So I’m out having dinner with my daughter and the bill comes to the table. It’s my treat (of course, since she rarely has the money to pick up any tab) and I pull out my rewards card for the loyalty points and of course the coupon: “Save $10.00 off any 2 dinners with the purchase of 2 drinks”. And then it happens.
“Dad, do you always have to use a coupon? It’s so embarrassing, like can’t you just enjoy this without having that? Are you that cheap?”
It never fails to amaze me when that conversation begins, and it often does. I have tried most of my life to teach both my children about being thrifty, or frugal if you prefer! For some unexplainable reason they just don’t seem to get it. Is it being cheap to want to conserve my money? Is it being cheap to take my daughter out to dinner? A free dinner for her? Exactly what is it that embarrasses her?
So it gets me to thinking…
For my grown children, Dad is a worrier, who cautiously guards his money, is a complete cheapskate, and can’t really enjoy anything because it’s always about the money and it costs too much. Really? Is that me? So now I have to take some time and look at myself. How did I get this way and why is it such an ingrained part of my life? And why is it so repulsive to the “kids” if I act like money is important and I worry about it?
The Great Depression of 1929 and WWII (The big one!)
I’m a baby boomer and was born in 1949, post WWII and the beginning of one of the most prosperous times ever in the USA. What that also means is that my parents were children of the Depression. At the time the stock market crashed in 1929, my parents were just kids: Mom was 10 and Dad was 12. Having both come from immigrant parents, they grew up relatively poor. Not living in a cardboard box kind of poor, but money was always tight and they both came from families where everyone had to contribute if they were all going to eat and have clothes to wear.
My maternal grandfather had a skill. He was a tailor so he was able to build a business and make his living. My paternal grandfather had a business too, making sweaters, but that all came to an end when he was killed in a fire trying to save other employees. My father was the youngest of 5 brothers and at the age of 7 he was working to help support the family by selling apples on the street corner with one of his brothers. When the Depression came, things got even worse and my father had to quit school and work full time.
Everyone suffered a shortage of money, prices were inflated, and lots of people had no job. If it weren’t for government programs and government intervention, many people like my Mom and Dad might have been out in the street. It was a scary time and it made my parents’ generation totally paranoid about money and how you manage it, and that feeling never went away.
When the Depression finally ended, we were getting involved in WWII. Actually, the war was the spark that ended the Depression. It provided jobs and brought business back to life with the producing of materials to support the war effort. By that time Mom and Dad had met, married, and had their first child. Dad enlisted in the Navy and was away in the Pacific for 3 years while Mom was left here, supporting my sister by working for the government. Certainly it wasn’t a heck of lot of fun for anyone in those years.
The 1950’s and Beyond
So fast forward to 1949, and you guessed it, I arrive! My sister and I came into a place fortunate enough to benefit from the opportune world of the 1950’s. It was a world of prosperity, abundance, and technology…you know, TV, rock and roll, and not long afterwards the space race begins. In less than 20 years, man walks on the moon and all that stuff! For the most part everyone had a job and a house in the suburbs. Of course my parents had more money than they ever dreamed they would have and were consumers in a consumer-oriented world. They even bought a house in the suburbs in 1952 for $9,800. 30 years later, we celebrated the burning of the mortgage papers.
But, and here’s the big part of the story, they always operated with a fear. The fear that one day, having lived through all that bad stuff growing up, if they weren’t careful, disaster would happen again.
My parents were the ones who taught me all about being wise with money. Save it, buy what you need, and don’t waste it. Look for bargains, clip coupons, and think about what you really need not just what you really want. If you follow certain common sense rules, you will be just fine and one day you can pass that on to your children so they will be just fine, too. They were like a lot of people of their generation. They wanted to make sure that their kids had a better life and didn’t have to suffer through those difficult years like the 1930’s and 40’s.
That’s why for both my parents it was so important to leave something behind for their children when they passed on. Neither of them spent all of their retirement savings after they stopped working and if they were anything, it was frugal, not cheap. That was by design. It was like an insurance policy for their kids.
Contrast that with today when being retired is the “new 50”. The active retirement lifestyle not only means travel, creature comforts, and fine dining, but it also means you are more concerned about yourself and less concerned about teaching lessons of frugality to the next generation. At least that’s been my observation.
I learned from my parents so well that I tried to teach my kids about frugality and being wise about money in every phase. But, as I have learned, I am fighting a very hard battle. It may even be an impossible one at that.
The Development of My Money Skills
Both of my kids look at me and my generation as worriers and people who just can’t enjoy anything without being the “responsible” conservative force in the room. Ironic, isn’t it? We are the same people who gave you pot smoking, LSD, streaking, and public disobedience protesting everything from Vietnam to Cesar Chavez’s farm workers plight back in the 1960’s. The beneficiaries of prosperity, we had lots of time to protest, hang out at the beach, and listen to the greatest music ever (sorry Beyoncé fans!). We didn’t really think that we had to conserve any money, after all we were going to college and would all have great jobs and earn a ton of money, wouldn’t we? Conservatives? I don’t think so.
As I matured (as if you can consider me mature), I started to shift towards the lessons about money that my parents had taught me. The advantages of being frugal are real. If I wasn’t a practitioner, I wouldn’t be nearly as well off as I am today in my retirement and my health would be in greater jeopardy too.
But, what might I have lost along the way?
The 21st Century and My Children
But what might I have missed? I can see some of that when I look at my kids. First, they don’t spend the time worrying about money like I do whether it needs to be worried about or not. I am sure that some of the worry does actually suck the life out of enjoying things on occasion. They will tell you they take more risks because it allows them to enjoy more time rather than the time I spend reasoning and rationalizing every dollar and thus denying myself and not enjoying it like I could.
But am I really too cheap? I don’t think so. I ‘m careful, because I need to be. I also don’t have the need to spend for spending’s sake. Those days are behind me and I’m glad they are.
While my children haven’t mastered the money skills that I feel they do need, they are not suffering as much as I feared that they would. I think that they are someplace in the still forming stage about financial planning. It’s similar to the methods I used with my parents. I never talked too much about my plans because they couldn’t possibly understand what it’s like to be a 20 or 30-something in the world today. Yeah, right, but that’s the way it works. So I have to sit back and hope I am leading them in the right direction and they too will “get it” at some point. In the interim, I’ll keep clipping my coupons and reminding the two of them that like the scouting handbook says, “Be prepared”!
Are you cheap or frugal? What did you learn from your parents about money? Do your kids resent you trying to educate them about money? Are you getting through to them now or are they going to have to learn “the hard way”?