When looking at a high level view of our financial lives, we all had to start somewhere.
Some people were lucky and grew up in a financially literate household. Perhaps money was talked about often and your parents did all they could to help you understand the way the world of money worked, and helped to instill good habits with you.
Others, unfortunately, may not have had this luck. You may have grown up in a household which didn’t live within it’s means, and money was never brought up.
Depending on the situation in which you were brought up, that can have a profound impact on your current financial state.
For example, having your first money lesson and learning good money habits at age 10 would likely leave your future self in a better situation than if you had you your first money lesson at age 30.
This first lesson can be a profound thing. It’s the moment when you truly understand that money can be a tool and that saving it is necessary to get ahead financially.
My first true money lesson was one that I’ll never forget. It’s the basis behind why I’ve always prioritized paying myself first, and spending what’s left over.
My First Money Lesson
The first money memory I have likely occurred somewhere when I was between 6 and 8 years old.
I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but it was probably somewhere in there. The key here is that it was my first memory of it.
This isn’t to say my parents had not talked with me about money before this, they very likely may have, just for whatever reason this is the first one that actually stuck with me.
When you think of a money lesson, you may think of going to a classroom setting, where there is a teacher, you can take notes, etc.
Perhaps they give you a rundown of what the value of money is, or the importance of saving. Or maybe it’s something you read online where you learned how to live within your means by seeing what others do.
My first lesson was anything but. It was a real life experience, one filled with emotion – both good and bad – that’s left a lasting impression.
It’s something I’ve carried with me since then, and one I think of time to time when spending money – especially when spending money that isn’t mine.
My Aunt and Uncle who live a couple towns over from us are the prototypical American family who do not know how to live within their means.
According to my parents, they spend nearly every dollar they earn and hardly have any savings. From what I can tell, they aren’t lying.
One summer, the fair came to town. My parents weren’t very interested in attending, but my older brother (one year older than me) and I were dying to go as we’d never been. My Aunt and Uncle were planning to go one weekend night and offered to my parents to take and watch over us for the night.
We were ecstatic! It was going to be a blast going on all the rides and playing those carnival games.
Before we left, my parents entrusted to us probably around $60 (I can’t remember the exact amount). They told us this money was precisely to pay for our dinner, as well as to play a couple games and have fun.
I remember this was a big deal, as I don’t think I’d ever handled that kind of money before.
The night started off innocently enough. We went on a few of the free rides, walked around a lot and were having a great time. Then came time for dinner. As our parents instructed, we paid for our own meals with the money they gave us.
This was the first time my Uncle saw the money we had. At this he exclaimed something along the lines of, “Woah, look at the money you guys have. You can spend that on whatever you want!”
We were easily persuaded.
The rest of the night we were encouraged to spend that money on whatever we wanted. If we saw a game we liked, or sweets we wanted to try, you name it and we got it.
Now, at the time, my brother and I were clueless about money. While my parents were clear in their direction of what the money was intended for, we did not have the fortitude to hang on to that money and not spend it all. Especially when getting peer pressured by our Uncle.
To be clear, there was no malicious intent or anything, this was just simply my Uncle doing exactly what he would’ve done had he been given money by someone. As a natural spender, it has probably never occurred to him to not spend that money doing fun things.
My brother and I had a blast. Doing all these things and playing whatever games we wanted was something we hadn’t ever been exposed to. While not deprived, my parents weren’t ones to let us play every game we ever wanted, especially when those games cost a decent amount of money.
After the night ended, we got dropped back off at our house. We were so happy and telling our parents all about the night.
Then my parents asked us to give back the rest of the money they had given us. My brother (who had held the money) reached into his pocket and pulled out a small handful of coins.
Mainly nickels, dimes, and pennies. Less than fifty cents worth. We had spent every last dollar we could.
I’ll never forget the look my parents gave each other. They were dumbfounded we had spent it all.
My brother and I were clueless. I mean, the “adults” (my aunt and uncle) we were with had encouraged all this spending so why was it not alright?
My Dad was borderline upset with us, but he quickly realized this was a teachable moment. As it turned out, we had much to learn about being responsible with money.
Instilling Smart Money Practices
That night we had a long discussion. My parents sat us down and spoke with us face to face, like adults, and explained just what was wrong with what we had done.
They had never meant for us to spend all that money. They knew the value of what that money would get us, maybe around $15-20 for dinner, $10-15 for a couple games.
The rest was purely for emergency purposes, in case something happened, we needed a ride, etc.
They explained to us the value of that money, how everything has a cost. Perhaps the most important part was that the cost wasn’t just the money spent, it was the time used to acquire that money in the first place.
My parents worked very hard to earn that money, and here my brother and I had blown it all on a figurative joy ride.
I love and respect my parents a great deal and I remember the feeling that we had seemingly wasted their time was awful.
The talk extended into many other areas that night as we no doubt had other questions. But the important thing was that the seed was planted.
Linking money to time spent was something that was profound, and something that my brother and I have taken with us since that day (my brother is actually even more naturally frugal than I am).
While I seriously doubt this was the very first time my parents had talked about money with us, I think the emotion tied around it is the very reason that I remember it so vividly.
I feel like I had let down my parents that night, and it’s something I’ve learned from and did a much better job of in the future – with their money and my own.
Do you remember your first money lesson? Around what age was this for you? Did you talk about the value of money or was it something else? Let me know in the comments!