Family or Marriage Finances & Money

Appreciating Your Own Financial Education Experience

I won’t say I grew up in a poor family, nor will I say I grew up in a rich one. From my knowledge, although my parents can contend this, I think we were in the lower middle class zone of the economic spectrum.

I was born in the Pennsylvania, then was moved to Texas for a couple years until moving back to my birthplace. The second time around, however, we moved in with my grandmother. Since I was only about 5, I don’t know any of the discussions or agreements that happened at the time, but we ended up living with my “Gram” through my college days, although I stopped living at home after my junior year.

Sharing a home with another wage-earner (my gram) definitely helped my parents be able to take care of my sister and I, but looking back, I know we definitely lived much more frugally than my wife and I do now. Although we could have gone to public school “for free” (paid via our required property taxes), my parents sent us to private Catholic school from kindergarten through high school and paid out of their pockets. As I said, it helped to have 3 adult incomes in the house, but we weren’t shopping at the fancy clothes stores; we got most of our clothes at Value City and Sears, and sometimes Goodwill and Salvation Army. It always could have been worse, I know.

But really, it was only when it came to clothing and maybe some toys that I felt less privileged than other kids, but what kid doesn’t want something he doesn’t have? I do, however, despise the polyester pants I had to wear because 1) I was a very fat kid and 2) polyester clung very unflatteringly to me. I think I even started a few “friction fires” in my day.

The bad things I learned growing up

There’s the ever-present argument of nature vs nurture, and it applies here in my own reflection of my younger days. From day one, my family would tell me “money burns a hole in your pocket” and it was true. I couldn’t save a penny to save my life, but as I’ve proven over the last 4 years of this site, habits (or genetics) can change, for the most part.

Now you know my weakness is cars. I almost lost my chance at marriage with my best friend over a car. But I’ll note both nature (my need to spend) and nurture (example of my family) in my challenge with spending on cars. I can remember back as far as 1984 when my parents got a Honda Civic WagoVan. It was the first of many new cars for my parents.

I clearly recall my parents telling me that they would intentionally buy (or lease, not sure) a new car every 4 years. In 1988, they traded in on a Honda Accord sedan. In 1992, they traded in for a Honda Civic coupe. In 1996, I totalled the Honda Civic, so I can’t entirely blame them on buying a new 1996 Nissan truck. Then the truck had engine or transmission problems so they traded it in for a 1998 Nissan Pathfinder. It wasn’t until both kids were off in college before they decided to just keep the cars for more than 4 years.

So, my parents had car payments every month for 18+ years! (you need to count the time to pay off the Pathfinder). You can figure out that I “learned” that it was ok to have a car payment; that it was even weird to drive an old car when you could easily have a shiny new one.

But let’s quickly jump to the good things I learned.

The good things I learned growing up

Ok, so I bashed on my parents a bit about their new car habit, which I carried into my first few years after college. However, there’s a flip-side.

My dad always bought an old “beater” car to drive to his job. The nice car was for the family, while my dad would have things like an old Toyota station wagon, or a giant hoopty wagon (with no floor on the passenger side), or a used Chevy Tracker. He would run them almost into the ground. However, I think I inherited the “new car bug” from him, and it was only through the power of my mom that he didn’t have a new car every year, or even more often (just like Stacie helped me stay off buying new cars). If it wasn’t a new car, it was a new gaming system, or lawn tool, or whatever. But by seeing the arguments about spending, credit card debt and car payments every month, it was easy for me to see how much I wanted to avoid them in my own adult life.

I didn’t learn quickly, but marrying someone like my wife most certainly was my saving grace. Unfortunately, she began talking to my mom and I think they have a secret pact against me…

I’d like to give my parents major props for changing their own spending patterns, well before I was able to get a handle on my bad spending habits. They held onto that ’98 Pathfinder for a decade before the body almost rusted off, as well as an old Geo Tracker (yes, Geo, not Chevy). They’re also well on their way to getting out of the debt that my sister and I helped cause and have a pretty good financial plan for the immediate future.

I like to think I had something to do with their becoming more thrifty, but they started back when I was buying new cars every year, and before I started this site. A child could always hope he can teach his parents something once, right?

So, mom and dad, even though I caught a few bad habits a few decades ago, I’d like to thank you for helping me become a frugal and financially savvy young man.

What one good and bad financial “thing” did you learn growing up?

About the author

Clever Dude


  • I learned ‘why save your money, it only gathers dust in a bank.’ To this day it’s the one thing I desperately struggle with. I also learned to emotional shop. Again, something I struggle with, but not nearly as desperate. I don’t go to the mall and I deliberately shop only thrift stores or garage sales.

    I also learned how to fix things instead of buying new. How to garden, read instructions to put things together or take things apart or install them or program them. No hiring out an installation service for me.

    Out of all of that, the greatest thing to come out of my childhood was critical thinking. To look at something that’s not working correctly, or at all, and give it some thought before deciding it’s just injured and needs to be fixed or really dead. I’ve rescued countless things from certain death just by thinking about what it does and what could make it not do what it’s supposed to.

  • The one good thing I learned from my parents was how to have an eye for quality (and to see potential in something). The one bad thing I learned was since we never really talked about money growing up, I really had no idea how much things like utilities cost.

  • “I do, however, despise the polyester pants I had to wear because 1) I was a very fat kid and 2) polyester clung very unflatteringly to me. I think I even started a few “friction fires” in my day.”

    OMG…you made me laugh so hard! I
    too can distinctly remember those polyester pants that tortured me in the early 70’s! My mother made most of my clothes when I was little. She would make her a pantsuit and make a matching one for me with her leftovers. Then she would use the tiny scraps left to make clothes for my barbie dolls, lol. That is just TOO MUCH polyester!

    Like Ky, I would have to say that I was instilled with the DIY nature, and to be “crafty”, reusing things, fixing things, seeing value in things others would just dismiss as useless.

    I was also taught that there were no limits to what I could do…only my self imposed limitations. My Grandfather, Dad & Uncle always let me follow them around as they did woodworking, welding, auto repair, etc. Typical “guy” work — yet they always would explain step-by-step what they were doing to the little girl tagging along, just as they would to any adult. They were great role models and wonderful teachers.
    It really help to developed my analytical skills which really helped later in life with Physics, Math, and other classes…just in life in general.

    My mother sewed, and was a wonderful cook. She was very frugal, using coupons, planning meals, and I am sure she had a budget that she followed.
    But like Jenna above, she never shared any of that with me. Maybe it was my fault…maybe she didn’t think I WANTED to know about the finances and such. However I keep my children in the loop about our family finances whether they really care or want to know…I am trying to instill good sound financial practices in their brains before they become adults with their own lives and bills. I didn’t really no anything other than “credit cards are bad.” Well, needless to say I learned the hard way!

    All that said, I have to admit that my parents also have had a new car payment for the last 30 years or more. Maybe it is their pay off for being good savers & thrifty…or maybe it is because my Dad has an obsession with new shiny cars 🙂 This is the one area where my Dad & I can not agree on at all! He doesn’t get it.
    I don’t want the large car payment & big insurance bill hanging over my head.

    When my husband & I first got together he had some kind of little Buick four door. It was rust…not the manufacture color, but actual rust, lol. There wasn’t a shiny spot left on it I don’t believe. But it ran, and was very functional. Definitely not pretty. I laughed everytime we climbed in the thing, but it didn’t bother me. We got to where we needed to go & back — that was all that mattered. One day something needed replaced on it (something small) and my Dad said “Why don’t you JUST buy a new car?!”

    Long story short he convinced us we needed a new shiny one & we caught the bug for a bit. But the time we paid off two new shiny cars we were in debt elsewhere due to trying to have things that we really couldn’t afford. It is not smart to have a new car payment, then add another new car payment, and then refinance because you can’t afford those payments, then not pay other bills because you can’t afford those payments, then get credit cards to charge things because we had no cash because of the payments…it was just a downward spiral!

    Now we have a truck we bought on ebay for $1600 that my husband uses for his lawn care business, and a really nice minivan for hauling kids that we paid $2000 for, and the second “brand new car” that we bought 8 years ago and just NOW finishing paying it off due to refinancing (dumb). The truck my husband has used for 2 years now. I expect to use the van for the next 3 to 4 years, and I will drive that “new car” until it falls apart completely. If the truck or the van would suffer some ill fate tomorrow I feel like we definitely got our $$ out of it. We would just start looking for another cheap used vehicle–I will never buy a new car again!

    Shiny is Nice, but Car Payments Suck!

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