Although my kids are no longer babies, they are still very young. My daughters are ages 1 and 3, and I have so many dreams for their future. I study them every day and my mind explodes with possibilities. What will my daughters be like when they grow up? What careers will they choose? Will they fall in love and find the happiness that I have? Will they graduate from college and become happy and productive adults?
Believe me when I say that I am not in a hurry to find out the answers to these questions. Watching them learn and grow is truly magical and I would much rather slow it down than speed it up.
At the same time, I feel compelled to fill their childhood with substance. Although my mother never pushed her ideas on me, she was constantly dropping subtle hints on what life would really be about. Sometimes I listened, and sometimes I didn’t. While my mom certainly didn’t know everything, she did teach me some amazing lessons about money. She taught me that working hard was not enough and that earning a lot wouldn’t be enough either. She taught me to save my pennies and make plans for the money I made. She also taught me the greatest financial lesson of all – to live below my means. She never preached it; she led by example.
Live Below Your Means
“It isn’t what you make. It’s what you spend.”
My mom used to say this all the time and I hardly understood what she meant. Wouldn’t it be smarter to make as much money as possible? Her advice just didn’t make sense at the time. Since I was young and hadn’t yet entered the workforce, it never rang true until much later in life.
Although I didn’t “get it” at the time, I find her advice very relevant now that I am out in the real world. I am surrounded by people of all income levels on a daily basis, and what I have found is that a high income does not necessarily guarantee financial success. In other words, I know people who make a ton of money who are broke. I have acquaintances whose income is double our family income, yet they have little financial stability. Although they are high earners, they are constantly struggling. The reason is because they are simply spending it all. Contrastingly, I know people – like my parents – who managed to do quite well without ever earning very much at all. Living below one’s means is the key to building wealth. Although earning a lot certainly helps, it is not the home run that it is made out to be.
I want my kids to know that they can have a very fulfilling and secure life with whatever job and corresponding pay level they choose. Some of the most amazing careers, in my opinion, are somewhat low-paying. Teachers and law enforcement officers should be hailed as heroes of our society, yet are paid very little. If one of my daughters wants to be a kindergarten teacher or social worker, I want her to know that she can live her dream and be financially secure just by living below her means. What I want my kids to learn is that choosing a high paying career does not necessarily ensure financial freedom. Living below their means – at whatever level that may be – is essential to being financially well-off.
Debt is a Burden
When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I did what typical young adults do when they start getting credit cards – I ran them up. I’m not sure if I ever had anything to show for the fluctuating balances that my credit cards always seemed to have, but I know that it was tedious and painful to pay them off. I spent many years ignoring my mom’s advice. Instead of living within my means, I bought whatever I wanted and “paid for it later.” I punished myself in this way many times until I finally matured enough to stop for good. Although my mom’s words went ignored for some time, they were also so ingrained in my mind that they ultimately (and luckily) prevailed.
I want my children to understand that acquiring debt can be a giant burden for years , even decades. I want to teach them that, yes, they can use credit to buy a house or to start a business, but that they shouldn’t use credit to buy things that they cannot afford. It is true that using credit responsibly can lead to a great deal of wealth and security. At the same time, using credit carelessly can have long term consequences and cause so much unneeded stress and heartache. My kids should know that they don’t have to struggle. They can instead choose to use debt responsibly and avoid a lot of headaches in the process.
Bigger Is Not Always Better
When we were growing up, my mom left the workforce to stay home. She walked us to the city swimming pool, she made crafts with us, and she created games for us to learn and play. She taught us to have fun using our imaginations. Instead of playing with expensive gadgets and nifty new toys, we made dirtpies and played softball in the back yard. Since we didn’t have new games from the store, we used markers and paper to create the games we wanted. We simply made do with what we had and, as a result, we were very happy. Although we never had much, we never really noticed. After all, we always had each other and the great outdoors to play in every day.
I want my kids to find happiness in small things. I want to teach them that sometimes the bigger house means more housework and the fancy car means pricey repairs. I want them to know that satisfaction in life cannot be bought or paid for – it must be learned and achieved by learning to be happy with the reality of their own life. “Stuff” will never fill an empty heart. While acquiring things may bring temporary joy, it never works in the long run.
My mom taught me to delay gratification. She taught me how to save and think long and hard before spending my money. In turn, I want my daughters to learn to be happy with what they have and not to covet their neighbor’s bigger and better object. My kids should know there will always be someone who has more than them, and that is perfectly okay.
There is nothing I want more on this earth than happiness for my two children. I hope they learn to work hard and be productive members of society. I dream that they will find something to believe in and strive for. I pray that they try not to compare themselves too much to others. And I hope that one day, some of my advice may be so ingrained in their minds that they simply cannot shake it off if they try. The whisper of my mom’s great advice still rings in my head. I can only hope it will ring in theirs, too.