As I shared last week, I have been reading Tori Dunlap's Financial Feminist and continuing through the book's first chapter; I would like to complete and share an activity designed to assess your thoughts about money. 

In the latter part of chapter one, Dunlap shares her money coaching methods. She states she likes to start her sessions with questions about the individual's earliest money-related memories. The questions are:

  • When was the first time you recall thinking about money?
  • About saving money?
  • About spending money?

Tori provides an example of this exercise with her own experience. Tori shares a story that happened when she was four years old. She was interested in attending a local theatre production, and her parents told her they would allow her to go if she saved up her money to buy a ticket. Tori recalls that over the following weeks, she diligently saved money while looking forward to the event. Tragedy struck when, pulling up to the theatre, four-year-old Tori realized she'd accidentally left her money at home. Tori was devastated to be unable to attend the event for which she'd diligently saved. Luckily, as you can guess, her parents intended to cover her ticket from the beginning, and Tori could see the play she wanted. 

Her parents had asked her to save money to teach her a crucial financial lesson. Her parents wanted to instill in her that we must plan for and save for what we want. Tori credits this memory as a critical moment that helped her develop the mindset to save her first 100k. 

My Story

This activity was challenging because I struggled to recall any money-related memories before my teenage years. At first, I was surprised by this, but as I'll discuss later, this is illuminating. 

When was the first time you recall thinking about money?

When I was about three years old, I woke up early and found my dad using my piggy bank to make change. I'm not saying he was taking money from me; he was using it to make change so he could pay a parking meter or something like that. 

I was so mad to see him messing with my money! Although, as an adult, I have to laugh because I can recall him trying, in vain, to explain the fungibility of funds to a three-year-old who was absolutely pissed at him.

Honestly, this memory doesn't affect my current money mindset but it is amusing. 

About saving money?

I struggle with this question as I try to remember ever thinking about saving money before adulthood. Although, I do have some recollection of asking my mother about planning for my future college education*. 

*I'll have to preface this by stating I am a first-generation college graduate, and my blue-collar parents had some ideas about college education that were not based in reality. That could be a topic of its own blog post, but for now, that's enough information. *

Anyways, my parents always emphasized that I should go to college. When I was about 12 years old, I asked my mother how I could go to college when I didn't have any money. I wondered to her aloud: if I must go to college, and college wasn't free, then how was I supposed to pursue it? My mother, delusionally but very matter-of-factly, told me they were not saving money for my college education but not to worry because I could "just get a scholarship." 

So I suppose my first savings-related memory was my mother telling me that there were no savings, and no plan to save, for something they regarded as a non-negotiable expense. But I should just hope some magical windfall would come along to take care of me. 

This idea of 'waiting for a windfall' is significant, and I'll get into that more in the next question.

About spending money?

My parents did not give allowances or allow us to exchange any services for money in our home. In my house, you couldn't get any money for mowing the lawn, getting good grades, opening a lemonade stand, or any other everyday childhood endeavor kids often employ to earn some spending money. 

I only got money around holidays and birthdays, and the amount was always random and variable. Should we come into some arbitrary amount of money throughout the year, we were encouraged to spend it on some spontaneous temptation, usually within a week of getting the money.

This is another example of 'waiting for a windfall.' These experiences taught me that money just randomly comes and goes, you don't have any control over when you get money, and the amount won't be enough to be worth saving anyway. Therefore, why not spend it while you have it? There's no rhyme or reason to when you'll get more money anyway. 

I'll share another example that's similar to Tori's story. When I was 9, I wanted to attend an *NSYNC concert. The bands I liked NEVER played shows in my area, but for some reason, *NSYNC was playing a show and really, really, really wanted to go. My parents blew me off and said they'd called to get tickets, but it was sold out, sorry. So I wrote off the possibility and forgot about the concert.

Flash forward a few months, and my parents come up with some reason why we must travel to the central metro area. It's some random Saturday, and we usually never go into town, but being a dumb nine-year-old, I didn't question it. I didn't even remember that it was the day of the concert, that's how much I had put that concert out of my mind. It clicked when we were pulling up to the arena. My parents had gotten tickets but lied about it to surprise me. 

I'm not saying my parents were wrong for surprising me with an experience they knew I'd enjoy, and I'm grateful that they could give me a fun experience. However, the issue is that the essential life lessons never came in any other form or arena. While Tori's parents used her interest in an event to cultivate skills in delaying gratification, planning, and saving, my parents turned my interest into another "windfall."

This idea of 'waiting for a windfall' is pervasive in my money story. I've written previously that even when I've been aware of my inappropriate spending, I've always thought that future me would figure out how to make up for it. Like my mother's advice about college, I had delusional thoughts that some magical windfall would come my way and fix all my problems. And since I couldn't control when that windfall would come my way, I shouldn't worry about it. I also believe this mentality is why I initially struggled to think of money-related memories- I was actually taught that one cannot anticipate or plan for things; so there’s no use in thinking about it. 

I sat with this exercise for a while, and in a previous draft of this post, I wrote that it didn't help me glean information regarding my money beliefs. Still, I'm glad I forced myself to continue to ponder these questions, as this "waiting for a windfall" insight was very meaningful and worthwhile. Learning impulse control, how to delay gratification, and how I can plan for the future have been such freeing concepts in my journey.