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.