Our Great Financial Sin

For years I had spending issues that I was so afraid to face, that I never looked closely at our financial situation. While I could definitely improved on the spending front, I’ve got a good handle on it, enough so that I KNOW my spending is not frivolous. Sure I could spend less, but most of what I spend money on are things we need–and I never purchase these things extravagantly.

So why is it that we can’t seem to save any money? Until very recently, the shame and guilt I’ve suffered over my past spending habits swayed my opinion into the “we must be doing something horribly wrong,” way of looking at things. I assumed we were committing egregious financial sins, especially as I read more and more personal finance blogs and saw how much of their income other people were saving.

And yet, when I look at our situation, I can’t find those egregious financial sins. The reality is, when it comes to the big stuff, we are (and have been) very financially responsible:

  • We only own one car, a Honda Accord which we bought used and which we’ll own until it doesn’t drive anymore (I’ve already put over 100,000 miles on it in 5.5 years).
  • We lived in a small, rent controlled apartment for far longer than it fit us (and that was probably causing health problems) and we didn’t leave until we could purchase a house.
  • We bought a house when the market wasn’t crazy and interest loans were REALLY GOOD (maybe the best they ever were?!).
  • We don’t take vacations.
  • We hardly ever travel, and when we do it’s to see family (once ever other year–and usually my parents help us pay for air fare) or friends, so we don’t have to pay to stay.
  • We don’t upgrade technology unless absolutely necessary. {Both our computers are white MacBooks–over seven years old–that we bought when our other computers were stolen. Our iPads were handed down from our parents.}
  • We didn’t have a wedding, or go on a honeymoon, or buy expensive wedding bands (and I didn’t get an engagement ring).
  • We have aggressively paid off our student loans (I’m a year away from being done!)
  • We put money away for retirement every month (though not enough).

So what are our egregious financial sins? Why can’t we afford a life that seems reasonable to us as professionals with advanced degrees?

I’ve been able to identify a few:

  • My husband took a non-profit job that paid less than 1/3 of what he was making at his law firm so he could champion a cause that he feels is important and he believes in (gun control). It was during those years that we had our children.
  • During those 4.5 years neither of us had access to affordable health care through our jobs–when our second child was born we were spending $2.5K A MONTH to provide health insurance for our family.
  • I have “pre-existing health conditions” in the form of mental health issues that made (and continue to make) different kinds of insurance (life, disability, etc) more expensive.
  • I am a teacher so I’ve never made a good salary, especially taking into consideration my advanced degree.
  • My husband now works for the city, so he also doesn’t make a great salary, especially considering he has a JS.
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY–we live in the third most expensive city IN THE WORLD (when it comes to housing prices).

So there you have it. Our egregious financial sins are working jobs that benefit society more than they benefit our bottom line, and living where our families live (which is, unfortunately, in an incredibly expensive city/area), while falling victim to the insanity that is skyrocketing health care costs.

I think, what it comes down to, is that we were taught to expect a standard of living that our level of education no longer guarantees, in a time when the economy is changing so quickly and rapidly, that the financial rules of the last generation don’t apply. Sure my parents made more than we do, but not by much, and they did it with less education (and student debt) than my husband and I have. But my parents NEVER had to think about health care, let along pay for their own health insurance. And my father worked abroad back when when they paid for your housing, so renters were paying off their mortgage for ten years while they lived rent-free.

My husband’s father raised a family of four on his income alone as a city employee, but he didn’t have to save for retirement because he was paying into a pension that guaranteed he could maintain his standard of living when he stopped working (after 35 years in Human Resources, my FIL makes more in retirement than I make as a teacher who is only three steps from the highest salary on the scale). Housing was more affordable back then, as way food, gas and other basic necessities. My husband works for the same city, but his pension plan will provide significantly less, and his salary gets him less as well.

Also, our advanced degrees cost more (taking into consideration inflation) than our parents’ degrees cost, which means we’ve had to put more of our monthly income toward paying off student loans than they did.

The old rules just don’t apply.

I have been thinking about this a lot. I realize now that I made very real mistakes when it came to choosing my career. Knowing what I know now, I don’t think I would have moved out of the area–being near my parents is important to me, especially now that I have kids–but I absolutely would have chosen a job based on what I could expect to earn. I honestly didn’t think much about it at the time, I just figured that if my parents could afford their lifestyle (my mom was a teacher), then I could teach and afford it too (I will admit that I assumed my husband would “make the money”–so dumb, I know). I knew nothing about how much houses cost (especially in this area), how much I should be putting away for retirement, how much I should be able to save each month and how important investing was. No one ever taught me those things. So now I’m figuring it out, when it’s almost too late.

And honestly, I do believe it’s too late for me to make the changes necessary to have the life I always envisioned for my family. Traveling was a HUGE part of my childhood and I wanted that for my kids, but I know now that just won’t happen for them. We won’t ever have a real bedroom with four enclosed walls, or a second bathroom to provide a little privacy, and that’s fine too. I’m willing to let go of my dreams of more space to live in this city, near our parents–I recognize that is a choice we make.

But I want to continue educating myself so I can teach my children these lessons that I never learned. I want them to know–from actual experience–how much of what they earn should be put into savings, and that they have to make very real sacrifices for the things that are most important to them. I want them to learn how to delay, or forgo, gratification that they can’t afford. I want them to be good at recognizing what they really want, so they can make financial choices accordingly.

I know this post sounds very woe-is-me, and I don’t mean for it to be. I see myself for what I am: an entitled woman learning things now that she should have learned long ago. I recognize I’m incredibly privileged, that the things I am letting go were luxuries I should never have taken for granted, let alone expected. I get that I’m a rich little white girl getting only the smallest taste of the real world. Honestly, I’m not angry with the realities of my life; I’m just angry that no one bothered to teach them to me. I’m just angry that it was assumed I would understand, that I would know my parents saved money (I suppose I did) and it would be clear to me how they budgeted to do that. I wish someone would have sat me down and explained how important it was to start saving for retirement in my early 20’s, long BEFORE I turned 20, instead of when I was 28, or taught me how to delay short-term gratification for long-term gain. But no one taught me those things. And honestly, I’m thankful my kids will grow up being forced to learn them not only through the lessons we teach, but their own life circumstances.

In the end, I guess that was my true egregious financial sin–learned (or perhaps willful?) ignorance. I’m glad I’m figuring it all out now, so I can teach it to my kids, before it’s too late. I see now, that these lesson are priceless.

How did you learn financial responsibility? Would you change it in any way? How do you plan to teach your children?

37 Comments

  1. I have a son who is 20 years old now – he has lived all his life with everything he wanted/ needed largely available to him, as did all his friends . My generation (I am middle 50’s) did not need to learn the lessons you talk about,we are almost all of us much better off than our parents were. Like your parents we live a fairly affluent lifestyle which our children benefited/still benefit from. They, like you, will never live the lifestyle they have been used to. They will not be able to afford to buy property or earn as much as we, their parents, do. This next generation has hard lessons to learn though interesting my daughter will cope with it much better than my son – she is not particularly interested in “stuff’ and at 25 lives very frugally and seems to delight in it. Her masters degree is in sustainability and she goes with that thinking. My son is going to struggle with it big time he loves stuff and spending money. Mention saving for a pension, or even saving in any way, absolutely not interested! We in the UK are experiencing exactly what you are in the US – a downturn of fortunes for the next generation in every way.

    1. Isn’t it interesting how two people who grow up in the same environment be so different when it comes to these things? My sister is much like your daughter–she has never been interested in stuff and is trying to find a career that is meaningful to her and that doesn’t require she waste her days in an office setting. She is willing to make less, not have much, not buy a house, to have that job and that life, because her day to day existence is so much more important to her than accumulated wealth. I am more like your son and I’m having a harder time of it. I do appreciate hearing someone with older kids recognize how different it is. My parents kind of get it, but my inlaws done seem to see, and they think I have to work (instead of being home with our kids when they are young, like my MIL was) because we are frivolous with our money, or just aren’t trying hard enough. This really bothers me, because that is absolutely not the case. He doesn’t seem to get how much harder it is these days to make ends meet. But then again, he was probably more willing to never do anything (eat out, see a movie) than we are, so maybe he has (at least part of) a point.

      1. Ugh, in laws. They must know how much their son makes? And how much he made at the nonprofit? It seems pretty obvious why you need to work! And even if you never ate out and lived like the frugalwoods, you would need to work to live in the Bay Area.

        1. I really don’t understand how they can judge us about that stuff, but they manage to. At the same time they buy our kids shit ALL THE TIME and it drives me crazy. I don’t know. They are annoying me right now so I’m going to stop, before I say something I regret.

  2. My dad is a saver, always has been, and stressed saving. He paid us to save money (every month we’d count our saved change and he’d match at 50% and then we’d all take it to the bank together). But that is all he really taught us, besides to never carry credit card debt and to only have 1-2 credit cards, he never talked about retirement. NEVER takes about retirement. When I started my job at 22, my friend made me promise to be contributing to my 401k by 25, and literally on my 25th birthday, he came to my cube and made me fill out the paperwork and he submitted it for me. Thank god for him!!!!!!

    Having money was important to my dad, and he talked about saving all the time, so we all learned from that, I guess. All the of us are savers, and we vary in how good we are. I am the best at it, but I also only have 2 kids and they have 3 and 5. Our circumstances are different. My younger sister and I had much higher paying jobs than my older sister, but she had a better retirement plan. It’s interesting, really, how we all turned out similar in how we save given our different incomes and responsibilities.

    Brian was raised with no financial guidance. I’m lucky he knows how to save. I think our kids are already hearing it because we talk about reducing expenses all the time. We just discussed savings accounts for the boys on Sunday. Matthew is responsible for recycling our bottles and cans (we pay desires here in Iowa) and he gets the money from it. Bryson is now getting in on the action so they both need accounts. I do what my dad did – I make them count their piggy bank money with me every once in a while. They get excited about that!

    I hope we’re doing enough to teach them for now.

    1. I forgot to mention credit cards–this was something my mom drilled into us: NEVER CARRY A CREDIT CARD BALANCE. And you know what? Except for a few time (under extenuating circumstances), I never did. And those times when I had to do it I was so stressed out about it, because my mom had stressed that so hard. I do really appreciate that lesson, because it has served me well. She also taught me to never bounce a check or overdraw on my accounts. I’ve had less success managing that one over the years, but not for lack of teaching from my mom.

      The thing is, my mom must have been an amazing saver. My dad was out of a job so many times when I was growing up, and it never seemed to affect our lifestyle. She must have created deep savings accounts for them to fall back on. I think that is why it frustrates me that she never sat me down and talked to me about how she did it. But honestly, she probably didn’t think she had to, because nobody taught her and she figured it out. But what I don’t think she realized was how much growing up with nothing prepared her to make those choices to save as an adult, and how much her buying us everything we needed, wanted, and more, did NOT set us up for that. At all.

  3. This is interesting. I feel like I’m in much of the same situation. But I’ve never thought to be upset at my parents for not teaching me. Instead I’ve always been annoyed at myself for not thinking about money in my career choice!

    At the same time, while my parents are generally frugal and good with money, I don’t think they’ve ever had to deal with the financial realities I have. Like Mags21 said, it was a different generation. It was enough to not be extravagant. I’m not sure they made so many better decisions than I have or whether they just didn’t have to make those decisions.

    I think its also very important, though, to appreciate what you have. Your basic necessities are there. Many people don’t have what you do. You are fortunate. I try not to forget this.

    1. I’m not necessarily upset with my parents–why is this not a class we take in high school?! I took Calculus but never learned about basic personal finance?! And then we wonder why people get into such debilitating credit card debt?! It just seems irresponsible to me that we don’t teach this stuff to our kids at some point during their public education.

      And you’re absolutely right about appreciating what I have. And I do. I’m sure I take things for granted because that is what being human is all about, but I try hard not to, because I do have so, so much.

        1. I did take a class that included personal finance, but I’m not sure if it was home economics (or family and consumer science) or in “business,” where we mostly learned typing. We learned to balance a check book, about interest rates, the different kinds of retirement accounts, and what portion of your income should go to each category of spending. I finished high school less than 15 years ago, so it existed some places then. I think these topics were covered in 7th and 8th grade so it wasn’t perhaps taken at all seriously by most of us. When I tried to make the case that I should be allowed to move out when I was 17, I pulled those notes out and made my first budget, discovered I couldn’t make ends meet even with a roommate & working full time, and quit really trying to make the case for moving out.

          1. Wow, you were a VERY level-headed teenager. Seriously. I wonder how many 17 years could think that clearly, and objectively at that age. I’m impressed.

  4. Well, I would like to say I learned finances from my parents. I did learn a lot from them (most importantly to save early and often, and to keep spending under control, prioritize, and refrain from keeping up with others). But those lessons didn’t quite get through to my sister, despite having the exact same parents. I attribute a lot of it to a risk-averse temperament, an enthusiasm for math, and a strong aversion to shopping. And of course, it is wonderful to have a husband who was on the same page as me financially from the beginning. As for my own kids, my oldest is 3 so I’ve been focused on basic math skills, those are the foundation. She got her first piggy bank for Christmas so I’m going to start her on saving coins and buying a bit of candy or something. It’s actually kind of hard to find things for sale in the 10-cent price range! As soon as she can understand multiplication we will learn compound interest and I will pay a 5% monthly rate on her savings account at the Bank of Mom. I will also charge interest on debt as a teaching tool.

    As for financial sins, my main one is not earning enough. The recession held down a lot of government employee salaries and I’ll probably never fully rebound. But hey, it could have been a lot worse, I was almost unemployed but barely escaped. It’s just so hard to find a good-paying job that is feasible while also bearing children and parenting toddlers. But I think I’m on my way to something slightly better this year.

    As for NKJ finances… paying down the student loan is saving too, in a way. It’s different in some important ways, but it improves the balance sheet, so give yourself credit not just for doing something virtuous but for doing something basically equivalent to saving. And what about getting your daughter into the good school by teaching her Spanish, didn’t you say that’s helping financially as well?

    1. I guess you’re right that paying down our student loan debt is like savings. I probably don’t give us enough credit for that. I think what’s going to happen is that in a few years we’ll have paid off our student loans and have gotten little raises, and our son won’t be in child care and suddenly be feeling like we have so much more to put into savings. In 3-4 years things will look a lot better, of course by then we’ll almost be 40, and I worry it will be too little too late, but I guess it’s better than nothing.

      I feel you on the not making enough. It’s really disappointing to realize that I picked a career that doesn’t provide for my family in the ways I’d expected it would. But it does have some perks (summers to spend with the kids, even if we can’t go anywhere ;), and I try to focus on those.

      1. Well, I think living near family is a) priceless, especially for your children and b) probably saves you a lot of money. And the Bay area offers so much for your kids as well. So I really don’t think it’s a bad financial choice to live there, as long as you are willing to see it as a tradeoff.

        It also seems like you’ve had kids a little on the young side for your (our) demographic. I live in another expensive major city and had my first child at 31, but many of my parent friends had their first child in their late 30s. Sometimes when I compare my earnings and standard of living to theirs, I see we are a little more financially pinched. But that’s in part because they took an additional 5 years to save and increase salary before having kids. I don’t have any regrets about bearing children at the age I did, especially because of fertility issues. But if you’re comparing yourself to people who have kids the same age as your kids but the parents are actually a few years older, maybe that’s something you could look at more critically.

        1. I am younger than most mothers in San Francisco, especially considering I already have a 5.5yo and a 2yo. And that is important to consider. While we won’t be making much more money in five or ten years, we would have had more time to save money and have something to fall back on before we hit the hard financial years of child care and so forth. So yeah, that is important to remember, and I don’t think about that as much as I should. Having said that, I also don’t regret having kids, especially with my DOR (though if I hadn’t had fertility issues I wonder if I would regret it–my friends that are starting now, in their mid- to late-thirties seem to be handling the transition a lot better than I did/am).

  5. I get upset at myself when it comes to my student loan debt. I was told by my parents, they are only supposed to carry us to high school, then they’re free (never mind that they paid for my siblings college..just not mine.) So, if I wanted to better myself, I had to figure out a way. I wish I would have listened when people told me, go to the community college, then transfer, it’ll be so much cheaper. But I didn’t. Instead, I’m trying to pay off two student loans with a balance of less than $50k. Upsetting.

    I’m proud of you for working your way to paying off yours. That’s something I hope to achieve sooner than later.

    And I totally agree with you. Old Rules don’y apply. You know my FIL tells me all the time, that when he went to Medical School, it was free. FREE!! All he needed to pay for was the cost of books (about $1,500, which is a lot). Blows my mind how things have rapidly changed from then to now.

    For me,The Hubs is the saver. He’s taught me (willed me?) to save money. Pay yourself first, then everything else. It’s hard. We don’t go on vacations. Took us 7 years to save up for a down payment of a house, drive 2003 cars…but while I’m frustrated about my so called, “first world problems”, there are other who have it far worse.

    A lady I used to work with (she was laid off), in her mid 50s, divorced 3 times, in credit card debt, no real job or savings, is moving back home with her Uncle b/c that’s her last option…that, that is what makes me work harder and save and to quit complaining to myself. Harsh reality.

    As far as teaching my kids, everything goes into their piggy bank and I match it, or try to. They are not to touch that bank. If they want something, they need to earn it and I will give them half of the money (half to savings, half to them). They don’t like it but hopefully it’ll teach them something.

    And remember, I know this is going to sound so cliche, but in the end, if you’re happy and have the necessities, you’re in good hands.

    1. My husband is also more of a saver. One of the only reasons were doing as well as we did is because he saved so much (and paid off so much of his law school debt) during the two years he was working at a big firm. He rarely buys anything, but does like to go out and enjoy drinks and a good dinner. It’s actually nice because he reigns me in with buying things and I reign him in with going out.

      I like the idea of matching what they save. I’m going to do that with my daughter–a great incentive for putting more in her “savings.”

  6. I do think it somewhat the product of how you grow up. It’s not like we grew up extremely poor anything but there wasn’t a lot of extra money. My parents did buy a modest house and we literally took one family vacation when I was small and that was it for vacations.

    Parents got divorced and for whatever reason there was no college fund for me so even though I went to a UC I was always scrambling to pay my way with work-study grants very small amount of loans etc. I literally was living like the typical starving student I think that’s really where I kind of learn to save because there was no money coming in to pay for anything. Then when I went to graduate school I was living on a graduate student stipend which seemed extravagant compared to my college years but it was still extremely low amount of money. After that I did go a bit crazy going out to eat just because I could but then eventually that calmed down and the realities of life–houses are expensive in California etc.– led us to be savers. I mean it wasn’t like oh we want a really big house–back in the early 2000’s it seemed like we would never be able to buy a house in any kind of desirable area of California because it they were just so expensive plus I just feel like the message coming from the workplace media whatever was like save save save retirement save save save for retirement. Then we went through infertility and had extremely expensive treatment so that caused us to also save save save.

    On another note when I was at the gym the other day I was reading a magazine article from a couple of years ago where supposedly there was a study that shows there’s literally a gene for saving and I thought of you. Apparently a quarter of the population has it so you may want to Google that I think it was that it ame out of Santa Clara University or something.

    1. Oh, it’s absolutely a product of how I was brought up, with parents that were overcompensating for how little they had growing up (my mom was the 9th of 12 and her mom died when she was 7), wanting to give us everything they didn’t have. It’s also who I am, because my sister got the same treatment and she is a very different person making very different life choices. She is very frugal and is searching for a job that is the perfect mixture of creatively interesting, and providing the life she desires (financially) while requiring she work as little as possible. She is not at all interested in things, choosing instead to spend on experiences, and even then she if frugal. So it’s not just how I was raised, but a combination of that and my nature.

  7. The economic landscape has changed a lot from the previous generation (Boomers). For Gen X and later, there isn’t job security or pension. Most people graduate with massive student debt, and a college degree (especially a B.A.) only gets you an entry level position. Add to the fact that salaries have not kept pace with inflation and that adjusted for inflation, wages have been stagnant for the majority of people and is very tough on the middle-class. The only way I’m able to stay in a HCOLA, near my parents, is that we have some family help and we rent a home. We rarely travel or go on vacations. My husband is traveling for the first time in 5 years. I’ve only had one weekend getaway in 5 years. I think expectations have to change to meet the new economy reality, or we can hope that the 1% decide to practice trickle down economy in a way that increases the average salary (ha!)

    1. “I think expectations have to change to meet the new economy reality,” <-- This is totally it. I mean, we're the first generation in America that can't expect to have as much as their parents had; every other generation expected to have more. It's a big change, and I suppose it makes sense that the generation it happened to would struggle a bit. It's not surprising.

  8. I think that’s my biggest financial sin, too. Not thinking about money when I chose my actual career (yes, I am in medicine but literally the lowest possible paying specialty in the lowest possible paying location/job situation there is, probably make similar to what you make). Also, not marrying for money 🙂
    I really felt like it didn’t matter. I saw my dad support all 4 of us on one modest medical salary and figured there was no way I would need any more than that (we lived VERY frugally/cheaply in a very low COL area because my dad grew up very very poor and had a lot of that mindset, but we never WORRIED about money). I didn’t realize that 1) I wouldn’t want to live in such a low COL area so my $ would go a lot less further and 2) how much freedom $ can bring you. If I was making 3X my salary, I could be RETIRED by now living the same lifestyle.
    My parents did teach me how to be frugal & spend less, to never carry a credit-card balance, to put in $ in my 401K and IRA, and discouraged me from expensive education that would entail a lot of loans. I thank them for that. But they were also very secretive about our finances, it was somehting not to be discussed. I didn’t know how much $ my dad made, or how much our house/mortgage cost, or what kind of trade-offs went into the vacations we took. TBH, not sure I would’ve understood/absorbed much more at that age, but it was all sort of a black box and I knew we “didn’t have to worry” but still clipped coupons and drove to multiple grocery stores to save a few pennies.
    I think this is a great post and very important to think about when you start comparing yourself to others (specifically on other blogs). If, for example, both me & my husband made 50% more money, it’d be possible and probably easy to save 50% of our income. Not everyone does that—many just continue to expand & increase their standard of living and spend every penny, but I’m definitely a saver by nature and I know we’d save more. I can’t compare myself to people in vastly different scenarios and use that to feel bad/guilty about where we are.

    1. “Also, not marrying for money.” <-- Haha! This! It's true that if we both made 50% more than we make now, we'd have no problem saving, but isn't that always the case? (I guess not, really, if you're racking up debt.) I hope that as our money situation eases we will save more and not spend more--I was just writing in a response to another comment that in 3-4 years we'll be done paying off our student loans, and our son won't be in preschool/day care and we'll have received some incremental raises. At that point I think our financial situation will be A LOT more tenable. Then we can really start saving, and maybe even throw more at our mortgage. I hope that is the case and will work hard to ensure that it is.

  9. I think your point about learning financial responsibility is so important and reminds me that we’ve been meaning to institute an allowance for E so that she can learn the value of things. For ourselves, I wish we’d been more careful about money for the last seven years when my salary was more than enough. That’s our financial sin – but it was also a huge blessing since we were able to adopt, sell our condo and move across the country (where the cost of living is so much better). I’m quite nervous about our ability to buckle down and rein in the spending. Two weeks and counting to the new job!

    1. It’s going to be a BIG adjustment, but I’m sure you can do it, but there will probably be a pretty eye opening adjustment period. There certainly was when Ben left his job. and that was before we had kids.

      My daughter couldn’t really understand the idea of an allowance until she was 5 years old, and even then it has only been since she turned 5.5 that she could really understand what it means to make money and spend it on what she wants. I’m paying her to do vision therapy, because it sucks and I want her to have at least one positive thing associated with it. She gets $1 for doing it and an additional dollar for doing it with a positive attitude. I pay her at the end of the week (usually $10 for 5 sessions) and we put $1 in a GIVE envelope, $3 in a SAVE envelope and $6 in a SPEND envelope. She is super annoyed that she can’t spend it all right now, but I think she’s starting to understand that it’s just the way it works, which is what I’m hoping to teach her. If she gets money as a gift she can put all of it in the SPEND envelope, but that doesn’t happen often (only my grandmother sends her money). So far it’s working, and I’m thankful to have this system to start teaching her about saving. I wish I had learned this way.

  10. As a senior generation person ~~ You do not sound woe is me. You are actually quite balanced and accurate in my view. Where I would disagree is in the statement that yours is the first generation to have less than your parents. LOTS of people in my generation never had what our parents had, AND, both parents in my generation had to work to have what they did achieve. Mine is the first generation where it became standard for middle class women to work outside the home. Yours is the generation first raised by two working outside the home middle class families.
    I have seen classes about finance in 9th grade classrooms. They were totally non-relevant to real life and mass produced and completely without any idea of who the students in class were. We were taught how to balance a check book. The concept of budgeting was without any reality about salaries or costs. I am not sold that school is the only or best answer for teaching finance. What your sister would have learned would have been different from what you would have learned. Further last year when I bought girl scout cookies from 5th grades there were three girls and none of them could figure the change from a $10 bill. AND, this was in a ‘better neighborhood with superior schools’. On Sunday the movie theater cashier, over 18, no obvious mental retardation, could not make change for a 7.75 movie when given a ten without using the cash register to do her math…and she made errors with the cash register anyway which I had to catch for her. So …. not sure about money management classes when very basic skills are not being taught/learned. I use both terms because the problem is sometimes in the teaching and sometimes in the learning and sometimes comes from the class room situation and sometimes from the home environment. Not pointing fingers at any segment of the process just the outcome that I am seeing. The consequence in my opinion of over 50 years of decisions to not fund education in CA and other states and the decisions to promote private schools over public and to allow rich communities to provide separate and unequal educational opportunities not available in poorer schools.
    Now shutting up and getting off the soap box.
    You were balanced and not blaming and honest and clear.

    1. Yeah, I can see public education botching a class on personal finance. And it’s true that many kids leave school with huge gaps in their basic math abilities. That is scary stuff. It really is sad that so much of this falls on the family, because some families just don’t have the knowledge/resources to teach these things to their kids, and then those kids fall farther and farther behind. It really is a travesty.

  11. I’m curious how you got a handle on your spending. A few months ago you were really struggling– what did you change?

  12. The high cost of living is huge bummer. And the health insurance situation you had is just inhuman… With the same income you would likely live very comfortably in flyover country; that’s where I am, and it’s glorious. It’s a great place to raise kids and very comfortable, but quite cold. I grew up in a multimillion metropolis and thought I would never be able to live anywhere smaller, but I do and it’s great.
    But then again, to me being away (very, very far away) from extended family is actually an extra bonus. 🙂 Kudos to you for toughing it out in an expensive area and so close to parents/in-laws!

    1. I think I could be quite happy in “flyover country,” as you call it, but my husband would be miserable. Sometimes having to make choices with another person sucks…

      We are very lucky that living close to family is something we want, and get to have. Both are parents are really amazing in the myriad ways they help us, and they have great relationships with our kids. That is not to say there are never challenges to living so close to our parents, but the good GREATLY outweighs the bad. I feel like we would lose so much if we moved away from them–it’s a powerful motivator for us to stay.

  13. It is startling to realize how radically different life is now than it was a generation ago. I have so much educational debt and we are in such a nasty place from having expenses like a single parent household on a pitiful salary while my spouse worked in a median-income job. I think that’s the worst part, in my mind. The median income is just below what it costs a single parent to make ends meet in my state. People with a bachelors degree and a “good job” don’t make enough to support an adult and a child here. We need to work together to demand fair wages and proper funding of education so the cost comes down to something sane.

    Growing up, I didn’t get much useful financial advice but I could see that what my parents were doing was stupid and counter-productive, so I figured I should do things differently, like save up to buy big things instead of buying on impulse. In terms of finances, I learned when I first moved to a dorm how to stretch my allowance and then my scholarship funds so I could eat all semester. I had a meal plan that covered 2 meals a day so I figured out how to afford the third and weekends when the cafeteria closed. Then we (the spouse, kid, and I) were bad at getting my spouse a paying job right out of college (took an extra 3 months to get the degree and only part-time work was available) so we were homeless for a couple months. Luckily we had family who would take us in, but they rubbed it in that our stay was limited and a privilege every day. That level of trial by fire finances really forced us to restrict our spending to essentials and $5 on a book is still a huge splurge to me. It also encouraged us to ask others for help and things we needed, which I think has mostly been beneficial in the long run. We’ve accepted that we may never own a house, or certainly we won’t until we can buy something and fix it up ourselves in a few years. We are trying to teach savings by having a chore chart and paying allowance based on successfully completing the group of chores (so go to bed, get up promptly, sit at dinner table are a group and the allowance only gets paid if all are complete for the day). We split allowance into college savings, big savings, donate (Kid-directed), faith community donation or family donation, fun money, and unspecified savings. We mandate 10% to donate and 20% to college savings, 1 coin each to each category each week (we pay in dimes), but leave the rest up to the Kid. When she knows what big savings thing she wants, she puts much more there but it’s closer to even all around otherwise. When we shop we tell her the budget and let her decide how to spend her money. When she goes over budget for the month ($10 a month for books), we negotiate what will happen. This time she got a pass but I think interest next time or an interest-free time she could repay us.

    1. Have you always let you daughter spend her money (the money that is allotted to be spent) any way she wants? I struggle with this, because my daughter isn’t smart about what she gets. But I suppose that is how one learns. I have instituted a “wait a week to make sure you really want it” rule, that has kept her from getting some dumb stuff (she has to remember after the week, I don’t bring it up again). But there have been things that she has mentioned wanting, and then asked for it again over a week later, so I’ve let her get it. Just this weekend she bought herself succulents because I got an arrangement with some gift cards from Christmas and she has been wanting one of her own ever since. Obviously succulents are not that interesting to a 5 year-old but she can’t seem to let the damn idea go, so we went to the store and she spent $17 getting four plants to arrange in a glass star dish I found with the Christmas decorations. We planted them together tonight and she was really into it, so I guess it’s money well spent? And I suppose even if it’s not, that is the point in letting her figure this stuff out in her own way now. Ugh, sometimes I just don’t know what I’m doing, and I hate that feeling.

  14. I think, for most people, it isn’t so much that they haven’t been taught financial responsibility so much as they’ve been taught to want to “have it all.” But the truth is, you can’t really Have It All, at least, not all at the same time. You can’t have the awesome career AND the awesomely quirky house in the cool city and the great school district AND be there 24/7 for your kids AND be totally dedicated to your causes AND take regular time for yourself AND travel AND save for early retirement AND have a full social life….Not all at once. Life is full of compromise and negotiation. So at any given moment, you choose what’s the most important at that time and work to make the best of it and put the rest off for later. Our parents were doing the same things and making the same choices, but we just didn’t know yet how complicated the job of adulting is.

    1. I totally understand what you mean here, I think people do believe they can have it all at the same time. I made some poor choices in my own life, so I don’t think I’m ever going to have the awesome career, or a quirky house (my house is old and not very nice and constantly needs work done because nothing was built well or with quality materials), or a great school district (SF’s school district is famously abysmal), or be there 24/7 for my kids (I don’t really want that, so…) or time to dedicate to my causes/interests, or regular time for myself (I suppose when my kids are out of the house I will have this), or the ability to travel (maybe some day? it doesn’t seem likely at this point), or to be able to save for early retirement (just saving for regular retirement is proving very challenging for us–at this point I plan on working until I’m 75, or longer), or a full social life (I do hope to have this one day, when my kids have moved out). I don’t know, maybe I’m being pessimistic, but we can see how much we’re going to make (we both have jobs with set salary schedules) and if anything there are probably MORE expenses in our future than we’re planning for (high school in our school district is a massive shit show and I have no idea how we’re going to navigate that, but it will probably cost us some money), so I just don’t see us having many of these things, really, ever. We do have the great city, which I do appreciate it, but I appreciate it less than others probably do, because it’s not my dream to live here. I think I’ve accepted that I can’t have all this at the same time, but I’m realizing that I probably won’t EVER have some (most?) of these things, and that has been harder for me to come to terms with.

  15. My Mom has been sending us 5 kids money/financial emails with regularity the last couple of years, because honestly, a couple of my siblings are HORRIBLE with money, and I’m not awesome by any means. My mom said “I wish I had done a better job of teaching all of you about finances when you were kids. I never wanted any of you to worry or think about money much, because it IS just a tool. But knowing how to use a tool is important, too.” That was eye opening to me for sure and changed how I’m going to approach it with my kids.

  16. One comment – 2.5k per month on health care costs ?!? That’s more than my
    mortgage in an expensive part of my city. That would put anyone in a pinch.

    THAT is a broken system.

    One more comment: Kudos on getting those student loans paid off aggressively!

  17. I can’t believe how much you’ve had to spend on health care costs! That is a huge chunk of your earnings after tax. Once again, we may have lower salaries here in NZ, and relatively high housing costs, but at least we don’t have to pay healthcare. Well done on paying off the student loans too. Once that has gone, you’ll notice the difference I am sure. Maybe your house is going to be your retirement fund. When you’re older and your kids are grown, you could sell your house (with the attendant capital gain) and go live somewhere much cheaper, and voila, you have a nest egg. Unless of course you have a capital gains tax on housing.

    I am grappling with the whole financial sins issue at the moment too. I grew up with no spare money. My parents were very frugal, and we learned that from them. Except that they also believed in occasionally spending money, that we could afford, on treats. Whether it was a takeaway meal (takeouts), or a cheap holiday (in a caravan) once a year, they made sure we enjoyed life too. When my husband and I started earning decent money, we also started spending. Now that our incomes aren’t regular (mine is non-existent), we are much more careful. It makes me think about all the travel we have done, and wonder if that was the right decision. I still want to say yes. Because we travelled when we could, and have amazing memories. Still, life is more uncertain now, and that is hard to face.

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