How does your financial upbringing affect your stewardship today?

By Stew


All of us come from different family financial backgrounds and those experiences shape who we are today. I was brought up in a household where money was in scarce supply, but even more scarce was any discussion of money. My parents almost never discussed finances. Even though they were successful at handling this important tool, they did not do the greatest job in teaching their children about money.

The positive result of this method was that I left home and went through college and entered my career without being obsessed with money or without a bent toward serving money. Salary was never a factor in my parent’s occupational decisions and salary has never really been a factor in my job decisions. This is one of the reasons that both my parents and I have worked almost exclusively for non-profit ministries. The other positive of this approach is that my siblings and I grew up mostly without a television, video games or vacations to exotic locations. Furthermore, we never pined for such things because we did not know what we were missing. We read, played hard outside and went camping a lot. We never really coveted the lavish lifestyle (by comparison) that some of our peers lived. We did not think about it; money was never a part of the daily conversation.

For most of my youth, my dad earned money on the side as a carpenter. When school was out, my brother and I would go with him to the job site and from the earliest ages, we found ways to help out with simple tasks and then more complicated as we grew and became more skilled. He never paid us. We never talked about money – we thought it was fun to work with our hands out in the sun all day with our dad. It sounds ludicrous, but I remember the first time that I helped out a different contractor for a couple of days and he wrote me a check . . . I couldn’t believe it. I was actually surprised that a person could have all this fun and get paid for it too. I think I was a sophomore in high school and it ruined me for working with dad.

We never expected money when we worked on a house with father, but my brother and I did earn extra money by shoveling snow, mowing lawns, raking leaves and other odd jobs. But we were embarrassed by any discussion of money. We would knock on the door, ask if the person would like their driveway shoveled. If the answer was yes, we simply went to work and left the level of pay up to that person. Sometimes we were even squeamish about knocking on the door when the job was done in an indirect reminder or a non-verbal request for payment. We just hoped the person would notice that we were finished and lean out of the door with a check or some cash. I know that at least once, we left a freshly shoveled driveway and just walked home rather than go through the excruciating pain of asking for payment.

I come from the kind of family that tips even when the service is poor and if the server makes a mistake with my meal, I eat it and pay for it anyway. For some reason, the subject of money was as taboo as sex.

On the other hand, as I look back, I wish that I could have known more about how both of my parents spent the money that they did have. My dad never told me what he made in a year, althought I’ve pieced some of it together since then. He never showed me a monthly budget, althought I knew he had one. He never showed me how much he spent or saved or invested. If I asked him for an item that I thought I needed, he would either say “no”, “maybe” or “buy it yourself”. When it came time for me to file taxes for the first time, I remember that my father handed me a 1040EZ and said “figure it out”.

I left home without a burning desire to be rich – a good thing. I was content to live a simple life with the money that I had. As a result, I was fairly successful at handling my money when I was single and in college. However, when I got married, started having children, and started to develop more expensive taste – the wheels started to fall off our money wagon. The thing that I had missed was how to be an intentional steward of my money. I did not know how to create and execute a financial plan for our family.

I know now that my father was good at budgeting and good at spending money wisely. My mother fed and clothed five kids for little money for years. They both had great frugal habits, but those habits did not do me any good because I didn’t know about it. I hope to intentionally train my children to handle money wisely.

What were the pros and cons of your financial upbringing?

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10 Responses (including trackbacks) to “How does your financial upbringing affect your stewardship today?”

  1. Carrie Says:

    I like this post, Stew. It’s a good reminder that we need to talk to our children more about our finances. we should lead by example but maybe stop along the way and explain why we are/aren’t doing certain things.

  2. Dan Says:

    My money upbringing was so poor, if I was inclined to blame my parents for everything I would blame them for my terrible financial situations in my 20s and early 30s. My father never talked to me about the importance of saving or not living beyond your means. In fact, he himself lived as a spendthrift, and encouraged me to borrow to fund my living in college. Although I knew I didn’t want to get into debt, I did anyway, starting a cycle I am still paying for, 20 year later.

    I plan to teach my children better than I was taught with regards to money, avoiding debt, living withing a budget, etc.

  3. Gholmes Says:

    My sister and I are first generation college grads. Dad/Mom taught us about hard work and frugal. PF is common sense, spend less than you make, save, invest and give. Having the self discipline to do it is the tuff part.

  4. Gina Says:

    PF is NOT common sense; it is a learned behavior.

    This post hits a nerve for me. My mom was a single mom of 3 kids. Everyday she reminded us that there are the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ and that we were the ‘have nots’. Even this week she made a comment to me about this. I told her I prefer to stay focused on changing my family tree and being a good steward with God’s money.

    The good thing is that she raised us to not be quitters – I put myself through college and did not owe any money upon graduation. The bad thing is that I felt the urge to “keep up w/the Jones’ ” once I did start earning my own money. I am still paying for those financial mistakes 10 yrs later.

    Today I am in such a better place than she was at my age. And I will teach my children how to manage God’s money better.

    Thanks for the post Stew.

  5. Stew Says:

    Thanks, Gina.

    Gholmes, you are correct in a sense, self-discipline is the greatest component of any healthy lifestyle. My parents taught me to be content without lots of things, but I never really learned how to have financial goals. I save money every month, but I never really knew how much. I spent money every month, but never really know how much. When my tastes and habits became more expensive, I almost did not realize it was happening.

  6. Peter Hall Says:

    Good article, and i have something to say to all you readers out there. If you plan to open a small business or need a loan and have bad credit, go to Business Loans-Direct

  7. chessiq Says:

    There are things that we one can learn by example (that is, just seeing what is happening and follow suit), and there are other things that one needs details or explanations to do a good job. Working hard; not over-eating; not overspending; being even-tempered; these things you can see your parents do, and you can implement them in your own life. On the other hand, building a house; having a successful career; managing money (including saving less than you earn, earning more, tracking your money, interpreting what you see, investing money, etc); these things you need more details.
    I think part of being a good parent or mentor or leader, is knowing the difference between being a good exemplar and being a good teacher.
    Thanks for the post.