Growing Up (I)

Kristine Hayes

I RECENTLY RECEIVED an email from a friend asking, “What financial advice would you give to your younger self, now that you’re older?” I had to think for a while. But once I sat down to reply, I realized my attitudes about personal finance were already well-developed by the time I was in my 20s. I also realized my financial beliefs had been shaped, in part, by growing up in a family where money wasn’t exactly plentiful.

As a child, I don’t remember ever having a formal discussion about personal finance with my parents. The lessons I learned about spending and saving came from real life. My family lived in rural Oregon. The modest allowance my parents provided each week was earned doing chores around our small farm. Returning bottles to the grocery store, to redeem the nickel deposit, served as supplemental income. The back-to-school supplies I purchased in the fall were financed with the proceeds from selling an animal each summer at our local 4-H livestock auction.

We rarely ate out, but if we did, it was almost always at McDonald’s. We didn’t have cable television and we didn’t take expensive vacations to exotic locations. Instead, we went on camping trips. I spent a good portion of my summer vacations exhibiting our animals at county fairs throughout the state. The budgeting skills I have as an adult can easily be traced back to my youth, when I earned multiple awards for my 4-H record books, filled with the profit-and-loss statements for each of my projects.

When I decided to go to college, my parents were supportive of my decision, but they were unable to help me financially. Instead, I applied for, and received, several needs-based grants. I also won thousands of dollars in merit-based scholarship money. I worked part-time while taking classes and lived such a frugal lifestyle that, when I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I was not only debt-free, but also I’d managed to amass $5,000 in a savings account to help pay for graduate school.

The financial lessons I learned growing up are still with me as an adult. I grew up not only appreciating the value of a dollar, but also learning that the memories from life experiences are far more valuable than any item that can be bought. To this day, I carefully pick and choose what I’ll spend my hard-earned money on. A day with friends at a pistol shooting competition is more highly valued than any possession I might purchase.

This is the first in a series.

Kristine Hayes is a departmental manager at a small, liberal arts college in Portland, Ore. Her previous articles include To Buy or Not and Quitting Early.

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