how they behave even though they have since become very wealthy. My friend had learnt about money from watching a negative example when she was growing up – her father was a bit of a deadbeat Dad. He was a role model who demonstrated how NOT to do things. She learned to rely on her own instincts and developed a razor focus on achieving personal success. Clearly our upbringing plays a huge role in determining our future attitudes around money. We’ve looked at “trial and error” and “do the opposite” lessons. So what might be a better way to teach our kids and grandkids? I like what a Toronto executive told me about her parents both being role models: “In my home, money was a positive thing…something you could strive for; earn, and it would serve you.” “My parents discussed decisions together and never let us feel any financial stress. I think it is necessary for girls and women to understand clearly that what we want costs money. We need to make this link and find the path to earning our own money so that we can live the life we want. I would like to tell girls to stay in school, educate yourself either academically or by learning a trade, - anything to help you have a better place in the world. Whoever tells you that you can or cannot do something, plan and figure it out for yourself. It is actually okay if you want to become a rocket scientist!” This is the “lead by example” approach and in my view it teaches the strongest lesson. What was your money upbringing? Remember to include early financial education for your kids or grandchildren.