What Did Your Parents Teach You About Money?

Granny, 1949

I come from a long line of frugal family members. 

It’s not uncommon for my grandparents to go out to eat at Braum’s and split a hamburger.

Growing up, my parents were frugal too, so it doesn’t surprise me that I tend to be careful with money.

Some of it is because of personal conviction, but a lot is simply from habit, and my frugal ways began early.

There are specific lessons I remember my parents teaching me.  My dad said cars depreciate quickly in the first two years, so that is why I buy used cars with cash.  I also remember him showing me a check for $400 that he received from an investment.

me, 1982

But even more was unspoken, and I soaked it all in watching how my parents spent money.  Sometimes my perception wasn’t always accurate.  I remember when my parents made homemade root beer and filled up several milk jugs with it.  At the time I wondered if we couldn’t afford to buy root beer from the store.  My mom shopped very carefully.  I didn’t want to ask for things, and preferred to buy them myself.  

When I married Doug, we had to decide together how we were going to manage our finances, and thankfully we tend to balance each other.

Regardless of parents’ sound advice (or lack of it), at some point we all have to make our own decision for how we will handle our money.  We may still have tendencies that were shaped by our childhood, but we can consider them and try to work on new habits.  And this whole topic makes me wonder:

What example are we going to set for our kids?  Will we teach them what they need to know, and are we living an example of financial stewardship?

What are your thoughts? What did your parents teach you? For those of you who have kids, what are you trying to teach them about money?

About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. My parents taught me how to spend money!! It seemed like we were always spending. My Dad worked at General Motors – we always had a new car – he would sell it every year. My family pretty much thinks I’m crazy for being frugal. They just don’t get it.

    Dana’s last blog post..Paint is Awesome!!

  2. My parents were kids during the Great Depression. That single event determined much about their lives. They have been very frugal their entire life (they are now 81 and 80). Not only frugal but they save everything because they literally remember having to do without. My mother remembers wearing cardboard on her feet because they couldn’t afford shoes. That makes me sad. My parents never felt like they could spend any money for fun because then they may not have it for a need. Another thing that makes me sad because they missed out on many opportunities over the years and now aren’t able (physically) to do all that they’d like to. I’m trying to find a balance — be frugal and a good steward, don’t be wasteful, save only what you can use again and have fun. Unfortunately I had to learn some of these lessons the hard way. I am trying to talk with my children openly about finances, something my parents didn’t do. I want our girls to learn early on, before they have a full-time job, how to find a balance in saving/spending.

    Nancy’s last blog post..It’s all in the Attitude

  3. I can’t thank my dad enough for the lessons he taught me about money. Pay yourself first, don’t buy new cars (or more generally, be mindful of items that lose a lot of value early in their life), avoid debt like the plague, the power of compound interest (start early!), not being wasteful etc. But in the midst of all that, he also recognized the importance of quality. I remember shopping for a basketball hoop with him, and I thought for sure he would buy the wooden one that was the least expensive, but after speaking with the salesperson, he determined that the fiberglass model, which was more than twice the amount, was the way to go – he knew it would last longer and withstand 6 kids much better. I save like mad and question every purchase, but I won’t hesitate to buy quality when warranted – in some cases, it’s the more economical choice. I’m already teaching my 3 kids the same values – I only hope I can do 1/2 the job my dad did.

  4. When I was young, my parents talked to me about saving my allowance and about not being able to get things because they couldn’t afford it, but it was all conceptual, so I didn’t understand. Save for what, bigger stickers? No, I’ll take these cool stickers now. And I would want a lot for Christmas, thanks to the Sears catalog, and they would say they couldn’t afford it but we got most of it anyway, so, not being able to afford something meant nothing to me. And, with the advent of marketing credit cards to college students, reality didn’t hit until many years later. I think if my parents had made their advice real, like showing me a check for $400 from an investment, I would have been better able to understand the mechanics of finances from early on. They did everything right with their money, it just didn’t hit home to me until I made big goals of my own. For me, that was key.

  5. My parents taught us primarily by example. They bought used cars and kept them until they no longer were worth fixing (>10 years usually), we rarely ate at restaraunts, we did fun things together rather than buy things, my dad did all of our car repairs and yard work himself, I didn’t even know about designer clothes or labels until I saw other people with them in high school. If we wanted a big ticket item we had to save our money for it. But we were given a dollar or two extra a couple of times a week to walk to the store and buy candy or gum. I had a great childhood and grew up with great money habits despite little intentional teaching from my parents. Now that I am married and have a child those habits have served me well. We both drive old cars, but they run well. We have a comfortable, safe, home in a friendly neighborhood. We have everything we need, but few extras. Thanks to my simple upbringing, it is easy to resist the temptation to keep up with our neighbors.

    Becca’s last blog post..How did that happen?

  6. My parents have always been open about their finances with me. In Junior High, I had to buy my own clothes if I didn’t want to wear the perfectly good hand-me-downs, while friends were getting boat loads of new designer clothing. In high school, I was taught how to budget and actually started making the grocery list to do the shopping, which I had always gone with my Mom before. Instead of just buying foods that sound good, you plan your meals out, buy only the ingredients you need (if it’s not on the list, you don’t get it), and then make sure you make all the meals planned and not let any food spoil. My Mom also always made her grocery list in the order that the aisles were (which I still do today), so that shopping went a little faster. My parents always drove a car into the ground. If it could be fixed and didn’t cost more than the car was worth, then we’d fix it. We’d only get a new car when there was no life left in the old car. After graduating college, I had to pay for rent to live at home until I moved out on my own (this was of course to insure that I wouldn’t stay there for forever and also taught me to budget my money for living expenses….wow….a real world experience, how practical). :) I am so thankful today that my parents took the time to teach me such things. I appreciate the lessons now more than ever. What I thought wasn’t fair back then really helped me now. I wonder about my friends who got things handed to them on a platter. Were their parents in debt? Are they now in debt (trying to achieve the same lifestyle they did as a kid)? Great post today!

  7. My mom has always been pretty bad with money. Some people follow in their parents foot steps. I ran in the opposite direction, ha. Unfortunately, this has ingrained me with the fear that there will never be enough money. I just try to budget and be good and do the best with what we have. I’m just never sure if I’ll get out from under that feeling of being poor. But it saves me money, so maybe it’s not a bad thing. :)

    Jessica’s last blog post..Library Card

  8. smallnotebook says:

    Jessica, I think wanting to do things differently is a pretty powerful motivator. Thanks for sharing.

  9. I am so thankful for the good principles that my parents taught me. Sometimes I haven’t always taken heed to them, but I’ve learned my lessons!
    P.S. Now that you’ve mentioned Braum’s burgers, I’m craving one! We don’t have Braum’s where we live now, but we’re moving back *home* soon and I’m looking forward to having a Braum’s again!

    Lora’s last blog post..Back to School

  10. My parents incurred a lot of credit card debt when we were growing up. We always had what we needed, though, and were not extravagant people, but the small things just added up over the years. My parents never drove new cars. Also, savings and investments were not focused on or really even mentioned. We were given allowances to pay for our own gas in high school and any extra things we wanted. My brothers and I both had jobs during high school and my mom made sure we knew how to have a checking account and balance a checkbook. I’m so thankful she taught us that. What’s really great is in the last five years my family has had complete financial “makeovers.” My parents, my two brothers and their wives, and my husband and I started following Dave Ramsey’s financial advice and have litterally changed our financial situations. My husband and I will be completely debt free in 4 more months, my parents will be as well not too long after us, and both my brothers are paying down mortgages and school loans as quickly as they can. We have all learned the importance of saving and planning for things we want. It’s such a blessing to all have gone through this together!

  11. They taught me the importance of avoiding debt for anything but a modest home, an education and a modest car. They were great examples of living within their means and, let me tell you, not having any debt is a wonderful feeling, especially in these uncertain economic times.

    LivSimpl.com’s last blog post..Write in my journal

  12. I was not taught frugality in the least! We were always in bad financial situations. We lived in poverty. My parents still owe a gizillion dollars to creditors.

    So, I am learning my lesson the hard way! But, I believe it only makes me stronger. And my family stronger, too.

    As for my kids, I have set up a two seperate accounts: a “checking” and savings. 80% of their allowance goes into the checking, 10% into their savings and another 10% is put into a jar to be used for charity during the holidays. It’s my start to them hoping they will learn about money.

    As for the frugality, the one I can think of off hand that my kids noticed: making a grocery list saves a lot of money!

    money funk’s last blog post..Cut your Grocery Bill in Half!

  13. My parents had a few discussions with me, but mostly taught by example. I think frugal was somehow in my genes, however, because my brother is not particularly good with money and struggles to save, and we were raised by the same wonderful couple! ;)

    I want to deliberately teach my daughter about money, about saving and making wise choices, being frugal, etc. I plan to start with her allowance, with her splitting it between saving, spending, and donating.

    Great topic!

    Steph @ Problem Solvin Mom’s last blog post..Wordless Wednesday – Famous Poser

  14. Like Nancy, the experience of the Depression had a pretty significant impact on how my folks grew up–they were a bit too young to feel things really directly, but because their parents were so very affected, they in turn were raised quite frugally. Unfortunately, that also meant I spent a lot of time watching my parents–my mother in particular–go without in an almost martyrish way.

    I think the key is to model being financially responsible whilst maintaining some spaces for little splurges (or the ability to save up the little splurges for one big one!) and making sure that the things you do to be financially responsible aren’t just chores or treated with resentment.

    So no, I’m not going to spend a weekend fighting with a sewing machine to make a skirt because “making it yourself” is going to cost significantly less money. (There is something to be said about opportunity costs here, including that I really hate sewing, that I can rarely find exactly the same print as what I found at the store, and there are plenty of other things I could spend my weekend doing.)

    But yes, I will spend a day cooking up pasta sauces or making peach jam because it is something I enjoy, it feels good because I know exactly what went into the sauce/jam, and yes, it is more frugal for me to do this (especially if I’m using home-grown tomatoes or fruit from neighborhood trees) than to buy the jars of similar-quality sauce/jam at the local Whole Paycheck.

    The holistic approach seems really important: save some, share some, spend some. If you don’t go overboard in any one direction, you’re probably going to be okay.

  15. smallnotebook says:

    “save some, share some, spend some”….

    LS, I think this would great to write on a checkbook cover or at the top of a budget. Good to remember.

  16. This post is from Rachel’s mom. As a minister of music at the time, R’s dad made a good living, but we were not “high on the hog!” I was trying to be a stay-at-home mom. We really could afford root beer!! We just made it because it was fun. Mike’s family was a little more frugal than mine. I went to Baylor (on my parents’ dime) and Mike went to UTA (on his dime). We never wrote down a budget but we just seemed to sense how much we had and we never were in debt and always seemed to have enough money. I guess we were just naturally frugal.

    I remember borrowing some small change from Rachel when she just a tiny thing. Her allowance was just 50 cents a week and she tithed a nickel. I asked her, “How do you have so much money?!!” I was amazed that she had so much from such a little allowance. She was a saver from the start.

    Little brother, Adam when he got a dollar, nothing would do but to the five and dime store (can you imagine, 5 and 10, not the dollar store) and spend it. We would tell him, “Why don’t you save for something better. That toy is not going to last anytime.” He would reply that he would enjoy it anyway, and he did.

    Rachel’s dad taught her about money, (he helped her invest in a stock right out of high school). But we were always amazed what a good money manager she was and still is.

    Sarah’s last blog post..The New Me

  17. such great comments today. I repeated out loud what LS said – save some, share some, spend some. Pretty catchy useful phrase there.

    I wish my parents would have taught me more about money. Specifically, how they managed their money. They didn’t have online bill paying, Quicken or other fancy programs. We always had money, mom stayed home, dad worked, we lived on a farm and even went to Christian school. We were by no means spoiled though. I think they were pretty frugal actually yet allowed for some spending too. They never carried debt.

    we talk about money in my family pretty openly now. maybe too openly when the kids blurt out things I’d rather they not : )

  18. Rachel, I love that your mother commented. It’s wonderful to have a multi-generational view on things such as finances. And, it sounds like you’ve always been a naturally frugal gal.

    Nancy’s last blog post..A Birthday Shout-Out

  19. Rachel – after reading your post and your mom’s comment, I have tears in my eyes. Your family is special. I hope you don’t mind if I answer your question in my post for tomorrow on my blog.

    Emily’s last blog post..Life Without Cable TV

  20. My parents taught me how not to have money. Turning 30 tomorrow, and I’m just now learning to get past the horrible habits that I learned from them. Neither of them kept at any job long enough to make any decent amount of money, and my mother moved from boyfriend to boyfriend living off of them. I’m working towards goals and building a business, and teaching my son about budgeting and investment so it doesn’t take as long for him to learn what I had to learn the hard way.

    Rose’s last blog post..Cheap Foods

  21. growing up- it was simply our life style- we were on a farm and most of the other farmers lived similar life styles– we just used things and restored them and recycled etc. as our life style- my mom would laugh at the discovery of recycling a few years ago as that was how she and most of the area lived–
    we never thought of it as being poor or frugal- or saving the planet– it was just common sense :-)

  22. smallnotebook says:

    Thanks, Emily. I can’t wait to see what you have to say.

    Happy Birthday, Rose! I’m sure your son is learning a lot from you.

    Meme – that sounds just like someone in my family.

  23. It is so nice to hear people talking about money this way. Most money articles or ‘talk-talk’ is about what-to-do and how-to-do. I think it is so much more meaningful and helpful to talk about how we feel about money and why we feel and act certain ways with money. It seems like today most people have serious money issues, and fixing things and doing things differently starts deep down at the personal level. I have found that many many people want to hear about money and be taught about money but most of them fail to make the changes needed to be at peace with money. Those changes start in a deep personal place just like this post is talking about…WOW! and these comments are awsome……..

  24. I have learned some very very bad habits from my parents. My husband didn’t learn anything from his, they literally taught him nothing about money. We are trying to change the outlook of our future and our habits so we don’t teach our daughter the same! But we do plan on teaching her how to handle money, unlike my husband’s parents.

    Malory’s last blog post..My Day

  25. My parents were excellent examples for saving money and living within your means. I would have liked some more guidance regarding investments, as that is an area I feel very uncomfortable with as an adult. My husband grew up with parents who spent much more freely, and the first thing I did when we got engaged was to pay off his credit cards and make sure we never carried a balance again.

    We give our kids (6 & 7) a weekly allowance, which goes in their piggy banks. When they clean out their banks every 5 or 6 months, they put 1/3 in savings, 1/3 goes to a charity of their choice, and 1/3 they can spend on whatever they want. As they get older, we will adjust the percentages a bit to allow them more spending money, but at this point they don’t have a lot of wants.

    Mother Necessity’s last blog post..Knowledge Can Be Expensive