Sterling Effort

Learning the hard way

May 22, 2011 by Ash in Education with 8 Comments

I was reading an article by FruGal entitled Is it better to learn about money the hard way? which I recommend reading as she raises an excellent point. This article really got me thinking, for two reasons. Reason #1 is that I know some wealthy people who have done an impeccable job preparing their children with all the knowledge they need to be financially successful. Reason #2 is that I did, in fact, learn the hard way.

My parents separated when I was a baby. At the age of 23, my mum was put in the lovely position of finding a place for the two of us to live. The day we moved in to our council house, she had something like £1.50 in her pocket which she used to buy 2 light bulbs and some bleach to clean the place. She was trapped in the sense that she was unemployed without any marketable skills, having to postpone her nurse training due to my birth. Any job within her reach wouldn’t have really provided her with a greatly improved quality of life as the extra money she earnt would have been spent on childcare. Life didn’t get much easier for her over the following 10 years until which time she got herself back into the workforce and met my step-dad. However, during those earlier years, there were often times when we literally couldn’t afford food or clothing. So to anyone who claims it’s easy to raise a child on ‘benefits’ without actually having done it, you have no idea what you’re talking about.

Although times were hard, I had a happy childhood and my mum was always a loving parent despite the very obvious stress she was under. We lived in a rough area, and so many of the kids I went to school with have spent time on hard drugs or in prison for serious offences including murder. My mum knew I was aware of the realities of my environment but she refused to let me believe that this would be my future.

My mum has always been proud of me but with her health seriously failing now due to cancer, my only regret is that I haven’t been successful enough up until now to provide the kind of care that she deserves. Watching her dreams slowly wither while I’m unable to make them come true hasn’t been easy, but that’s life. My upbringing has had a massive impact on the way I deal with education and money. Learning from both my family and my environment about what to do and what not to do has set me up for success because, simply, I refuse to go back to that life.

So my answer to the original question? I don’t think it’s necessarily better to learn the hard way, but it certainly works. I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t have preferred a wealthier upbringing, but I feel that I have an advantage over the girl in FruGal’s article. My childhood experiences can only be ‘bought’ with a lack of money. While I wouldn’t wish that life on anyone, I can only wonder if this girl will ever really appreciate the meaning of the word ‘determination’.

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  1. Jennifer BarryMay 23, 2011 at 3:59 amReply

    Hi Ash, I think that someone who is just given a lot of money without working for it won’t take it very seriously. I have always valued the money I earned over gifts personally. Also, unless you have some hardship and struggling, you expect the money to come easily. You don’t learn how to budget and save for the hard times because you’ve never had any.

    • AshMay 23, 2011 at 5:53 pmReplyAuthor

      I like your positive spin on hard times and I think there’s some real truth to that. It’s easy to see how some people from a rich background could just become conditioned to think that money will come to them, especially if their parents are ‘first generation rich’. I think The Millionaire Next Door raises this point, stating that rich parents who came from a poor background themselves are more likely to lavish their children with the luxuries they could never afford while forgetting to educate them on how to actually achieve wealth.

      I think that rich parents can easily instill in their children a mechanical sense of how wealth accumulation works, but my knowledge and determination to accumulate wealth comes primarily from memories and fear! Now that I think about it, that’s a pretty negative way to think so I guess I would have preferred the kind of upbringing where my rich father put £500 into a stock trading account and taught me about the markets when I was 10 years old :)

  2. Paula @ AffordAnything.orgMay 23, 2011 at 4:03 pmReply

    I had a very comfortable upbringing, with private schools and a nice house, but my parents always taught me — from an early age — that I should always respect money and never assume it will just “be there.” I watched them clip coupons, wait for sales, save for retirement, cook meals at home: not because we needed to, but because they valued budgeting. The result was that I was fortunate enough to have the “best of both worlds” — a comfortable, middle-class childhood and budget-and-saving oriented skills. So I don’t think you NEED to learn the hard way, but I certainly admire the people who do.

    • AshMay 23, 2011 at 6:09 pmReplyAuthor

      Hi Paula, thanks for your comment. I think I’d have to say I admire anyone who makes an attempt to properly educate their children. I don’t want to give the impression that I think there’s anything particularly noble about growing up in poor circumstances but anyone who makes the best of what they’ve got is a winner in my eyes.

      I love the phrase “parenting is the passing on of mental illness”, or something like that. What’s interesting in regards to financial education is that it can essentially go one of four ways…

      1) Wealthy parents teach their children to become wealthy by emulating them.
      2) Poor parents teach their children to become poor by the same method.
      3) Wealthy parents teaching their children to become poor by focusing on consumption and neglecting proper financial education.
      4) Poor parents teach their children to become wealthy by pointing out things about their own lives that they would like to change.

      I’m glad your parents decided to place you firmly in category #1 :) and I’m glad to be in category #4 rather than 2 or 3!

  3. Harri @ Miss MoneypennilessMay 23, 2011 at 4:34 pmReply

    Definitely. Daddy’s credit card is going to do that girl absolutely no favours in the long term.

    I wish your mum all the best in her fight against cancer.

  4. JayMay 23, 2011 at 7:12 pmReply

    When I was born both my parents were unemployed. They made do with what little money they had, living a very frugal life until my dad landed a job and worked his way up through the ranks until becoming self employed and setting up his own training company. My mum was busy looking after me and my little sister but got a job after we were both in school. My parents have always taught me the value of money from a very early age – much the same as Paula. I’ve always been very conscious about getting savings behind me in order to secure my future, so that no matter what life throws at me I can self sustain and need not rely on others to help me out. It really surprises and angers me when others squander that which they are given, although you can almost always blame the parents for it when they spoil their children too much.

    Good post by the way dude ;)

  5. smart moneyJuly 15, 2011 at 4:29 amReply

    Great post. Your story is both sad and uplifting. My parents migrated to Aust. as refugees back in the 80s with absolutely nothing but a plane ticket paid for by the Aust. Govt after being stuck in refugee camp for two years. After 4 years in oz, they started their own business and never looked back. When I was young, I remember my mum always packing food to bring with us where ever we went so that we didn’t have to buy drinks or food at premium prices.

    On the other hand, I have memories at 5 years old where my mum opened up a bank account for me, she would insert a $5 note into my bank-book and tell me to take it to school and give it to the teacher. This happened every week for several years and I finally understood the significance of this when I was 8 years old and realised how many red frog lollies and paddle pops I could buy with the savings in my bank account lol …Fortunately I couldn’t access my account till I was 17 and by then I had already learnt the value of savings, investing and rainy days from my parents.

    • AshJuly 18, 2011 at 8:44 pmReplyAuthor

      Thanks for that lovely comment, Leakkhena. Your story certainly sounds more interesting than mine. I can tell by reading your blog that you have excellent attitudes towards money, so your mum did a great job :)

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