Can We Change Our Childhood Perspectives on Money?

There's no aging-out of a scarcity mentality

Changing Childhood Financial Habits

My husband David and I grew up about seven minutes apart, in reasonably similar neighborhoods. We went to the same schools, we have the same profoundly economically depressed hometown cooked into our bones. We even share a huge number of lifelong friends. That means that in many aspects of our life we have a similar approach to things, and an unstated understanding about our life outlook.

Except money. For us, that seven-minute drive might as well be an uncrossable chasm when it comes to money.

You get $100. Do you spend it or not?

David grew up with two professional working parents, and enough money to cover things without worrying much. Because of that, his fundamental belief about money is, “There will probably always be enough to go around.” It’s not an outlandish or unusual take on things. He doesn’t expect that there will always be a bathtub full of money, and he always wants to shop around for the best deal. Given where he grew up he’s very aware of the financial realities of the world. But when all’s said and done, if you hand him a $100 bill, he’ll probably go buy something nice, because he figures that it won’t be the last money he sees.

Just a few miles away, I grew up in a household that was always getting by on one not terribly huge salary. My parents were super financially responsible, but my mom would cry if the car needed to be repaired (and our twenty-year-old cars were always breaking down), and I was aware that our twice a year trip to McDonalds for a Happy Meal was a pretty big deal. As a result, my fundamental belief about money is, “There will never be enough. We are always one car repair away from disaster.” If you hand me a $100 bill, I will carefully put it in a drawer, and never spend it, just in case. (True story, we recently reached into the “hide-things-away” tin and found… a hundred dollar bill. I couldn’t remember where I’d gotten it from.)

I tend not to think of either of our financial outlooks as being better than the other. In fact, the more realistic outlook is probably somewhere in the middle. And we do a pretty good job of balancing each other out. I’d never spend the $100, and David would spend the $100 right away, and between the two of us we’ll often decide to spend $50 on dinner, and save the other $50. Perfect.

Can I match my financial Habits to my financial outlook? Ever?

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve hoped that my approach to finances would slowly change into something a little less… stressful. That I’d learn to match my economic outlook to my economic circumstances. That maybe someday, I’d be able to think about money like the (many many) people I know who grew up not thinking about money much at all. But I’ve recently realized that this might never be the case.

Over ten years with David, and quite a few years living in not-actually-economically-dire circumstances, I have finally learned to make small splurges. Like when we bought the West Elm nightstands instead of the half priced knock-offs that I kind of hated. But when it comes to the big things? I often feel like I’ve made no progress at all.

Just how much my childhood perspective on money shapes how I look at every dollar became clear a few years ago when David decided to once and for all get to the bottom of it. I don’t remember the actual dollar amounts he threw at me, but the conversation went something like this.

D: So if we had $25,000 in the bank, would you feel secure?
M: No.
D: If we had $100,000 in the bank, would you feel secure?
M: No.
D: If we had $500,000 in the bank would you feel secure?
M: No.
D: If we had ten million dollars in the bank, would you feel secure?
M: (exasperated) Look, you hear all the time about how people make millions and then make stupid mistakes and don’t know how to manage their money and end up with no money at all.
D: Well. So, is there a number…

We sort of laughed about it at the time, “Ha, I’m so anxious about money that there is no way to change it, how amusing!” But in the years since, I’ve realized that outlook shapes everything. It means I make radically different financial decisions than friends in similar circumstances that grew up differently. I can’t casually buy a house without a zillion dollars down, because what about the financial apocalypse? (We just lived through that one, and writing research about it from the front line of an investment bank didn’t really help my anxiety there.) I have made sure I don’t have regular access to our saving accounts, because once the amount saved passed my “wildest dreams” amount (hint: that amount wasn’t actually that high), I stopped being able to emotionally cope with it.

We spent a few years sort of running in place, financially, before I realized that the second I’d crossed the invisible savings line of “the most I could imagine my parents possibly having in the bank during my childhood,” I’d started self-sabotaging in small ways. As someone who’d spent her life combating the anxiety of not having money, this seemed illogical. How could having some money make you anxious? But when I looked at my childhood friends’ financial habits, I realized this wasn’t an unusual pattern. It seems that for many of us, having more resources than our parents had is scary. That figuring out how to save money if your parents had never had complex investments, or a retirement account, or a savings account, or sometimes even a checking account, was overwhelming. That we know how to manage what we’ve lived, not what we haven’t.

How do I keep the gratitude, and leave the anxiety?

In many ways, I’m super grateful to my financial background. It was easy for me to take risks and make sacrifices in my twenties, to figure out what kind of (creative) career I wanted to build for myself. I was used to being unable to buy a new pair of jeans, or worrying about paying the rent, or being in not super safe neighborhoods, and all that made it easier for me to go out on a limb, even without much of a financial safety net. It’s nice to live in a world where you’re pretty much always outperforming the financial expectations you set for yourself, or where spending $250 on a nightstand is a crazy splurge that will make you feel like you bought a Ferrari every time you look at it.

But there are other ways where I know that my financial anxiety is causing me to make tiny self-sabotaging choices, over and over. While it’s easy for me to take emotional and creative risks with my career, I’m not very good at taking financial risks—while I notice that people raised with plenty of money take them (and have the chance for the payoff) nearly constantly. There are ways I’d love to change, but can’t seem to get myself there.

Which brings me to you. How did your upbringings shape your fundamental outlook on money? How has that been good for you? How has it been painful? And has anyone found a way to slowly (slowly) change the way they think about money?

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  • I can relate to this so much. And it’s sometimes a struggle in my marriage since I come from the projects and my husband comes from a well-to-do (but not filthy rich) family who could always pay for everything they needed: private school, vacations, university etc.

    I’m the avid saver, he’s the non-frivolous spender.

    We struggled a lot growing up; my parents tried to hide it, but didn’t do a very good job. I’ve been stressed about money as a child and an adult and it’s the worst feeling. I was told that one time when I was about 6 I was innocently playing with my dolls, and one of my dolls said to the other “but we have no fucking money”.

    I’ve always saved as much money as I possibly could; maybe because my mom had to hide money from my dad (terrible with money) so that we could have money for the end of the month. If I get a raise or come into money, at least half of that dividend is going into savings. After working full-time for 2 years we finally have a nice little nest-egg.

    We’re about to move across the world (to Hong Kong) for my job, and he’s quitting his. My company is offering a good compensation package and we have lots of savings, yet I am still shitting myself over this like it’s a huge risk and he’s all calm like nothing bad could happen to us.

    • RoseTyler

      I love your phrase, “non-frivolous spender”. I always struggle to find words for me, and that is it. I like to spend, but to use as little money as possible in acquiring whatever it is I want.

      • Alice

        Yes, that’s perfect and describes me, as well!

    • good luck with hong kong! as a hong-kong-canadian i’m pretty excited to hear other canadians going to hong kong!

      • No way! I had the impression that there were zero North Americans, and that the expats were all European or Australian! I identify well with the French (my husband is French) so I can see us being part of that network, but it would also be nice to have some Canadian/American friends and not be the only person with a dirt-washed accent.

  • Not a parent. MockMyInsights.

    I could, (and probably should) write an entire blog post on this subject because I have gone ’round and ’round with my husband (and housemate) about it.
    The short version is: In my household we were always right on the edge of not making it (like buy groceries on a credit card, and I recently found out that reason we never went to the doctor was that for years we had no insurance) but in me it lead to an attitude of “We’ll always find a way to make it, so freaking out about not having x dollars in savings is not that big of a deal, why are you worried” attitude. Because–we always made it. God always provided a way, so worrying about it does nothing but cause you undue anxiety.
    Which my “need x amount in savings and a 3 month safety net in case the worst happens” husband has a hard time understanding.
    But I’m really interested to follow this comment thread, because I’ve been debating this in my household for months.

  • emmers

    Wow, great thread. And so timely! Literally last night I was confessing to my husband that I hadn’t been buying my prescription eyedrops because .. well.. we may be closing on a house soon, and I wanted to make sure we had more of a financial cushion. He exasperatedly told me to buy them today, and that if we can afford to buy porkchops, we can afford my eyedrops, and that he’ll hopefully change my scrimping.

    I guess I’ve always had a cautious mentality, where he tends to be more spend-y. It’s so hard to change these long habits. It does help (some) when we talk about it, and he encourages me to buy the damn eyedrops. But I still feel guilty if I consider buying some makeup or something, whereas he won’t bat an eye for ordering some hair gel that he can’t find in stores that his hair person recommends.

    Maybe this will come with time? We do balance each other out. And he’s also a big fan of taking some financial risks, because he notes, as Meg does, that wealthy people often get that way through calculated risks. But it’s hard to let go.

    • Eh

      I work in health research so I am always on my husband to do things for his health. Before we met he hadn’t gone to the dentist in a very long time and he hadn’t been to the optometrist in an even longer time. During most of his 20s he didn’t have health benefits so he prioritized other things over the dentist and optometrist. Luckily we have good health benefits through my work so it doesn’t cost us (much) money (he had 14 cavities and needed new glasses when he was added to my benefits just before our wedding). We never have to prioritize health over other things which has been a huge stress relief during my pregnancy (paying $200 a month for diclectin adds up).

    • Lisa

      This sounds just how we are, too. We both come from middle-class to upper-middle-class families, but our spending styles couldn’t be more different. All of our parents came from very poor backgrounds, and I internalized a little bit of my parents’ efforts to scrimp and save wherever they can. I rarely ever spent my own money on anything growing up; it all went into the savings account my parents set up for me when I was ten days old.

      My husband on the other hand assumes there will always be money available and prefers to enjoy his money by spending it almost as soon as he has it. His grandmother gives him a sizable check for Christmas every year, and while I would prefer that money go into a savings account and not be touched until we’re ready to buy a house or something, he uses it to splurge on something big he needs (a new laptop or a new bow for his cello) and then spends the rest as “fun money” for the rest of the year.

      I don’t know where the middle is for us or how we’ll get there. Right now we’re working towards it (for example, we used grandma’s Christmas money to pay off one of his student loans this year, satisfying my need for practicality and his desire to spend), but I wonder if it will ever get easier.

      • Not Sarah

        My parents both came from poor families. I’ve totally internalized my mom’s efforts to scrimp and save, but not my dad’s “omg there’s money I should spend it in case no more comes along!” mentality. I also have a tendency to assume the money won’t come again, so I shouldn’t spend it. I’ve watched my mom always try to buy the cheapest item possible and many of them and have instead tried to buy fewer, nicer items and I think that’s a better balance.

    • MC

      Ha, yes, my husband always has to convince me that individual small purchases will not break our budget – I actually had a minor meltdown the other day because we bought a $30 litter box for our cat that ended up not being better than our other litter box, and I felt SO guilty at the idea of just getting rid of it because it felt like just throwing away $30. I still feel like that was a failed financial decision on my part, but he’s like, “I’ve bought stuff before that I don’t use and we still have money, it’s okay that it happens occasionally!”

  • Eenie

    Although my family always had enough to go around growing up, we never had a lot extra. I always saved all of my allowance and paychecks. I always wanted just a little bit more in the bank. Buying a car was such a huge deal because that safe amount of money went way down. Now that I’m out of school and have a full time job, it’s been hard to spend money on things I need and want. Until I learned to budget. Since I know what I spend I know exactly how much money to have in emergency savings. I can budget for fun stuff knowing that I’m putting enough money towards retirement and my next car. Budgeting has taken all of the stress out of money for me. Spending lots of money on something no longer stresses me out. Because I have a plan. I’m not sure if that had to do with how I grew up or how my brain works, but I’m so glad I figured it out after 25 years of stress.

    • RoseTyler

      I feel you on the stress of buying a car and seeing your safe amount go down. I recently paid of my school loans and it took close to every last cent I owned (aside from my Roth). It was super stressful for a couple months until I could rehab my basic savings account.

      • Eenie

        HAHA, omg student loans. Good for you for paying them off. That’s a huge accomplishment. If I put every cent I currently have in all of my savings I would still owe on my loans. I think in about a year I’ll no longer have a negative net worth, and in about five I’ll finally have them paid down. Instead of putting a lump sum towards them, I’m refinancing so the interest rate is reasonable and then aggressively paying them down even though that doesn’t make sense. Because I have the money now, and if I don’t in two years I’ll be paid ahead and be able to make smaller payments.

        • RoseTyler

          Yep, That’s what I did for years. Put every extra cent towards them. I always kept a buffer in my savings in case of car repairs or whatever. When I did my 2014 taxes I realized I could finish them off and did so. I knew that w/o the monthly payment I’d have the ability to fix my savings relatively quickly, but it was still stressful.

          • Chaiaiai

            Congrats! That’s huge. I will be done with my loans in August, after 11 years of paying. God. FREEDOM!!!!!!!

      • Kayjayoh

        I’m currently in the middle of a debate (mostly with myself) if it would make any sense to use some of our down payment money to pay off my student loans (which are now just below $5,000) to get that gone and give me more money each month to pay house things, or whether it is better to just keep paying bit by bit and leave the down payment as-is. (Comparing the interest rates of the two, pondering the tax benefits, trying to decide if the decrease in down payment would increase our monthly mortgage payment by the same amount as my current monthly payment…)

        • You might find this episode of the Radical Personal Finance Podcast (really great podcast overall) useful: it’s about paying off a mortgage vs. investing, but basically the same concept and they talk through a bunch of things to consider outside of the standard interest rate comparison.

          • Kayjayoh

            Our mortgage guy (prefacing it with the fact that he isn’t a financial planner) told me that it wouldn’t be super helpful, and that I might as well leave everything as-is.

          • Not Sarah

            It could make YOU feel better though to eliminate the payments and only have the one big mortgage payment instead of a mortgage payment + student loan payment. A lot of personal finance is personal :)

    • Not Sarah

      Yes! Budgeting has made things so much less stressful for me. My first budget factored in a lot of fun money that I forced myself to spend. That seemed to help my brain a lot and has helped my spending be a lot healthier.

      • Eenie

        :) I have a “spending money” category that I throw $50-$100 depending on the month. And then I spend it GUILT FREE. And when I do a good job with getting deals on grocery for the month? Sometimes I move the extra money into that category too. I’m such a rebel.

  • Kristen

    I am a little bit the same. The larger the amount of money, the more reluctant I am to spend it. Smaller amounts don’t phase me. The biggest lesson around money in my life comes from my mom. She worked and had a nest egg, but then she lost it. Why? Because she couldn’t be bothered to understand how her money was invested. I have come to realize that she has never been comfortable with money. I am positive she correlates money with greed and selfishness, therefore, it wasn’t worth her time to manage.
    I feel that money is a tool that can be used for good. My anxiety is around how location impacts what I get to save. Meg, you’ve grown up in California and you’re used to that. The Bay Area recently surpassed New York in being the most expensive housing market in the entire country. Living in a state with a low cost of living, I would break into hives in a place like that. I would constantly be thinking that my money was being poured into a hole that I’d be helpless to stop. I have this mindset because I’ve never lived in an expensive market, so it seem foreign to me.
    The way I curb my anxiety is to live in a low-cost state and not invest in stocks or anything I can’t control. I like putting my money to work by owning things that make a steady stream of income – rental houses or vacation rentals. I really think the perception of more control is the ticket to anxiety.

    • Meg Keene

      I actually said, “Mmmhumm Mmmmhummm” as I read that comment. I’ve watched people in my life make scary financial decisions because they are scared of money, and scared to learn how to invest, and have complicated emotional feelings about money itself. I HATE THAT. I may not be good at spending money, but I’ve put a lot of work into feeling good about it as a concept, and I think that’s allowed me to become a good steward of it, and not scared of taking care of it. (Which is 150% key to running a business, because I steward that money for all my employees and the company and etc. I have to be good at setting it away, smartly allocating it, and viewing it as a tool for good.)

      As for expensive markets, well. I grew up in a place that was impoverished, and I just wanted out. So I went straight to a city and never came back. That’s what’s worth it to me. But notice I haven’t bought a house… I live in a way under market rental instead ;)

  • Mandi P

    Thank you for this! “spending $250 on a nightstand is a crazy splurge that will make you feel like you bought a Ferrari every time you look at it.” – yes! My Ferrari splurge was buying beautiful matching Pier One lamps for our (thrifted) bedside tables! :)
    I don’t want to sound like an advertiser, because I’m not… but YNAB has helped my fiance and I discuss money in sane, respectful ways. We’ve only been using YNAB for about 4 months, and we both already love it… even though we view money very differently from each other. (Thanks, APW readers, for sharing the goodness of YNAB. I first heard about on some other $$$ thread.)

    • RoseTyler

      Yep, I love YNAB. Spending last month’s income to relieve cash flow drama is the best advice ever.

    • I would marry YNAB if I wasn’t already planning on marrying my fiancé. It has absolutely changed our lives in an amazing way. I cried (actual tears) when I realized that the feeling I was feeling when looking at our budget was *relief* rather than anxiety.

      I used to be a splurger — now I carefully consider my purchases, and I feel really good about spending money when I decide it’s worth it. No more guilt, no more bills that surprise me even though I knew they were coming.

    • Eenie

      Yet another YNAB convert due to APW. Before budgeting I didn’t know saving and spending money could be fun and stress free. I was talking to the boyfriend about wanting to travel internationally this year and he said he couldn’t afford it. Well, guess what? I have enough saved to cover both of us! And how do I know this? Budgeting. It’s an amazing feeling.

    • Vanessa

      Ok. Signing up today.

      • Eenie

        Do it! Free trial. Don’t worry about being overwhelmed at first. It takes about 2-3 months to feel comfortable working with the software. They offer free classes too where you might win a license for free!

    • YNAB has been a total game changer for me. I’ve been using it for about the same amount of time and it’s been amazing for me and has basically changed my entire outlook on money from “ACK I HATE MONEY ~STRESS~ *SOB*” to “OMG let’s PLEASE talk about all the money stuff LOOK AT MY BUDGET IT’S SO FANCY AND EFFICIENT”.

      I just feel so organized and my stress regarding money is basically gone.

      • Eenie

        I maybe look forward to my Friday evening budgeting session each week… Let’s me know how much money I’ll have for the weekend! I haven’t yet combined finances with my SO, but he’s very weary because of how excited I am about budgeting. He’s going to have to admit one of these days that he is not currently managing his money at all (he just has more than he wants to spend/save at the moment) and he either needs to get on board or hand it off to me to manage.

        • Not Sarah

          I look forward to mine too :) My SO and I haven’t combined finances and he’s become less weary by seeing more of how my systems actually work and the fact that we actually spend much more similar amounts than he thought we did. I even created a mint account a while ago since that’s what he uses so we can compare spending easier. It’s SO fun having someone to talk to about money even though he thinks about it much less.

          It sounds like you might need to find a system that is between either of yours or show him more of your systems. I’m pretty excitable about money too and after years of talking about it, some of that excitement is starting to rub off on my SO, which is so fun for me to see! Now he likes looking at his graphs too, just at a more healthy frequency than I tend to…

          • Eenie

            We’re currently living in different states so it’s not an issue right now. All of our finances are separate (mostly) and it would be more work to combine them. I have two years to ease him into my budgeting strategy. Once the time gets closer/we start planning for the wedding, it should be fairly easy to convince him. I love watching my net growth (negative thanks to student loans) creep towards zero. And I know when my max/min periods are in my pay cycle. He knows how much is in his account and he always makes more than he spends. Other than that he doesn’t budget. So he’ll be hopping onboard the YNAB train in a couple years. Just a matter of whether he gets excited about it or just let’s me handle most of the weekly stuff and have a monthly meeting. I’m the “planner” in the relationship, so it makes sense that I’d plan our finances as well.

          • Not Sarah

            You’re saying a lot of ways that he will have to change to adapt to your systems. But have you tried to look at the validity of his systems? If you try to force him into your systems, that isn’t necessarily going to work. My mom tried to force my dad into budgeting and that still isn’t happening – after 25+ years of marriage, he still goes out and spends money when he feels like (within their means) and she carefully budgets. But that isn’t much fun for either of them.

            I budget a bit lazily and most definitely track spending. My boyfriend doesn’t budget at all, but tracks spending with mint and spends less than he earns. Neither of our systems are necessarily better than the other’s, but they both work for each of us separately. If we were to some day combine cash flow accounts, we would absolutely combine systems in some way, but there’s no way it would have to be mine.

          • Eenie

            Oh yeah I wouldn’t be forcing him into my system. But our relationship normally goes, “Here’s how I do this thing, how do you do it?” And then one of us ends up not having put much thought into how we do said thing, and that person usually gives the other person’s way a shot. If it doesn’t work then we do something else. In this case he’ll be giving my way a shot. And I don’t think he’ll have to do much anything differently except actually sit down once a month and decide in generalities where he would like our money being spent (which, honestly, even with his “system” we would need to do at some point). I plan on using our wedding as a trial run of seeing how this is done so when we combine it won’t be that crazy new.

  • Rose

    My parents were both self employed from the time I was three until I was in high school, and it left me with a really strong desire to have stability in a job. We were pretty much always financially ok; always had health insurance, went to the dentist regularly even though we didn’t have dental insurance, rarely bought new cars but could afford the repairs, etc. But I really, really never want to own a small business, or even to have to look for new jobs at all frequently. If I can get a tenure-track position right out of a post-doc, that sounds like heaven to me.

    One of my parents’s old friends, who has been self-employed but teetering on the edge of solvency as long as I can remember, was visiting them last time I was there, and was talking about how his daughter wants to go right into teaching, and “What’s up with all of our kids, they just want careers, we weren’t like that when we were their ages.” Which is true; when my parents were in their early twenties, my mom worked a seasonal job, and my dad worked part-time year round. What I didn’t point out was that yes, we’ve watched our parents not go right into careers, and watched them worry about money for our entire lives. A life-long career and a steady source of income sounds like heaven to us.

    • Not Sarah

      My parents were similar and actually pushed my sister and I into stable careers. They were quite unhappy when she ended up in a field where she’s self-employed. I changed jobs recently and they thought I should stay where I was since all jobs suck, so I should just keep the one I already know I hate. (???)

      • AP

        Oh lord, I am trying to leave a job I hate right now, and my family Just. Doesn’t. Understand. I even have a second, more stable job! But quitting a job, even one that is killing me emotionally, just doesn’t make sense to my mom. (Mostly because this job is in the field I went to school for, while my other, better job is in an unrelated field that my family doesn’t understand. But a lot of it is tied up in that whole scarcity mentality, like “what if the other job went away unexpectedly, then you’d have no jobs!?” Yeah, but that’s true of any job and I’ll cross that bridge if it comes.)

    • Meg Keene

      It’s funny how everyone gets affected differently. My parents did have teaching jobs (or a job in industry for my mathematician father for awhile), and I saw that NOTHING is actually that stable, as we went through difficult periods of unemployment. I also saw that amazing advanced degrees are wonderful if they make you happy, but don’t guarantee any particular financial return.

      As a result, I decided I’d rather depend on myself than an employer (particularly once I realized how employers can lay you off without a second of warning). And low and behold, I have the most stable financially secure job in both of our families (and I’m the only one with no advanced degree). Now, entrepreneurship is what I’m good at, I don’t think it works that way for everyone, this is not a sales pitch! It’s just interesting that’s what made sense to me, in terms of security.

      Years ago a long time entrepreneur told me that you can take the “safe” route and be in a position where other people can lay you off at a moment’s notice, or you can take the other route and steer your own ship. Turns out I like steering my own ship.

      • NTB

        I agree. My husband is a lawyer and worked for a large, prominent firm. He did this for a year, and out of nowhere, he was laid off. He started his own practice and is self-employed. I work for city government, so we have benefits and some retirement benefits. My income is a fraction of what he made at a law firm, but the trade-off is that he takes cases he cares about, works his own schedule, and keeps the profits of his hard work. Before, he worked REALLY long hours and the fruits of his labor went to supporting the overhead of the larger firm (lots of holiday parties, expensive offices, and not to mention, the hell that is BILLABLE HOURS.)

        My husband took that firm job because he received advice from friends that it was “more secure” than being self-employed. The ups and downs in our income is kind of hard sometimes, but I try to make up for that, since I’m salaried. When he was laid off, it made me realize that nothing in life is “secure.”

        • La’Marisa-Andrea

          I think the idea that being an employee is more secure is really a state of mind. Having worked somewhere I didn’t get paid on time, sometimes not at all, been laid off etc and now being self-employed, I’ve learned that stability in the workforce is mostly an illusion. And especially when today people are truly viewed as interchangeable. I actually feel better being self employed bc I can see if business is doing well, poorly etc and am a tiny bit more in control of the adjustments I can make.

  • anon

    the thing that has changed my childhood attitudes about money the most is my significant other. If you grow up learning to be financially responsible and see a lot of people around you who aren’t (and maybe date a lot of people who aren’t) it’s easy to develop the false believe that there are two ways to think about money: the way I do it, and the way the rest of those irresponsible idiots do it. My partner is very responsible with money, but his ideas about investing, saving, and spending are radically different from mine. As we’ve combined more and more of our finances it’s been difficult for me to not just dismiss his opinions out of hand as being wrong because they aren’t mine. Just because he isn’t as insanely risk adverse as I am doesn’t mean he wants to throw all of our money away. Hard lessons, but I’m slowly learning to adjust.

    • emmers

      “Just because he isn’t as insanely risk adverse as I am doesn’t mean he wants to throw all of our money away.” Exactly!

      I’m learning this with time. And it’s kind of nice to let go, and then see that.. oh.. we’ll be better off because of this in the long run.

      • anon

        The “better off in the long run” thing can be so hard to see. My attitude toward debt is no, never, not unless we absolutely have to. In my dream world we buy a house in cash up front. His is, “well, if the interest rates are low enough that we could invest at a higher rate of return it would be foolish not to take the loan.” And I know, in theory, he’s right, but what about the looming financial apocalypse!?! Is it more rational to assume that tragedy might strike at any moment or to assume that the status quo will, more or less, continue?

        • emmers

          For me, it’s balance. When we ran the numbers, it will actually be slightly cheaper for us to buy a house than rent. With the interest rates right now, it also means we can pay it off quicker (which saves money because we’d avoid paying more interest).

          Our goal is to have a good “oh shit” fund in savings that will cover ideally 6 months to a year of our expenses, along with retirement money that we could pull out if something crazy happened like job loss or crippling medical bills. The long term plan is to pay off the house as quickly as we can, which also adds an additional layer of security (we’d have a place to live, even with job loss). Financial apocalypse is scary, but we’re trying to plan the best we can.

          But if something really crazy happens, then we’ll just deal with it. It’s trying to balance security and being able to cope with reasonable things (i.e. someone loses a job for 6 months) versus planning for all out catastrophe (i.e. someone becomes permanently disabled), which could happen but isn’t as likely. And it’s a tough balance!

        • newyork22

          We have struggled with the rent v. own question. There have been a good number of articles arguing the counter point and emphasizing that owning is just about the worst investment one can make. I particularly enjoyed Patrick Killela’s arguments. Links:

          FYI: he is a misogynist which is disappointing, but his arguments have gone a long way towards making us feel comfortable in our decision to continue renting. Everyone in our circles expects us to buy (which side note: Why is everyone rushing to be indebted?! This drives me insane), and while we are on our way to hitting a 30% down payment, we have realized we will never feel as secure buying property (which is an illiquid asset and has poor returns after adjusting for inflation) as we do investing in the market.

    • YetAnotherMegan

      “Just because he isn’t as insanely risk adverse as I am doesn’t mean he wants to throw all of our money away.”

      I so wish I had read this about 6 months ago aka right before my husband and I had the crying on the kitchen floor fight about how we were going to plan for the future. My mom was big on save, save, save – savings bonds, CDs, and a good ol’ savings account. His dad was a banker and big on stocks and other investments. Since the only reference point for investments I had was seeing the market crash while I was in college and knowing that thousands of people lost everything, I couldn’t wrap my head around why we would want to do that. He couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t open to the gains. Looking back, it makes sense that we were on such opposite sides. He watched his parents went from having very little to being stable enough that his mom could be a stay at home mom while his siblings were young and his dad retired in his early 50s. Of course he has faith in our financial system. On the other hand, my mom was very close to losing her job when the recession hit and the state had to keep cutting the budget (her department lost big and was almost privatized a few times), but she always spent less than she made and got the house paid off early. My husband and I still aren’t fully on the same page, but realizing that we were both coming from a rational place helped a lot. As did a financial adviser that could find a nice mid-risk option that has enough potential for him but safe enough for me.

    • yeah, i struggle with this. i know “my way” (saving) has worked extremely well for me in the past 10 years, and for my parents in their whole lives. when you’re surrounded by people who are less good with money, it’s hard not to see this as the only right way.

  • Squirreled

    The 100 dollars? My grandparents used to give us 100 dollars for Christmas and our birthdays. I could not spend mine. We were a family of five, dad had a new business, mom stayed at home. We didn’t have a McDonalds anywhere near by, but those rare times we did go out we weren’t allowed to have soda because it was too expensive–waters for everyone. I was probably 8 or so and had maybe 3 of those wonderful 100 dollar bills squirreled away. One night at bed time my mother asked me if she could borrow my money. I had her sign an IOU slip–it was a new concept that I had recently been introduce to by my brothers. Then I thought it was all in good fun, now I burn with embarrassment at the memory.

    • AP

      My mom used to borrow cash from me too! I squirreled away birthday and babysitting money in a Tootsie Roll can on my closet shelf. I don’t think you should be embarrassed by the IOU…I incessantly bugged my mom about paying me back, maybe a written contract would have helped:)

      • Kayjayoh

        I still *have* my Toostie Roll can bank. :)

        • AP

          That is seriously awesome. Love it!

      • crg

        Oh man, my mom kept borrowing money from me in college to help pay for my siblings tuition O_o that was absolutely terrifying and led to some not so friendly conversations about family obligation vs. personal independence (aka when am I getting my money back vs. this is what families do). She had access to my checking account because I got it as a minor, so she would borrow from it to pay bills while waiting for my dad’s pay check to come through. She would tell me retroactively that she had done it often.

    • Meg Keene

      HA! Really? I kind of love that story. If my kid made me sign an IOU slip to borrow his money, I’d be pretty sure I did something right. I’d give him a tiny standing ovation.

      Watch your back kid, have some hustle. Then I know you’ll do ok in this world.

  • AP

    This essay could be describing my fiancé and me. Although fiance is one of four siblings, his dad was a pharmacist and his mom was able to stay home with them while managing a few side jobs (the lady has serious hustle.) His mom says that money was tight while the kids were small, but I think the key difference is that somehow his parents managed to keep that fact from the kids. Contrast with my family, whose finances seemed to be constantly hanging by a thread. (Mom crying every time the car broke down? Gahhhh, that bit brought back memories.) Even when we were doing better financially the family attitude was that there was never enough.

    My fiancé grew into an industrious man who took risks throughout young adulthood, making a few thousand dollars doing odd jobs and then taking off backpacking for six months. When the money ran out, he came home and started over. His attitude is that there will always be more money, or a way to get money, or parents to borrow money from. He makes and spends money very easily. Eventually he ended up in a well-paying, fairly stable career and has a house (and more than a few toys) to show for it, with the idea that he can always sell something if he needs cash fast.

    But I have a difficult relationship with money, namely WAY too much invested in it emotionally. Even when there’s enough, there’s not enough. And that means I don’t always make rational decisions about it either. For example, I have enough money in my savings account to completely pay off one of my student loans. But I’m terrified that as soon as I make that payment something dire will happen and I’ll need the cash. So I continue to pay the monthly interest on my loan, while my money sits in savings doing nothing…I KNOW it’s illogical, but it makes me feel better knowing it’s there if I need it.

    I know I need to do some work on this. Brene Brown’s concept of “foreboding joy” comes to mind…not being able to experience true gratitude and joy for the things you have because of fear of one day losing it. But I will say this: fiancé and I balance each other out very nicely, for the most part, and as a team we make some pretty good financial decisions. It’s just my own baggage that I need to learn to let go of.

    • RoseTyler

      This was me! But just think how much quicker you can rebuild that savings once you allocate ALL of your previous monthly loan payment to doing so. Right now only part of that payment is working for you.

      Also, even paying off half or whatever chunk you’re comfortable with can make a difference in how much interest you’re having to shell out each month!

      • emmers

        Yep, this is how my husband has convinced me that it’s not as scary as I think it is to use windfalls/savings to pay off loans– how once the payment goes away, then you can reallocate the payment money to savings.

      • AP

        I know!! That’s the ridiculous thing;) Right now we’re planning our wedding, and we’re using my savings to pay deposits (which we had planned for.) But I’m watching the dollars go down and thinking about my student loan and it all just makes me anxious.

        • RoseTyler

          I hear you, when I took the plunge, I had already bought my house, so no down payments to worry about coming up and there are zero future-partners on my horizon so no risk of wedding or kid expenses popping up. If any of those things were not the case, the balancing act would have played out very differently.

    • Meg Keene

      UH HUH. To all of it. Including, actually using cash to pay for anything, including loans. I just get frozen and cannot make a decision. That’s really what I mean when I say I think I have to work things through to really be functional. I can save money just fine. I basically CANNOT DO ANYTHING WITH IT, up to acknowledging it.

      (Also, side note, student loan debt is particularly confusing. Paying off credit card debt with high interest is a no brainer. Government student loans with really low interest and a bunch of terms to protect you… less obvious!)

      • AP

        Absolutely, on the student loan debt. In my early twenties I paid off a car note in half the time and had no problem putting extra cash toward it. And I’ve never even used a credit card. But the student loan just seems different, somehow.

        I’m just grateful for the progress I *have* made, like letting myself buy real running shoes when I damaged my achilles tendon running in 8 year old bargain shoes, and new glasses, and decent work clothes. A few years ago, I would have just struggled along without all of it, convinced I didn’t really need it. Even though I had the damn money in savings. I attribute that to my fiancé’s influence.

    • MC

      We just (like, two weeks ago) paid of my student loans, like 3 years earlier than I would’ve ambitiously hoped I’d be able to, because my husband was really motivated to pay them all off. It’s pretty great! Because now we’re like, “Oh, we were only saving $100 a month and paying off $500 of student loans a month – now we can save $600 a month!!!” But if it were up to be I’d have done minimum payments because I am also stressed out about money and not having any savings. I still would never have spent our whole savings paying off my low-interest loans but once we had a small enough cushion it was pretty nice to just have it GONE.

      • Lisa


        My husband’s loans are currently deferred since he’s pursuing another degree, and I’m trying to convince him to use this time to work payments into our monthly budget so that they can be GONE when he graduates. I did convince him to use some of his grandmother’s generous Christmas money to pay off the Sallie Mae loan (the rest are low interest government loans), and seeing that disappear was one of the happiest moments of our Christmas vacation!

        • Not Sarah

          You could make a payment to yourselves, in a savings account, that would pay have the funds ready to pay them off when he graduates, assuming that they’re not currently accruing interest. That way, you have some savings buffer in the meantime and can pay them off before they accrue interest.

          • Lisa

            Yeah, they aren’t accruing any interest while they’re deferred, which is why I just want to pay everything soon/now. He wants to do your suggestion so that we have the money if it’s needed but are saving towards the loans. We actually have a ton of savings buffer right now, thanks to my hoarding inclinations (I’ve never really spent any of my savings) and some very generous wedding gifts from our families. We could in theory pay off all of them tomorrow and would still have 6 months of living expenses in the bank.

            My solution is that we should set up an automatic payment each month so we’re paying $X towards them every month and then at the end of his degree in two years we could take some money out of savings to pay whatever is left. $X could be as low as 100 for all I care, but I’d like to feel we’re making headway right now.

          • Not Sarah

            Sounds like there are multiple reasonable options and it’s all emotions now on which one to pick!

  • Alice

    I have such a weird family history with money that I’m really struggling to figure out how to handle the little we have, now that we’ve combined finances. I grew up in the 90s boom with a stay-at-home mom and a dad in the magazine industry. We had a custom house on lots of land, money for trips to Europe, riding lessons, and a BMW. My dad had the type of Manhattan corner-office editorial jobs that you see in chick flicks (except in real life it’s grey-haired guys), and while my parents were responsible and saved/invested, money was never much of a concern.

    Right around when I entered high school, the bottom fell out of the magazine business in a major way, my dad lost his job and couldn’t find one with even close to the paycheck, and things got pretty rocky for my family financially. We were probably saved by my parent’s retirement planning and savings, as well as the aggressive mortgage that they paid off in 15 years, but they haven’t felt financially secure ever since. My mom grew up poor, and is happy to sell the house and downsize, which would give them plenty of security, but my dad really struggles with feeling like he is failing by not providing the way he used to (my mom started teaching at a college after getting her Master’s, and is now the main income, while my dad mostly does occasional consulting work).

    Now I’m starting my married life as a vet student accruing loads of debt, and money is a bit of a thorn in my side. I understand the value of saving, but also feel like I should be able to spend and have nice things. I would never run up consumer debt, but instead feel grumpy and sad that I can’t afford a trip or new clothes, and guilty if I do spend money on non-essentials, even if it’s within our careful budget. Add to that that many of the people I know at school just take out the maximum student loans they’re permitted, which is quite a bit, and as a result go out to eat and take trips and shop all the time. Not a financial decision that I think is smart, or that I would make, but it’s tough to have to keep turning down invitations all the time for things I love to do.

    That said, I totally agree with what Meg said, about how there really is no number, and no amount of money at which I would feel like things were really secure. My hubby is a good saver, which helps, but I grew up in a culture of not talking about money, so having to discuss it makes me nervous and uncomfortable.

    • RoseTyler

      Discussing taking out the maximum student loans allowable and then sending it. Just Do Not Do It!

      We used to have a saying that you could either “live like a lawyer in law school and then like a law student once you graduated” or you can “Live like a student in law school and like a lawyer once you’re out”.

      You’ll have plenty of time to make and then spend money once you’re out of school!

      • Alice

        Yeah, I am constantly having this conversation with my classmates, when they don’t get why I can’t do xyz. I did the math going into school, and I’ll be saving myself over $50,000 in loans before interest, just by living more frugally now. That is a HUGE difference, even though I’ve got plenty of loans for tuition. Those will be enough work to pay off, thank you very much. I’m honestly not sure why the living allowance is as big as it is.

        • Amy March

          I think at least in part because some people need that living allowance. As someone who did expensive grad school without a partner to share household expenses with, without parental support, and without significant savings going in, I used nearly all of the living allowance on living. Frugally, yes, but also having invested so much in school I wanted to be able to make the most of it and make choices like living near campus someplace quiet etc.

          • Alice

            I definitely understand that. I’m actually going to school internationally, so obviously that comes with some unavoidable expenses, and we were running two households the first year I was here, which was rough. But I do think they (the school, or the government, or the loan companies) could do a better job educating people about when to take that extra money, and when it might end up being a bad decision.

          • Stephanie

            This exactly. I read articles about how one should take out the minimum loans you need to live, but when you don’t have a partner or parents who are able to contribute to living expenses, the minimum loans you need to live add up, even if you live with 4 roommates in a crappy apartment, drive a 15 year old car, and eat ramen or scrambled eggs for dinner on the regular!

    • “I grew up in a culture of not talking about money, so having to discuss it makes me nervous and uncomfortable.”

      I think my partner is this way. My parents are accountants, so money is something we always talk about… everyday and anywhere, whereas my partner shuts down when I bring up money.

      • Alice

        Yeah, my family just did not talk about money. These days my mom is more open about it, but my dad still doesn’t bring it up, or whispers if he has to. It was just considered rude. I try to be better about it, and will certainly talk to my hubby about finances, but those conversations just make me really uncomfortable. My best advice for dealing with it is to do it a little at a time, rather than in one big talk. I can get really overwhelmed after ten or twenty minutes, but am ok with solving one or two small problems/oranizational methods at a time.

  • My upbringing surrounding money was most intensely influenced by my mother’s upbringing – she was raised by a single mother with no support from her father. Her mother worked in the post office, and the post office was a huge step up in security from what my grandmother had experienced growing up (also a single mother from her father dying when she was young, and they were extremely poor). My grandmother was also somewhat unstable and emotionally incapable, so my mother grew up surrounded by fear, even though, while not middle class, they were ok and secure.

    In turn, although my father always made more than enough money and my mother worked part time as well, I always felt that we were about to run out of money. I always thought that each purchase would put us over the edge, or that my parents were constantly dipping into their retirement. I later realized and learned that this was not the case – there were certainly better and worse times for my parents in terms of money, but in actuality we were always very secure.

    As a result, even though I am relatively secure now, I constantly have to overcome irrational anxiety surrounding money, even when I have specifically and separately saved up for the thing I am spending money on. I also really had to work to reconcile the fear I felt for my family’s money situation growing up and realizing that it was almost entirely unfounded.

  • Alyssa M

    I know that I grew up over a vast range of economic situations, from being on government benefits to owning a home in the suburbs. Somehow through all of that the only thing I internalized was how to manage my own small allowance (my age in dollars, on my father’s payday). It prepared me for living paycheck to paycheck quite well… I can budget a thousand dollars a month with fun money and a little savings perfectly. But I’m COMPLETELY out of my depth now that my husband and I are well above the poverty line… like we just know we have enough… but how to budget, or manage it? Somehow I missed that lesson… I’m so incredibly stressed out by it.

    • Meg Keene

      I know. I know. It’s CRAZY when not being broke is stressful, but it’s a real thing. You know how to cope if every single penny has to be counted twice… but when it’s suddenly it’s not that way at…. all you can feel totally lost. I had to learn how to value things all over again. I wrote about figuring out our budget on that front here: maybe it’ll help!

      Sometimes I think about people like Oprah, who had to somehow figure out how to go from nothing to millions, and wonder how they made it while staying sane. Everyone who does that and DOESN’T manage to go bankrupt in 5 years seems like they must have really worked hard to keep their shit together, and deal with some crazy emotions.

    • YetAnotherMegan

      So much this. When I was waiting tables and getting help from my parents with bills, I knew where all of it was going, and if I made more than a certain amount in tips, I’d get (deep discounted) dinner from the diner I worked at once a week instead of coming home to hot dogs and ramen. But now that I don’t have to think too hard about the grocery budget (it’s not organic-whole grain-free range etc, but standard from a good supermarket) and we can get take out or go out to eat a couple times a month, the worry is what to do with the couple hundred dollars left at the end of the month. Is it really extra? Should this be extra towards our student loans or should we just save it? Are we forgetting something? We must be forgetting to pay something… It’s like this every month.

    • lmba

      Yes to this. I was also good at living paycheque-to-paycheque (regardless of how teeny-tiny that paycheque was… there was a year of life, not so long ago, when my weekly grocery budget was literally $20). My husband and I both grew up with meager-to-modest household incomes, though our responses to that have been somewhat different. He has always had confidence that he would “rise above” his childhood circumstances and become wealthy; I have always assumed that I would scrape by and find happiness outside of material wealth. Somehow, through a combination of risk-taking, desperation and luck, over the course of our marriage we have gone through:
      – being students/drastically under-employed and taking on debt rapidly
      – taking on even more debt to pursue an unexpected job opportunity that we hoped would pan out! (at this point we had literally maxed every credit source available to us and had almost no cash at all)
      – both finding “respectable” positions in professional fields, making way more than I ever imagined was POSSIBLE (let alone realistic), paying off all debts in full, and saving (to us) a shocking amount of money

      This process has taken place over the course of… 5 years? So we are CONSTANTLY playing catch-up. Like, we saved $100K before realizing that our chequing account was probably *not* the best place for that kind of cash. But neither of us had ever had investments before, and our parents didn’t really either (just some piddly RRSPs here and there), so we just didn’t know where to start. Fortunately, we are good at talking about money and have worked through a lot of our underlying assumptions/emotions/values, so we’ve been able to come to some reasonable decisions on how to move forward. But I feel like we are constantly playing catch-up and being thrust into new territory without having the chance to acclimatize. It can be pretty wild.

    • I’m about to graduate with my MBA (tomorrow!) and just got offered a job with a decent salary for the first time, like, ever. It’s not investment-banker good, but “I will have a living wage with money to spare” good. (Previously I worked in nonprofits and the arts.)

      Last night my fiance and I were discussing what we should do with that extra money that will be coming into our household. I still can’t believe… that it will be mine. Ours.

      Some of my classmates will be earning twice my salary because of the fields they’re choosing to enter. But I’m still… kind of in shock about what I’ll have access to now.

  • Not Sarah

    I grew up always knowing that there would be more money and yet my default has always been to SAVE EVERY PENNY POSSIBLE. Why? Who has the money controls the strings. When it was my parents, we only got money if we did things their way. But since I control my money now, I control the strings and oh god was I terrible to myself until I surpassed my “there’s no number”. It just took me a really long time and I still don’t believe how much of a nest egg I’ve saved up. I was plenty fine buying groceries, but refused to let myself eat out for the longest time and still often refuse to buy myself clothes I like because they’re too expensive. My boyfriend has been really helpful in balancing me out there a bit and I think I’ve in turn convinced him to save more of his money. He’s a bit uncomfortable with my parents giving us money for things, so I’ve been preparing him for that when I know it’s coming, which I hope helps.

    The only way I managed to change my anxiety about money was to accumulate more of it and more income and eventually, I had enough that my anxiety had mostly entirely gone away. I’m sure you’ll surpass your invisible number…some day.

  • Money is often where we disagree most, so it’s reassuring to hear that we’re not alone.

    My husband (yes, husband as of last weekend!) and I are similarly spender (him) and saver (me). I grew up during a recession in Canada, and I always squirrelled away whatever Christmas gift money I got (my parents “borrowed” from my stash when I was seven and they bought a house). I’m pretty confident in my saving skills and intend to learn to invest when we have spare cash, and KNOW that I can get by on very little. Where I’m uncomfortable is with risk and spontaneity. I need a budget. I get incredibly upset if we decide to eat out on a whim, if we haven’t budgetted for it. If we ever had a lot of money, I would probably feel lost, because I take pride in my frugal habits and I can’t wrap my head around a lifestyle where it’s okay to splurge on those movie tickets, that dinner, those nice bedsheets. On the other hand, husband is looking forward to finally having a job where we can afford all those niceties.

    Meg, did you and David operate on “save it” mode all the years David was in law school, etc.? Was there ever a “David will go with Meg’s way of doing thins,” followed by a “now we have money Meg will learn to splurge like David does?” Or was it always a negotiation?

    • Meg Keene

      Like I let him touch my money till we got hitched ;) That’s actually the real truth of the matter. I am super protective of my resources, and he didn’t have access to my money till 7 days before we got married. At which point he’d spent piles of his and I’d saved piles of mine! Then I helped support him through his last year of law school and a year of unemployment.

      Once we merged finances, it’s always been a balance, I’d say. I am the one who forces us to save, but David actually handles the investments (making sure we’re both in agreement, of course) because he’s the one who had enough money around to learn about investments. And he’s taught me pretty well, plus I’ve done some reading, etc. But he’s the one who handles and pushes for spending. Without him, we never would have traveled, or bought decent furniture, or anything. So it’s been good. We push each other in opposite ways, which I think makes a good partnership. Also, blessedly, we’re both PRETTY reasonable about money. I mean, I do cry about it sometimes because I’m *emotional,* but when it comes to making decisions, we’re both pretty level headed, and in a similar frame of mind about reasonable amounts of risk and long term savings and such, so that helps.

      And, I’d say, over more than a decade together, he’s gotten me to a point where I can go out for dinner or a movie without worrying about it… which is a HUGE shift for me. (I should also note that the change in our financial circumstances over a decade has also been massive. I mean, we… but particularly I… were living on so little in NYC 10 years ago. And starting there together is something I’m grateful for.) I can’t make similar decisions about say, homes or cars or big stuff, but… one step at a time?

  • lottie

    I think there’s a matrix of circumstances and personality. I grew up in a stable middle-class, had enough money but still shopped at discount places family. I’m a compulsive saver. My sister is a spender (though reformed in that she is more careful with budgeting now that she has a house). That $100? I’d save it or use it for groceries. She would buy something fun.

    • Sarah E

      Agreed. Every time we get a cash gift, I just want to squirrel it away or spend it on necessities, and I grew up with enough money.

    • Not Sarah

      Same. My mom would complain to my sister that sister was spending more money than me and my sister would say that I had no fun since I spent no money. Some of us can entertain ourselves without spending a lot of money!! Sigh.

  • Jenna

    I also grew up in a home where money was tight (not quite “Happy Meal twice a year” tight, but “can’t turn the heat above 65 in a New York winter because we can’t afford the bill” so I was ALWAYS ****ING COLD tight), but I came away with the opposite anxieties. Hand me $100 and I will spend it. Not because I think more is coming and it won’t be the last $100 I see, but because I figure “this could be the last $100 I see that I could potentially buy something nice with and not have to use on something non-gratifying like paying the water bill. I’m going to spend it now before I lose my chance to actually have a nice thing for once.”

    My husband grew up more economically secure, and is more likely to save that $100 because he figures he’ll be able to buy something nice later, no rush, there will be more money.


    • Laura C

      Ha. My parents kept the heat turned down for environmental reasons. 65 sounds high to me.

    • Amy March

      We were objectively very well off, but my mother grew up in a country where central heating and AC were rare, so our house was always cold in winter and hot in summer, because she still thinks Americans are just plain wasteful with their 72 degrees in the middle of winter and igloos in summer.

      • Jenna

        Yeah, I’d agree…except I was cold at 65. I really was. No getting around it, no lying, I was cold. (I now live in the subtropics so I’m not just being a princess – I really am just sensitive to cold). No amount of “it’s wasteful” will change the fact that…I was cold.

        That said, it was a drafty old house, so when the thermostat was on 65, the real temperature was likely well below that. My room didn’t even have a heating vent – and I had to throw a snit fit to get a plug-in heater because I couldn’t even sleep in there in the winter.

        • RoseTyler

          I live in the winter sleeping under an electric blanket. It allows me to be toasty warm in my bed while at the same time indulging my cheap-skate I don’t want to heat an entire 3 bedroom house for just little-ole-me~

          • Jenna

            I’m afraid of electric blankets, but not opposed to turning the heat down at night and having a safe plug-in heater in the room where one sleeps. My n-laws do this and it makes perfect sense.

            But…during the day that’s not quite enough isn’t it? I wasn’t just cold at night, I’d spend all winter huddled under a blanket, cold during the day. I loved going to school because at school, I wasn’t cold. It was a battle to get me to do chores (especially the dishes) not because I was spoiled and didn’t want to help out, but because I was COLD.

            I solved this problem by moving to the subtropics, like, there are banana trees outside my apartment now…screw the cold!

      • i have to say i sympathize with your mom. i’m a fan of sweaters and blankets in winter, and NOT having to put on a sweater to combat freezing cold AC whenever you go inside in the summer. the environment will thank you!

    • Meg Keene

      Oh for sure. I think the exact same financial situations can affect people in the opposite ways.

      Case in point: my parents coped by ALWAYS spending money on things like tons of insurance… probably way too much insurance… to feel safe. NO money for tiny splurges like Happy Meals. Which is the same, “so many ways to deal with the same issue,” coming out. (Though we lived in the desert, so it was our cooling bill that was under lock and key.)

  • Clare

    I had a similar childhood with a different effect: its difficult for me to save money. I think its a combination of struggling to move out of the idea of living paycheque to paycheque, and the feeling like you are going to be broke anyway, so why not have the pleasure of the meal out/new shirt, etc.

    • Meg Keene

      I know SO MANY friends who cope in exactly the same way. That’s why when I realized I was doing some self destructive things (not majorly, but minorly) that seemed illogical, and I looked around, I realized they were way more logical than I thought. It’s HARD to push past what you know, I think. And that comes out in a zillion different ways.

    • La’Marisa-Andrea

      I’ve gone through phases of this in my adult life bc growing up we were the same way. Also, when you can only save pennies at a time it doesn’t often feel worth it. If you spend all year saving pennies and only save $300, the $300 in the bank doesn’t feel worth it as spending that $300 on something you enjoy.

  • NewHere

    I have so many thoughts on this topic and agree with so many of the comments but I’m just swinging by to say that the biggest thing that helped me move out of that scarcity mentality was reading early FI blogs. I started with Mr. Money Mustache which is a bit annoying these days but there’s some really good stuff at the beginning of the blog. I also love (love love!) jlcollinsnh and the mad fientist. All of these people have shown how the numbers work for you if you pick a simple investment plan and keep saving more than you spend. But, are quick to demonstrate why money doesnt rule their lives. Overall they are very optimistic but it’s more philosophy based than winning life by having the most money.

    • Erin

      Fellow mustachian here! Just popping by to totally agree with everything you said (especially love for jlcollinsnh). Stumbling upon those blogs was a total game-changer for me. It helped me to get out from under some of that emotional baggage and see money for what it really is: a tool.

    • Meg Keene

      Yeah, I’m big on putting our money in smart, reasonable investments and not touching it. It’s the part where I probably should occasionally spend it that’s the problem!

    • Not Sarah

      Yes! Those have been really, really helpful at shedding my anxiety over money too. I think at just about to turn 27, I have shed most of it. The last remaining bit is over how to keep separate property separate after getting married, but we’re not getting married yet and that can be helped with a pre-nup.

      I LOVED this post today: Here’s a quote: “The bottom line is this: It’s your money. You busted your butt for it, you saved it, and you preserved it. So long as you are not jeopardizing your financial security, enjoy yourself a bit, give away what you want to, and overall, loosen up a bit and experience the fruits of your labor.”

    • Anne-Marie Morey

      My husband and I too. Ten years ago I read “Your Money or Your Life” years ago and was greatly influenced. It wasn’t something that jivved for my husband. Years later, my husband too has found this information on spending and financial independence intriguing. Today, we’re working hard to think consciously about our spending decisions to prioritize saving.

      Does anyone have any recommendations about WOMEN talking about these topics. I think there are some great bloggers out there, but their voices doesn’t always resonate for me.

      • Laura

        Just chiming in to say that I would love to see suggestions of women talking personal finance. Everything I’ve come across takes this condescending tone of “Gals, you can do it AND save up for those pretty nails and your little shopping habit. Don’t let that uterus stand in your way of using your delicate lady brain to talk about scary math!” Which UGHHHH.

        • Jamie

          Try Gail Vaz Oxlade! Her books and site are amazing and she has worksheets to work yourself through when you are starting budgeting etc. Her books have been beyond helpful for me and my fiance trying to navigate our finances

      • MC

        I like the Billfold – not always stuff around women, but a lot of it is. And this podcast has some good recommendations for apps and books/blogs to read:

      • Sub-topic, but I highly recommend the book “Ask for it,” about how women can negotiate their work salaries and other aspects of their lives:

        It’s only one aspect of personal finance (earning more money), but that’s an important one!

      • HannahESmith

        I’ve been a fan of Farnoosh Torabi for many years, and she recently started a great podcast called “So Money.” It’s mostly interviews with all different types of people, and a very high percentage of them are women. I highly recommend it.

        • Hey, I just wanted to say that I read the Helaine Olen ‘Pound Foolish’ book that you mentioned in a post awhile back. I thought it was pretty interesting, though a lot of times I felt like she questioned industry motivation and took one step forward but didn’t go further and was simplistic and basically a complainey-pants. Anybody who hasn’t thought about the motivations of big names like Suze Orman or Dave Ramsey and took their advice unquestioningly, I could see really having their eyes opened by the book. But anyone who has thought about these conflicts of interest, probably not so much. I used to be in finance academia, so I’m very familiar with some of the papers she lambasted, and I felt like her ability to critically analyze them was so small – sure, pointing out the conflicts of interest and sponsorship by companies was great, but once she did that she really simplified these papers and just dismisses them without additional critical thinking applied. But I’m glad to have read the book, so thanks for mentioning it!

  • MrsA

    I relate so well to this post. My husband immigrated from a third world country and his attitudes and outlook about things like money, food, personal belongings, etc. are so incredibly different from my own and, at times, very hard to understand. For example, if he sees something little that he wants (a little toy or a novelty, usually), it is incredibly difficult for him not to buy it because he feels like he needs to make up for all the things he didn’t get when he was younger. But try to buy a coffee table or another “big ticket” item and he’s suddenly scrooge! He has the same strange attitude towards food– he practically hordes food and is always wanting to go out to eat or grocery shopping, always insisting there’s not enough food or nothing to eat. He cleans his plate every single meal regardless of whether or not he’s hungry. He also can’t throw away personal items for fear he might need it one day, even things like plastic grocery bags or old t-shirts. I have to wait till he leaves the house to throw away things like spoiled food or cardboard boxes.

    We joke about it a lot but, ultimately, I have to recognize that his history of extreme poverty still deeply impacts his daily life. It doesn’t matter that we own a beautiful home and both have multiple jobs so even if we were laid off, we’d be okay. It doesn’t matter that the fridge is full and the bills are paid. While I feel I am very responsible with money, and am very careful with spending, I still have to make accommodations to reassure him that his needs will be met..

    • Fiona

      My husband is also from a third world country, and he’s the EXACT SAME WAY. It’s crazy. He’s always trying to buy a new pair of shoes or clothes, and we have SO MUCH food in the house, but we can’t possibly make any bigger purchases. Fascinating.

      • Valerie Day

        For me it is not trying to make up for something from when I was younger, it is a very deep mentality that I should spend the money, because that is what it is for. I spend more, despite growing up with less as well. Growing up, rural, and very poor in America when we had money we spent it. The need was always much larger than the paycheck. Saving did no good. So its hard for me to not spend on what is here now. And my “need” is different from what it once ways. This is part of why having a budget down to every spending domain helps me greatly. I can remember over and over again that I am meeting all of my needs and that I am okay without whatever else it is I may want.

      • Dawn

        I think I remember that Fiona’s husband has not been in the U.S. long.mi wonder about Mrs. A’s. My husband is from a similar background but has been in the US since high school. He collects dress shirts but hates to get decent shoes. I throw away ancient food when he is not home because it would stress him out, and he would try to convince me it was still good to eat. He does not mind eating out a lot at places he deems reasonable (or in taking family out to eat–that is culturally important) but does not like to buy “expensive” groceries (though it is cheaper than eating out). My own financial background and habits are complex enough, but his money ideas are chock full of quirks that I struggle to understand and that he can’t articulate.

      • MrsA

        Definitely very interesting. I’m glad I’m not the only one dealing with this!

  • Laura C

    My husband and I are so different and still working toward equilibrium. But I think … hmm … because we both grew up in relatively affluent (though at different levels) circumstances without worries about money, our views of money mostly play out as consumption patterns. We both tend to buy what we think we should be able to buy without giving a ton of thought to how much it actually costs, but what we think we should be able to buy is different.

    My parents are college professors. They have an incredibly stable income that allows them to live nicely (vacation abroad every couple years, get work done on the house, eat out when they want), but they live WELL within their income, like save tens of thousands a year as well as putting money in an account for me. And they’re generally frugal in the sense that most of the trips abroad are done on frequent flyer miles, they don’t spend a lot on clothes or cars, stuff like that. I’m shaped by that: I assume there will always be plenty of money but that the way you live is going to lead to saving money because you just won’t be so lavish. I am mystified by people who care about cars beyond that they reliably work and are safe and have decent leg room (for I am 5’11”), and I like my clothes from Anthropologie but I aggressively shop the sale racks there — I could pretty much point out to you the things I paid full price for because when I do, it’s memorable.

    My husband’s late father was the kind of college professor that made a lot more money than my parents, and had a lot of side income consulting. And he was the kind of person who had a goal of going to every Relais & Chateaux property, who would go to a French winery and have thousands of dollars of wine shipped back home, who, before he made money, would spend the mortgage check on a painting because he figured he’d find a way to pay the mortgage and the painting was so pretty. My husband is very like his father, except his income is not like his father’s income. The level of stuff he sees as the province of adulthood is so very different from me — the restaurants he sees as splurges are restaurants I would never have considered going to before meeting him, the restaurants he sees as a nice night out are what I would have thought of as real splurges. That kind of thing. So being with him has both raised my mental restaurant budget by a good bit, but also made me much more conscious of needing to think about budgets and saving, because left to my own devices saving would happen, but with him it might not if I didn’t pay attention and we didn’t talk things through and try to consciously set limits.

  • Lisa

    Money – and what it can or can’t do – is so intertwined with one’s feelings about love and nurture. Growing up in comparative luxury has, at least in my experience, as much impact on as does growing up in poverty. To this day – although the family fortune is on its last attenuated legs – I’d rather do without than settle for something that feels “cheap.”

    • Meg Keene

      I obviously could write a book about my personal nuanced relationship with money. But my WASPy roots (that part of my family just lost their money generations earlier ;) Still leaves me with a bunch of funny left overs. Like, “Always live on the interest,” and “Don’t show off,” etc. etc. Which is all muddled up with my other grandmother who supported her family through the great depression. Sometimes I think whole family histories could be written out just through the complicated ways we deal with money.

      • Lisa

        Maybe you should write that book;). I agree, whole family histories.

  • Laura

    Something that helped my husband and me come to a better understanding was deep discussions about our values and how money fit into those. We actually have a google doc called “Values and Financial Goals” that we update at our annual personal finance summit at the beginning of each year. This helps us prioritize our purchases, from small grocery purchases to larger decisions.

    For example, two of our biggest values are adventure and financial security. That means that we budget enough to fund our Roth IRAs and go on frequent camping trips, with a larger international trip every few years. We make all of our financial decisions in a way that prioritizes those things, cutting back wherever else we can. That means that on a day to day basis, we don’t own smart phones, we don’t have cable, we rarely eat out, I do freelance work to supplement my grad student stipend, etc. Those things don’t feel like sacrifices, because they’re helping us live our lives in line with our values. Reframing all of our non-essential purchases in these terms has cut down on a lot of angst about how we spend.

    • Meg Keene

      Love this. When we knew we were probably in a pre-kids phase, we decided to travel… even though we could have put that money away for a down payment. (Though in this market, I don’t think it would have made much of a difference long term.) Anyway, I look back on it as one of the best choices we’ve ever made. There are lots of amazing things you can do with kids (including travel) but we probably will never be able to travel like *that* again. I’m glad we figured out what mattered to us, and spent that money, even though at the time I found it TERRIFYING. I value those memories about 1,000X more than I’d value having that cash still.

      • Mer

        I just spent a huge wad of cash on 11 months of traveling and 13 months of not working.

        Would I prefer to be tens of thousands of dollars richer? Who wouldn’t. Would I prefer it over my traveling experience? No f*ing way. .

        • yes to this. i spent much of my 20s traveling/living abroad, when i could’ve been working corporate and saving, and i would not trade any of those trips for anything.

          my frugal mind is a bit paradoxical: 1) i’m great at finding deals, so hello travel 2) it’s the $20 day-to-day expenses (dinner, movies, nice dinnerware) that make me flip out, whereas a $700 plane ticket (or a $1000+ piece of equipment that we’ll use over and over again) is usually a well-reasoned purchase that i have no problem with.

          • Crayfish Kate

            …are you me? I was going to comment, but you said it all. :-D

      • That’s really interesting. We never spend money on travel because that seems extra frivolous somehow (blow a bunch of money AND don’t make any while not at work (and making my husband nail down a time to go)). And every time we go somewhere, even “boring” places like Hawaii we never ever regret it. I think part of the problem is that I grew up with very little money being raised by a single mom (who also didn’t like to travel far because of terrible childhood road trips) (and I hate it when people tell me just “go camping” because I never learned how to do that either).
        It’s a huge struggle trying to let go of the belief that there will be no money and I could end up on the street any day. That’s just not a thing that’s going to happen right away – I’ve saved money to prevent that. But it’s weird how there isn’t an “enough” amount to make me feel secure.

        • lady brett

          it’s been a consistent shock to me as an adult how much it costs to travel. not like international travel, but just how gas and time off and hotel and food and such add up on a simple road trip because i grew up travelling, but super simply (road trip to grandparents and stops at state parks). it didn’t *feel* expensive when I wasn’t the one with the budget.

          • YetAnotherMegan

            Same here. I know gas wasn’t nearly as expensive growing up as it is now, but we could easily hop in the car to go visit family and stay in a hotel for a couple nights and money didn’t even seem like a consideration. Now, the road trip up to see our families is something we have to factor into our overall budget, even though we stay with his parents and hardly have to worry about food once we arrive, but the gas and tolls and food on the way really add up. Then when we get back, we’re exhausted all week because we didn’t get a break over the weekend and find ourselves wanting to give up and get take out…

          • NewHere

            We try to book hotels with credit card points and take as many food supplies as possible with us. This usually means bringing an ice chest with picnic lunch supplies (sandwich food to fancy cheeses depending on how much budget we have left), a nice bottle of wine to drink on the patio while looking at that ocean view (pro tip: pack a corkscrew!), and even a mini coffee grinder and 1-glass pour-over for coffee in the morning (we’re…..snobby about coffee). That might sound like extra work but most of the supplies are all sitting together with the travel things so it’s just the size of a small collapsible ice chest from Costco and the time it takes to swing by a grocery store on our way out of town. It actually makes things more relaxing in a way because it takes the pressure off from finding a good breakfast/lunch spot and I’m more relaxed if we aren’t racking up food on the credit card. We do usually splurge for dinner.

          • Amanda

            It’s an awful shock. A weekend away – that we drive to, and stay at the cheapest place we can book that offers breakfast and go on off weekends when rates are half price – runs us like $6-700. HOW.

          • right??? so expensive!

          • Something we started doing a few years ago was staying at places on Airbnb and then going to grocery stores and cooking most of our meals while we travel. Those two changes have saved us SO. MUCH. MONEY. — it’s unreal. When we realized we can buy so much more food with the amount we were spending out on trips it was a game changer (and we rarely eat out at home, so I’m not sure why it took so long to come around to this idea). I know for a lot of people travel is about eating amazing food, but we’ve adopted this travel practice for road trips and international trips and it’s always made everything significantly less expensive.

          • even stopping at the grocery store to pick up picnic food on a road trip, instead of eating out, saves a ton of money.

          • Sarah E

            Yeah, this is the thing I try to make my dad aware of when he asks whether I can come to a cousin’s wedding halfway across the country. It’s not just finding cheap plane tickets or saving for gas money. It’s that PLUS the loss of income for not working all those days because I sure as shit don’t have PTO.

          • It’s crazy how expensive it is. And, like I said, I never learned “how to camp” or “how to enjoy peeing in the woods and not taking a shower.” I just don’t enjoy life without my “creature comforts” (as my mom says) especially if I’m on vacation. On vacation I want to relax with a view of the ocean and a cocktail in one hand, a book in the other. Thousands of dollars later…

      • Word. We still wouldn’t have been able to get into a house even with our RTW trip money (plus, the money we spent on travel … most of that would have gone to normal living expenses if we’d stayed here, it wouldn’t all have been saved!)

  • Meghan

    I think that somehow every part of this post deeply resonated with me, so I can’t even pull out one (or a few) parts to highlight. My husband and I are very aware of this dynamic of our relationship and talk about it, which helps. But it just bridges the gap, rather than eliminating it.

    For me, this mindset shows up in even the minutiae. This week I commented to my husband that we were going to run out of coffee filters a few days before we moved and that it was annoying that we’d have to buy a new box and move with them. He [reasonably] suggested that we could always buy coffee out those last few days before the move, and I felt myself actually recoil at the suggestion. Buying coffee out is frivolous! We make our coffee at home! (From a giant tub of coffee purchased at BJs, no less.)

    I can generally talk myself out of those immediate reactions to spending money, but I can’t seem to get rid of the reactions altogether. They seem like a reflex at this point. And the bigger the purchase/commitment, the longer it takes me to overrule the reflex. So while it took me about 5 minutes to be okay with the coffee “splurge”, I’m currently locked in a big internal struggle over what furniture to buy for our new house. The Ferrari-nightstand comment resonated oh-so-much, Meg!

  • Sarah E

    I’ve never thought too deeply about how my parents’ financial management affects my own, except in the broadest strokes of how we did things in general when I was growing up. We had two (modest, non-profit) incomes in our household, but my brother and I went to Catholic school for 12 years each, which comes with a nice price tag. We lived in a big old house that was always in some state of repair or demolition. The heat was never turned up past 65, we always bought generic, we ran our cars into the ground before replacing them, we didn’t eat out much at all, and generally didn’t spend much money on entertainment or vacations.

    For me, that background combined with a high-strung, anxious personality and a constant need to do things “the right way” (even if no such or many such right ways exist), means that I stress about money a lot. Should we be saving more? Do we have enough to invest? Should we be more aggressive about retirement? Using YNAB as a budget tool hasn’t been perfect, but it at least allows me to track our spending and keep money building in our checking account for those annual and semi-annual bills that sneak up. I have a hard time letting go of money for major purchases–a strong dose of environmental guilt helps, too– even if we have gift money. When I receive money or gift cards, I start poring over the internet to research goods and prices to make the best use of it and decide whether to buy something frivolous or something for the household– or just put it toward groceries like I’d like to.

    The hard part for me is self-perception. I think of myself as a big spender and a shopper, because my mom and I shopped a lot of clearance and outlets when I was younger, and I find myself wanting things all the time, even if I don’t buy them. So even though I’m more likely to save money and worry myself over the budget, part of those worries come from thinking of myself as one step away from a shopping spree, even though I rarely indulge in things for myself, even when they’re justified.

  • CII

    For my husband and me, one way our respective upbringings shaped our approach to finances relates to home ownership. We both watched our parents struggle financially at different times in our lives, and one thing that became a real problem during those times was how to keep up on the mortgage payments. We are in our early 30s, have not bought a home, and are both terrified of buying a home because of those experiences growing up. Rationally, I know that home ownership can be a great thing / great investment, but my husband and I are also both cognizant of how it can be a burden. We are saving up to buy a home now, but I’m not really sure when I will feel “secure” enough to actually do it.

  • Violet

    Such an interesting discussion! My partner and I have similar views on money, which is save in general, spend when needed or when you are up for an indulgence. But we differ in our responses to debt. He’s taken out many more loans than I have (school), and he is more comfortable with using debt in the future (like to buy a home). I am much more wary of debt and feel intimidated by that kind of approach. The irony is, because he has a higher track record with debt than I do, his FICO score is higher than mine! I’ve begun reading The Thin Green Line, which talks about the difference between rich (ie, lots of money but could lose it very easily) versus wealthy (ie, having a strategy that pretty much insures against ever completely going under). And using debt correctly is a big part of this.
    I’m still so curious if I’d benefit from YNAB. Everyone talks about it here, but I can’t figure out if it’s a big leg-up from my current Excel budget tracker. I always feel anxious about money until I look at my spreadsheet, and then feel fine. But generally, out and about in the world making spending decisions, I always feel like I don’t *really* understand how much I can spend in each of my categories. All I know is I take it decision at a time, budget in advance for upcoming big purchases/responsibilities, and have my emergency savings and regular contributions to retirement set up. I always seem to have enough money at the end of the month, but I’m never fully sure I understand *how* I do. Which makes me think if I understood it better, I could have more. Anyone who already had a budget tool find that YNAB was still a real value-add when they switched?

    • Kayjayoh

      I’d also be interested in knowing this.

    • KM

      One of the biggest benefits to using YNAB for me was exactly that – having the app on my phone so that I can at any time see how much we’ve spent in particular categories. This is emotional reassurance for me, which is well worth the time I spend inputting each purchase to the app. My wife is less enamored because she can keep a running tally in her head (while I cannot) and thinks it takes more time than she is willing to spend on it. But, YNAB is staying in our marriage because you only really need one person managing the app, and I’m willing and able to do this. We have discussions each month when the budget rolls over as well as ad-hoc conversations when a category is low and we need to swap something out if we’re going to do spend the moola.

      • Violet

        Thanks for your response! I guess I should have added that I don’t own a smart phone, so I’d only be able to use the website part of it. Which is fine; every night I come home and input my expenses and inputs for the day into Excel, so I’d be fine to do it into their site instead. But I guess then maybe it serves the same function as my current strategy? Maybe I need to be more like your wife and keep the figures in my head! That’s impressive, though!

        • KM

          oh to be clear, I think she keeps “big picture” better in her head, but when we’re talking about a hotel to visit our friends, she’s the one asking me if we have enough in the “Misc Marriage Fun” category to cover it. And I’m the one that has to suggest we get a cheap bottle of wine to bring to the lake instead of margaritas at a bar when our “Drinks/Dining Out” category is almost empty for the month.

          If you’re already entering each item in your spreadsheet, you are already doing a lot of the work. It really is the convenience of the app in my hand that I love the most. Are your categories really specific (like our differentiated “fun” ones I mentioned)? Identifying specifically how we like to spend money and how we want to keep it reasonable helps us a lot too.

          • Violet

            Hmmm, I think so. I have “breakfast” (because that’s my daily coffee), “prepared food and drinks” for restaurants or any food I eat that doesn’t come from groceries, “entertainment” for things like books, show tickets, iTunes purchases (but “Netflix” is separate because that’s a specific charge every month), “vacation” (self evident) and then “gifts” which can sometimes be a gift itself, other times it’s going to a bar for someone’s birthday, or something. Plus “clothing/dry cleaning” because for me, shopping is usually a form of “fun money” as well. I dunno, I guess maybe I don’t spend enough time comparing my “Pending” column to my “Actual” column throughout the month. “Pending” is where I put in my estimates for what I think I’ll spend in each bucket (which as I understand it, I think is the same as YNAB). But I don’t always take the time to then adjust my “Pending” for other categories if I notice I’m going over in a different one. So then my “Pending” monthly total looks negative, but it never really ends up that way in real life. I must somehow adjust as I go without realizing I’m doing it?

          • Eenie

            YNAB makes the adjustments pretty easy. I LOVE being able to upload my bank statements in .QIF format and reconcile my account to see if I missed anything for the week. If you already have a robust excel system there may not be as much benefit, BUT a lot of the YNAB philosophies are still good and FREE to everyone even if you don’t use the software. I don’t enter purchases on my phone because I just save the receipts.

    • Ashlah

      YNAB has a free 34-day trial, so maybe it’s worth trying it just to see if it’s better for you than your spreadsheet. I love it, but I didn’t have a a tool I was using prior. It’s hard to say how YNAB differs without trying your spreadsheet myself!

      • Violet

        Ooooo, so I can just try it out and see what I think without committing!? This is awesome!

  • p.

    I’ve been thinking about the differences in how my husband
    and I feel about money ever since reading this article earlier this week:

    The article focuses on differences that come from being
    raised middle class vs working class, but I see these same differences between
    my husband and I even though we grew up both lower middle class. I think one
    big difference was that my parents prioritized stability – they worked pretty stable
    jobs (teaching, nursing) and were focused on being financially stable. In my
    husband’s family, on the other hand, his dad was self-employed, started
    businesses some of which did OK and some of which failed. His mom worked a
    range of different jobs as needed. As a result, his family went through more
    boom and bust cycles with money and he tends to see money as something that may
    or may not be there. I see it as something that HAS to be there or else
    something is very, very wrong.

    • I just don’t understand how to live just failing randomly. And yet I know it seems to be the only way to truly succeed. I grew up living in that stability but we still never had a lot of money because there was no risk taking. My mom didn’t finish college because that would have been a financial risk she didn’t feel she should take as a single mom. It’s weird how these things effect us. It makes me want to really assess what I’m going to pass don’t to my daughter.

  • I started writing something, and then scrapped it because it came off as obnoxious (I grew up with a lot of privilege (mostly due to highly educated and education-minded parents with professional careers), became really interested in personal finance and read every book and blog I could get my hands on, plus actually started a finance PhD that I’m dropping out of with a master’s). Basically, I have money totally under control – I feel like I’ve mastered it and it doesn’t stress me out in the least anymore.

    I will say that I think the fact that my husband and I both come from a family of immigrants who had very little money when they came to the US and when we were young, but good education and high motivation to succeed, then did very well financially and become upper/upper middle class, has definitely contributed to us being on the same page financially. My parents actually never talk/talked about money, but also never spent much on material possessions, so that’s good as far as setting an example. I’m really motivated by having freedom & independence, so the MrMoneyMustache blog really changed my life (check it out, start at the beginning). I basically realized there was a whole range of options and outcomes beyond the basic ‘invest 15% of your salary’ advice – you could save and invest a whole lot more (like, 50-70%) and be in the position not to work much earlier, or not have to work. I trained myself to question conventional finance and also spending on things because other people do.

    For instance, I realized I’m not a foodie and don’t necessarily enjoy fancy eating out more than once a month. I still do a ton of travel – my husband and I have been to Belize and Italy so far this year, and taking a trip with friends to Croatia this summer. I pretty much tried to stop spending money just because it was convenient or typical. And now I’ve gotten to the point where the default is not spending money, vs the other way around, so my spending is pretty low even though I don’t consciously budget (though I do track religiously – knowledge is power). I do think I was really rooted to a middle class mentality before I started working on myself. There is a lot to learn from the upper class and their notions of stewardship and generation wealth. Understanding investing and compound interest and passive income is such a game changer – I literally feel like the 1% even though our current HH income is quite low (as I’m a PhD student, my stipend is 32K). But I have no doubt that my husband and I will be wealthy, financially and in all other ways.

    I’m not trying to be all obnoxious here. Mostly saying that I started in a place of being fortunate and privileged but not knowing anything about money, coming from a family that never talked about money or was much interested in it. Then I realized I was interested (finance is my favorite application of math, by a huge factor), read tons of books and blogs and had a financial adviser for a few years when I started working. And now, even though I love thinking about math and money and investing, I never think about money in a stressed-out way. So I hope y’all don’t underestimate how powerful getting informed can be, and how much happier getting in control of your finances can make you. :)

    • Wow! I would love to read a post by you about everything you know about money! Or at least, how you manage your personal finances. Seems like you have a lot of wisdom and knowledge to share!

  • kt

    Two family money stories:

    Before my dad got his first job (at 32), my mom’s father was NOT impressed because my dad had spent the previous decade in school, with my mom supporting him for half that time. When my dad got a job, his father-in-law said, “Well, what are you making, $x?” And my dad responded with, “I’ll be making $2x.” Apparently my father-in-law’s jaw dropped to the ground.

    Six months ago my husband got a new job with a big boost in income, and all my dad could say was, “I feel like my father-in-law.” My mom and I knew exactly what he was talking about.

    That was our happy story. A few years ago, my husband and I had our biggest fight ever, and it started with him saying, “We are lazy.” I was exhausted after working, taking care of our child and household, … , and launched into all the ways I am not lazy. It wasn’t pretty. Later in couples therapy, I found out that my husband was very uncomfortable by our income and ability to outsource many domestic tasks. (We are “lazy” because we don’t scrub the toilets, as his mom always has.)

    • That’s very interesting. I feel like I came from a family of, do something that will make money, educate yourself, but only if it isn’t a waste of money. I delayed college because I couldn’t pick anything worthy that would make me any money. And now, I don’t make a lot, but I’m happy and educated, and value education. My father-in-law says, “you don’t go to school to get a job, you go to get an education, and if a job follows, great.” I wish I had heard that growing up.

  • crg

    I can relate to this a lot. My fiance’s family actually had less money than mine while growing up, but they lived in a cheaper neighborhood, had less children, and the kids never felt that money was a real problem. We technically had more money but lived in a more expensive part of the country and we had five kids. Also, my dad’s job in school administration ended up in a very stable and lucrative place, but he spent most of his early to mid career on a public teacher’s salary. Anyway, my fiance and I have really different attitudes towards money as a result.

    One of the interesting aspects of our differing view is that we ultimately hold the same large values and goals. However, we approach, think, and feel very different things about finances. He is comfortable having very little savings as a graduate student, and I almost had a panic attack last night because I can’t save as much money as I had originally anticipated on a monthly basis with a full time job. It’s a bit of theme for us that we share the same large values and even most smaller points of view, but it feels more different than it actually is, because our attitudes or methods differ in the abstract, but in reality we end up in the same place.

  • Megan

    I know I have a bad relationship with money, but I get a little panicky everytime I think about it. I had a big financial disruption in my early adulthood when my parents, who were solidly middle class and more spenders than savers, faced a major health issue with my dad. This led to them not working (my mom had to take care of my dad), running through their retirement on medical bills, selling their house and using the equity on medical bills, running up credit card debt and filing for bankruptcy. All when I was about 18. I was in college (yay need based financial aid and loans!) but all of a sudden I had absolutely no safety net. I worked 10 hours a week, but sometimes that wasn’t enough to cover food/clothes/travel to see my sick dad. My brother was in law school at the time and occassionally we would loan each other money to get through lean months because our student loan checks came in at different times. My parents never managed to get their finances together and they would guilt me into loaning them money even when I didn’t have it– like when I was in grad school and trying to scrape by on a tiny salary. Six years of grad school was all about scraping by on my stipend, crying when the car broke down, and leaning on credit cards when I had to.

    My cash influx totally changed after grad school when I got a job that paid 5X my stipend, and my husband got a similarly lucrative job a little while later. We’ve been living on this crazy windfall for a little over a year and I know we aren’t managing it correctly. My instinct is to save big chunks of money (annual bonus, equity from stock) but to spend everything else. This has resulted in a decent sized savings account, but a really shitty budget. Like, I buy clothes whenever I want, we spend a lot on entertainment and eating out when we haven’t even paid off our credit cards yet (I know, I know…). My husband is very similar to me in saving habits– e.g., the save as much as you can and freak out over paying down debts because OMG what happens when we need that cash?!?– so we don’t balance each other out well. Add in to the mix that I’m worried I’ll have to start supporting my mom soon (my dad passed away a few years ago), we want to have kids soon, we’d love a house someday, maybe… and I have no clue if my retirement account is in good shape or not.

    I know my money anxiety comes from seeing my parents do mostly all the right things their whole life (two stable jobs, savings accounts, home ownership) and see it all fall apart in a year due to medical bills and illness. Part of me feels like what’s the use of paying off debt when life could throw you a curveball at any minute and ruin everything.

    • Libby

      I don’t know if it would resonate with you, it can be a tad extreme at times, but I’ve really appreciated Mr. Money Mustache as our salaries have gone up to figure out how to manage it. It’s about using large salaries to save effectively and gain financial independence so you’re hopefully in a position to take on any curveballs. The recent stuff isn’t as great, but if you go to his site (just google) you can start from the very beginning of his blog and there are some great nuggets in those early articles!

  • I can relate to this heaps too, but my approach is kind of the opposite to yours Meg. We never had any money growing up, but my parents were as generous with their money as they could be. So I kind of grew up thinking ‘spend the $100 now, because you never know when you’ll have the chance again’. It’s been a bit problematic for me at times, although for the most part I am more responsible with my money than my parents were. However, due to an international move and a career change, it’s been about 5 years since I have had any real savings in the bank, and I’m only just getting back on my feet. I hope that one day I’ve got some significant savings behind me, and I hope that by that time, it will feel like enough!

  • MC

    Yessss my husband and I have talked about this a lot since we started living together. His family has more money than mine but I think if my parents hadn’t been divorced we would be in very similar situations – but STILL, we have almost opposite financial habits.

    I was raised knowing that I would be on my own as an adult, and I worked throughout college and took out student loans and figured out how to budget for myself. His parents paid for all of his tuition and college expenses (they even gave him money to buy groceries, which is mind-boggling to me) so he only had to work in his last year of college, and then for a few years alternated between working seasonal jobs and being unemployed for months at a time – meaning he had no savings. So he really had to learn how to budget and save with his own money once we moved in together and started sharing expenses. And I had to learn to spend money once we have it. The number of times he’s said, “Yes, you should buy that plane ticket/new running equipment/etc. and we will be okay and I won’t think you are being overindulgent and we will still be able to pay our bills” has been a huge blessing in our relationship.

    Also: Investments. He learned about them from his parents, I did not. I generally tend to let him handle them but when I think about it I feel nervous because I don’t understand them at all. How does one learn about investing??

    • Rachelle

      Re: learning about investments I’d recommend opening a brokerage account with Schwab (no maintenance fees or minimum balances) if there’s a branch in your area and taking advantage of their materials. They have a lot of basic info available online, send out quarterly magazines and they host “workshops” in their offices. I went to one specifically geared towards women whose SOs handle investments and want to get more involved since 9 in 10 women have to handle their own finances at some point in life because of divorce or longer lifespans. It was great for beginners and allowed us to ask questions and think about our personal investment strategies and risk tolerance!

  • Chaiaiai

    Meg, what are the financial risks you see people take? I’m curious.

    As for me, I try to remember that living below my means is, in fact, an act of privilege. Reading the book “Voluntary Simplicity” really opened my eyes to this being an act of privilege. For that I am thankful.

    I guess for me, the financial habits I’m thinking about changing are, less less less. Discussing with my husband about buying a 2 bedroom instead of a 3 bedroom. Going down to one car. Only 2 pairs of jeans. Kitchen towels and no paper towels. Timer in the shower. Never ever throwing out food that went bad because we bought too much. Basically being thoughtful about what we buy and where it goes when we don’t use it anymore. It’s not so much as a scarcity mindset – must save more money so buy less (that’s a nice outcome, however). It’s – do we really really REALLY need this?

    It’s been fun to discuss retirement with my new husband. He’s never saved for it and I started saving at 18. So that’s been really exciting, With these small changes (or even big changes – maybe only one kid instead of two?), I feel like we will be able to retire earlier.

    • That’s a very interesting concept: “living below my means is an act of privilege.” I am slowly trying to get rid of things I don’t need in order to make room for the things that I truly want. I just bought “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and I’m hoping that it helps me to reassess what I want to bring into the house as well as what I already have.

      • Chaiaiai

        I grew up with enough but never much “extra” – didn’t get on a plane until I was 18 (I’m 36) and, even then, I was because I won a national award and it was paid for. My parents declared bankruptcy when I was seven and then again when I was 24. So the “privilege” piece comes in because I remember what it was like when going without wasn’t a choice.

        My husband grew up much much more comfortably (private school, trips abroad). So he actually trusts me more with our finances since I know how to trim the fat, so to speak.

  • Ahh, this rings so true for me too. I was fortunate to grow up with very financially savvy parents, so even though we didn’t have heaps of money, we always had enough. My partner grew up in a family of nine with financially savvy parents, but they were almost always living below the poverty line. He grew up perfecting the side hustle- flipping phones through college, picking up side jobs here and there. I think it’s definitely affected our ambitions and attitudes about money. My goal is to have enough, like when I was growing up, so that finances aren’t a huge stress. He has a huge drive to never be poor again, and he’s willing to take bigger risks to get there.

    Has anyone also experienced how culture intersects with finances? My partner is Japanese and grew up in Hawaii, so I found that his family and community had a very different approach to hospitality and generosity than my WASP-y family. The generosity of gifts from his community have been incredibly disproportionate to their financial means compared to what we saw from my community when we got married. For him, giving generously is just what you do to show love. Relationships are more important than the money. (And there’s a bit stronger of an informal safety net in that community of helping each other out, so the freedom to do that is there). I grew up in a very “pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps”-minded community, so sometimes it feels like frugality and money trump relationships, which kind of bothers me. It was a strange collision of cultures when we got married.

    • Culture & finances is massive. See also: class within a culture (I’m Persian and my parents are from two different classes.)

      Either way, generosity is built into our culture, and not so much into that of many of my partners and it has been… awkward sometimes.

    • M

      He’s east Asian. Weddings are very much more about cash exchanges in some east Asian cultures. I’m Korean American and Koreans actually designate a relative to stand at a table to collect the cash coming in at a wedding. But it’s thought of as a circle. When you go to weddings in the community you should also be giving generously. So really it’s your money that’s just coming back to you at your child’s wedding. it’s very much a difference of culture but also expanded family changes things in the long run, I think. I went to my great aunt’s funeral last week where I met up with easily 60 relatives, that we keep close with (as in see each other multiple times/ year). My BF from the Wild West (Nevada) has a family reunion every 20 years. From what I understand, the fact that his family even has one is a rarity. A lot of American families are only nuclear families. There isn’t much family to fall back on, when times get tough, hence the bootstrap mentality, I think. But that last bit is just idle speculation on my part.

  • NTB

    Wow, what a great post. I just want to chime in and say that I often think about these issues in the context of having kids. We keep putting it off because I never feel like we’ll have enough money for a baby. My husband and I have the same conversation: If we had 10k in savings, would you feel ready to have a child? And no matter the amount, my answer is always no, I am not ready.

    We’re both professionals and are gainfully employed, but the numbers terrify me and I go in circles about how will we afford this? How will I work and afford child care? Man. It keeps me up at night.

    • YetAnotherMegan

      We’re strongly of the mind that we need to buy a house before having kids, because I hate moving and don’t want to do it with small children, the apartment we have would be super tight with a kid, and I hate moving so I’m not going to another apartment to turn around and move again. But at what point are we ready to buy a house? We can’t even seem to set a savings goal for the down payment, because we can’t seem to figure out how much we want leftover. And then we get to the point of talking about saving an amount of money that’s roughly equal to my annual income and it just seems impossible.

      • NTB

        OMG. I was raised on the idea that you’re supposed to buy a home before starting a family. But I live in Denver, so…yeah. Home price appreciation in Denver last year (2014) was 10%.
        I think we’re “the hottest RE market in the country” or something. Anyway, we tried to buy a house last year, and it was an EPIC FAIL, even with lots of cash down. We’re waiting to buy a house, but I don’t want to plan my family around what I do or do not buy. Like you, I hate moving, but some of the mobility that comes with renting can be good. Maybe there’s no “right” order to do things in. :-) I tell myself that, and it makes me feel better sometimes…especially since all of our friends are rushing to purchase a home before they start having kiddos.

        • YetAnotherMegan

          The market is super varied where we are. You could spend $40K to buy a falling down row house in a neighborhood where stabbings/shootings/drug deals are a daily occurrence, $50K for a mobile home out beyond the suburbs, or $4-500K for a house in the suburbs with decent schools. There really doesn’t seem to be much of a middle ground here.

          And yeah, we’re young, we have time and all that, but my husband is pursuing his dream (next to no money now, hopefully stable money later) and I’ve found myself on the corporate track with decent but not extravagant money. I’m not sure if I want to keep doing this once we have kids, but when I bring in more than two thirds of our household income, I’d need to keep doing that in order to hopefully have a house. Ugh.

        • There is no right order in which to do things. And there is no amount of planning for a child that makes it easy.
          And I live in Seattle, second most expensive market in the country. Luckily, SO MUCH LUCK we bought a house at the absolute right time – 2011. Now, we’d never be able to afford anything.

      • CP2011

        I would love to see an open thread about housing– home buying in particular. I’ve seen it addressed here and there, but mostly just around how impossible it is in the Bay Area. I would love to get insights from fellow APWs about buying a house in smaller markets!

    • for future babies, my type a brain finds it less scary to look at actual costs per year, and to budget accordingly. this article (canadian, may not apply to US) helped me a lot: the gist is that your expenses will vary depend on the age of the kid.

      do we need 10k in the bank to start making babies? not necessarily, depends on what your projected expenses (daycare, formula, etc.) are. on the other hand, will we need $xxx,xxx in the bank when they’re in college? well, that’s something to save towards, we’ve got 18+ years.

  • lady brett

    the strange thing i’ve had to confront is that while i have never had to worry about having *enough* money, i have always assumed i’d be kind of broke – that i’d top out at just enough.

    it took me a while to figure out – well, first how weird that is for someone who grew up in a financially comfortable household, but also – that i have so deeply internalized what i grew up with that it warped into that. because money was never an issue at home…but also my dad is one of the hardest working people i know (and has some serious hustle…seriously, he “retired” into small farming) and it was always clear that that was directly related (my mom’s a teacher, so not exactly a slouch either!).

    and i just always knew i don’t have that kind of oomph. so, i figured, fair’s fair, i’m going to grow up lazy and broke. which. holy shit. that mentality makes me irate when applied to other people. politically, i’ll tear into that “bootstraps” crap. but personally? yeah, I don’t feel like i deserve more than the basics. so it has been really hard for me to deal with making a realistic (and honesly way below market) salary. much less acknowledging an inheritance, which is kind of the definition of money you don’t “deserve.”

    also i do want to acknowledge the crazy privilege involved in not being worried about being broke because it has never hurt me.

  • Clarissa

    Meg, are you reading my mind? This is so timely. I’m going through a pre-marriage-counseling book right now with my boyfriend and money is the chapter we’re scheduled to tackle tonight (it’s really long and intimidating) I grew up in a solid upper-middle class household, where we never bought brand-new cars or spent lots of money on clothes, but never had to think twice about whether we could afford to pay for gas, groceries, mortgage, etc., or an occasional family vacation ( as far as I know, that is. My parents have always refused to talk about their financial details with me.) Even with all of this financial security I was an anxious about spending money as a kid and as a young adult now my primary approach to money is to spend as little as I can, keep the net income in Mint in the green, and at the end of the month throw whatever is left in my checking account into my savings account. After doing this for 10+ years I somehow have just over $26k in savings and now having what feels like SO MUCH MONEY just sitting there makes me anxious (related: anyone have recommendations for a super-easy-to-understand-and-deal-with Roth IRA/mutual funds provider?) My boyfriend grew up in harder and more volatile financial circumstances and is a born spender who is trying to be more responsible with his money. Thankfully we both have similar attitudes about debt and being honest with one another about our respective financial situations, so hopefully our conversations tonight will not end in tears…..I hope?

    Does anyone else who grew up comfortably middle class feel or felt really guilty about that? Have you tried to compensate (consciously or not) for it? For example, I work in a low-paid sector of the arts and I feel like part of the reason 18-year-old me chose the major I did was because I felt like I had to make up for my parents making more money than the average income in this country (that and I really enjoy my job).

    • Not Sarah

      Vanguard! If you have $1,000, then you can put the money in a “Target Retirement Date” fund that has a mix of US stocks, international stocks, and bonds. Here’s a link to their page on IRAs:

      Yup, definitely feel guilty, especially since my parents went from their parents being low income to them being very comfortable middle class and now I’m definitely upper middle class. My boyfriend somehow feels no guilt about this? I recently made a donations budget that is X% of my gross income and I set up auto transfers to another account for that. It’s fun finding interesting causes to donate to and I have a plan for how I will increase that X% over the years. I am also debating donating my estate if I’m unmarried to a scholarship fund for women in STEM at my alma mater.

    • Not Sarah

      Adding on to my previous comment, if you don’t have $1,000, then you can either wait until you do to open up your Roth IRA or you can open up a Roth IRA savings account somewhere like your credit union or Ally and then transfer the money to Vanguard once you have $1,000.

  • Eh

    My husband was raised to buy what he wanted when he wanted it, even if it meant going into debt. He came from a working class family that lived like they were middle class, and both of his parents have had extended periods of unemployment/underemployment (my FIL is currently unemployed). Money burns a hole in my husband’s pocket. He bought my engagement ring with money that he was supposed to be saving for his last term of college (in his defense he did calculate that he would be able to save enough money before the term started if he bought me the ring, as long as he didn’t have any unforeseen expenses). Another semester in college, instead of getting a job while in school he asked his parents to pay for his tuition and then put all of his living expenses (excluding rent) on his credit card. Part way through the semester, he ran out of money for rent and his parents took him to play the slots, gave him $40 and he won $1000. Instead of saving that for rent he bought videogames and some computer stuff, and then the next week he fell into a short term job that covered his rent for the rest of the semester. Recently he bought a PS4 when we were saving money for our baby and renovations on our house because he had the money and it was a “good deal” (we live in Canada and he bought it during Target’s liquidation sale).

    I was raised to plan and budget, and when possible save for the unexpected. I am trying to teach him that his decision affect our family. We have agreed to discuss large purchases (he did not discuss the PS4 purchase – instead he sent a text saying “don’t be mad”). I am also trying to teach him how to save and pay down debt. Right now he has a temporary promotion at work and so he doesn’t spend the “extra” money he is making he has to transfer the amount out of his bank account right away and put it on his student loan. (Last year when I had a temporary promotion, we saved the money for house renovations.) He sees the need for financial planning but it’s very foreign to him. He is starting to understand goal setting and delayed gratification, for example, we are trying to pay off his student loan as fast as possible and we are planning for house renovations. This is where I differ from his parents – I plan for something and save up and then do it; on the other hand his parents decide that they want to do something and figure out how much they can put on their line of credit with the goal of paying it off in X months but they never end up paying it off because other things come up. (Note: An advantage of having the money when you pay for things is that many contractors give discounts for things being paid in cash – on top of not having to pay interest.)

    • Ugh. That has to be so frustrating. It sounds like you’re being very patient with him. I’m not so sure I would be. I have a family member that just lost their house because of mismanagement of money. It actually angers me because I just don’t understand the lack of responsibility.

      • Eh

        I remind myself that he grew up this way and that he has just been very lucky that things have always worked out in the end. We also have frequent discussions about finances and our goals. And use teachable moments as they come up.

  • I don’t know that it was necessarily my up-bringing. But I spent my 20’s living on a part-time teacher salary and I’m constantly pointing out to my husband that my head still has us on that salary which means he’s constantly talking me down from financial crises. But because we talk so openly about it, it isn’t a real problem.

  • I think my husband and I have similar views on money. I grew up much poorer than he did so I tend to think and act like we are in imminent danger of becoming homeless (a roof over my head is way more important than anything else including food). G on the other hand didn’t want for much growing up, but as a fiercely independent person, paid for everything himself as soon as possible. And as a former bicycle mechanic, his pay was never very high. We both are very good at living within our means. That said, we definitely have different views on what should be purchased: I have bought lots of things on sale, because they are a good deal to make me feel more at home. G will instead save up and buy the best or perfect thing regardless of the cost (within reason). So we conflict a little about that.

    What’s very interesting reading this thread is how different people view money regardless of the background. Some grow up poor and never know how to spend money, while some grow up with more (middle class and up, not wanting for anything) and are very frugal. And then the complete opposite: poor and frugal, clinging to money; or wealthy and frivolous, not caring how it’s spent.

    I definitely think this has a lot to do with how your parents view money and what they taught you about it.

  • By the way, Meg, I’m kind of grumpy that you posted this right before Happy Hour. It’s such a good discussion that I didn’t get in on until the end and now everyone has jumped ship.

  • How funny, you and I have the same adult mindsets and our husbands too, however our actual upbringings are totally reversed. Having not struggled for money as a kid I worry about not having any; him being used to not having any, doesn’t worry about not having any.

  • Kat

    Money scares the hell out of me. My SO graduated and was able to almost immediately get a tech job that pays….well, more than both my parents make combined. I’m graduating now, a year later, and I can’t even imagine living how he lives (he doesn’t even live extravagantly, I’m just accustomed to living with 4 other people and waiting until July to turn our AC on in Florida.) I’m so weird about money because we just never had any. It feels like I’m betraying my feminist role models but some days I feel like assigning someone to give me an allowance every week just so I won’t have it in the back of my mind all of the time. When he talks about buying a home my response is “You want to OWN A HOUSE!? But we’re just KIDS, no one is going to let me have a HOUSE!” I can’t even imagine making that leap. Did I just miss this course in college?

  • D

    Interesting question. For the first part of my childhood, my parents didn’t make much money as new immigrants to America, but then in the second part of my childhood, my dad was making a really good living as a physician. As a youngster, I never had to go without food or new books, but my dad was always sure to act frugally. That stayed with me even though they were able to afford much more later on.

    As a young adult, I was fortunate that they were able to help me out with college and grad school costs although I held my own with my academic scholarships. However, my mom always gave me much more money than I actually needed, which made me uncomfortable, and I would continue to live extremely frugally to prove that I didn’t need all that money they were giving me.

    DH can be frugal, but he does have a looser set of pursestrings, so I am slowly becoming less extreme in my frugality. I still think it’s a good trait to have and to pass on to my future children.

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  • Kater

    I love this post. I completely underestimated how different our experiences growing up with/without money were. I think we both assumed that since our financial situations appeared similar when we met (“successful” professionals, disposable income, new-ish cars, etc.), our worldviews were in the same ballpark at least.

    As we learned more about each other and our families, I realized that ski trips to Europe were the norm for my husband’s family growing up, while I have memories of my dad having to get a paper route when he was laid off, and my mom’s nun cousin bringing over donations from the food bank when times were tight.

    I did not realize that I had internalized a scarcity mentality, and my husband had internalized an abundance mentality, until we were figuring out how to pay for our wedding and realized that I had enough cash in the bank to pay for most of it, and my husband…did not. (Our salaries are approximately equivalent). He was shocked that I had so much saved, and I was shocked that he had so little saved.

    I have realized that when evaluating whether or not to buy something we want, his first instinct is to buy it! And my first instinct is to assume I cannot/should not afford it, and wait. I think we are each learning lessons from the other.

    A hilarious image that kind of sums this all up: during our first summer trip to my husband’s parents’ enormous lakeside house, we were out on their boat watching 4th of July fireworks. As my husband lounged on the boat he turned to me and said, “yeah, I guess I just got outed as a rich kid!” Big time :) and I was trying not to out myself as a middle class/poor kid.

  • Karen

    And all of that was without dealing with Judaism and money! My Jewish side never throws out food because food is money… plus the Protestant side that grew up in the Great Depression and saved Cool-Whip containers FOREVER… lots of baggage.

  • orienteeringirl

    Like Meg, FH and I look at money in fundamentally
    different ways. I will never forget how freaked out I got when I was helping
    him to move into his first apartment just a few months after we started dating.
    We didn’t hit up anywhere expensive, just Ikea, Target, etc. but I was aghast
    nonetheless when he didn’t look a single price tag before throwing whatever he
    needed in a cart. Since we’d only been dating a few months I didn’t want to say
    anything, but I remember when he threw a $30 bath mat into the cart it was
    almost too much to bear.

    See, FH grew up in a house where his parents were
    careful with money, but I’m pretty sure they always had money, even if they
    acted like they didn’t. I, on the other hand, grew up in the house where my
    parents spent like they had the money, but they never did. My mom would take me
    to the Mall and we’d spend $200, and then the next day when I would ask to go
    grocery shopping, and she’d turn around and say “we might not have the house
    next month, so no, we can’t buy groceries.” That kind of insecurity will mess
    you up when it comes to money. The worst of it is that for my first few years
    on my own, I was starting down the path of my own parents mistakes. I really
    have to credit FH with saving my financial future, but the wonderful thing is
    he didn’t actually save me, he just pushed us to save ourselves and our
    financial future together as we taught ourselves money management. We’re both very
    careful with our money now, and after a few years managing our money together,
    I realized just how well we were doing. The only problem now is after spending
    close to the first three decades of my life never feeling financially secure, I
    am beginning to grow terrified of financial risks. I’ve also grown to view the
    balance in my bank account as a measure of my success and I’m really proud that
    I earn a pretty darn good paycheck for where I am in my career. Unfortunately,
    one of our goals in life is to live abroad where it would be likely that I wouldn’t
    be able to work since FH’s employer would likely send him overseas. The idea of
    not earning my own money terrifies me on so many levels, but what scares me the
    most is that I’ll begin to doubt my own self-worth if I’m not adding to our
    collective wealth.

  • Rachel

    I just want to observe that our childhood experiences with money do inform our adult habits, but in not-always-predictable ways. My fiancee and I both grew up poor (though with important differences– my parents were make hugely-stupid-decisions-and-wind-up-homeless-then-rebuild-poor, his parents were lifetime-of-paycheck-to-paycheck-and-credit-card-debt-poor). And we have completely opposite baked-in financial habits. If he gets $100 dollars, he SPENDS it– because that might be the last $100 he’ll ever see! And if I get $100, I SAVE it–because that might be the last $100 I’ll ever see. Does that make sense? Nope. And yet there it is. And I think understanding this is kind of key to healing some of the impact of classism and poverty on both of our lives. I need to work on my feelings of being not-good-enough that are about having been homeless in a town of rich kids, and he needs to work on his feelings of get-while-the-getting’s good that come from a family that just couldn’t win, no matter what, so learned to enjoy the moment.

  • AGCourtney

    I know this post is from last week, but I’ve been crazy-busy and saved the email this was in so I could come back and read it.

    So I just wanted to say a huge THANK YOU for writing this – this is basically my fiance and me. I grew up poor and he grew up lower middle class. So while living on my own with our daughter in the cities, I’ve been living extremely frugally. I have a mixture of pride and fear of scarcity in my money management – I’m doing everything “right”, so to speak, having saved up a decent amount and having paid off an unsubsidized student loan while still in school – but yet, I am so, so prone to panic.

    Bus pass insecurity is an instant trigger to unparalelled panic for me. I’m supposed to get a monthly pass from my worker every month, but I have a new job “counselor” who has been enjoying the power struggle. I meet with her on Friday and my current pass expires on Sunday – and I have been having nightmares and anxiety attacks like you wouldn’t believe. I technically have enough saved up to purchase one for the next few months I’m likely to remain in the city before moving back home, but it’s almost identical to my rent payment and I really can’t afford it and even thinking about it is enough to send my stress level sky high.

    Anyway. I’m relieved to hear your story, because it normalizes my experience – I’m glad to know ahead of time that it never quite goes away. Sometimes I’m glad I grew up poor and had these experiences – my standards are so low that it doesn’t take much for me to be content, and I feel more grounded in reality. But the flip side of that coin is the stress. My fiance and I have had many discussions about money, and are likely to have more, because I was so convinced I was morally right and he was…well, I think once he actually said, “Courtney, spending money is not a sin.” So I had to acknowledge the best approach was probaby somewhere in the middle. So it made me laugh to see a similar paragraph in this piece.
    Anyway, sorry for the ridiculously long comment, but since it’s from last week, I’m sure no one will read it anyway, haha. :) But money is very important to me and I really, really appreciated this piece.

  • I love this: “It seems that for many of us, having more resources than our parents had is scary. That figuring out how to save money if your parents had never had complex investments, or a retirement account, or a savings account, or sometimes even a checking account, was overwhelming. That we know how to manage what we’ve lived, not what we haven’t.”

    I completely, 100% feel it. I don’t have anything to add to it that’s actually productive or helpful, but this rings true.

  • kathee

    I remember lying in my room when I was in high school and writing in a journal to my future husband. I’d write all sorts of notes and questions and things I’d wonder or ask cthis man when I eventually met him. I would wonder where he was and what he was doing and if he was thinking about me too. It has always been such a strong desire in my heart to find a wonderful man to marry, someone who would love me and cherish me and appreciate me for the person I am. I always thought I would get married right out of college, just like my parents, so when that plan didn’t work out, I started to get discouraged. A school mate snatched my future husband away from my arms just because she had spiritual powers, all hope was lost to me before i came across the help doctor (
    ) who i confided in, i told him my long story and he helped me regain back my lover with his prayers which is now my husband today. if you have any problem email the help doctor (

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