I DON’T THINK my parents ever had any sort of five-step plan to teach me about money. I was always parsimonious, so they weren’t very focused on how I spent. They did, however, teach me two powerful life lessons—which changed not just the way I thought about money, but who I am.
Everything has a cost. I attended private school from fourth to ninth grade, coasting by with B plusses and A minuses. My report cards usually included comments like “Zach could do so much better if he tried harder” or “When Zach is attentive, he is great, but at other times….”
I told my parents this is what teachers said about everybody. They told me that if the comments didn’t change, they would pull me from the school, because they weren’t paying tuition for me to be comfortable. I didn’t believe them. It turned out it wasn’t an empty threat. Despite my rage, they transferred me to public school for tenth grade.
Skin in the game. I was furious with my parents, but I also realized how serious they were. I refocused on academics and earned better grades, without any negative teacher comments. They let me reapply to my old private school, where my closest friends were and where I could actually make the basketball team, and I was accepted.
But my parents laid down a condition: I had to pay 10% of the tuition out of my own pocket. They are both doctors and didn’t need my money. But they had seen my previous lack of appreciation—and wanted to ensure I didn’t again take private school for granted.
For an entire year, I worked a retail job in the maternity and kids section of a department store in the Maine Mall in South Portland, paying back every penny to my parents. The experience made me a completely different student during my junior and senior years and, when I reached college, I valued my education—and how much it was costing—far more than some of my less grounded peers.
This is the second in a series. The first part appeared July 25.
Zach Blattner’s previous blogs include Seller’s Remorse and Too Trusting. Zach lives in Cambridge, MA, and is a former teacher and school leader who now teaches English teachers as a faculty member at Relay GSE. He is a self-taught finance nerd who dispenses advice to his wife, friends, family and anyone else willing to listen.
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