One Saturday a couple weeks before Christmas when I was maybe 9 or 10, my parents took me to a tree lot to pick out our Christmas tree. We had lunch at Taco Bell, which at that time was my favorite place to eat, and where my parents decided it was time to teach me a lesson. They gave me $10 and told me that I would be paying for lunch, which also meant that I could keep the change. We all ordered, and after we had eaten, my mom AND my dad both said they were still hungry. It’s like parents are in on these things together.
I rushed in with something like, “No, you don’t need anything else. You can eat more at home.” My parents didn’t end up ordering any more food, but I bet they enjoyed my panic. I wanted to keep EVERY LAST CENT of my change.
And that’s when I first truly understood what it means to spend money. When you spend it, it’s gone.
That’s not all my parents taught me about money. They knew how to handle it before they were even actual adults. By the time they got married, right before they turned 21, they had already saved $7,000. (I’m thinking they must have learned a little something from their own parents.)
My parents didn’t have a typical honeymoon either. Instead of going to Hawaii for a week as most couples in their church did, they borrowed my grandpa’s RV and explored the Pacific Northwest for a month, a trip equivalent to the price of a week in Hawaii.
It made sense that my parents managed money at work. My dad was a church business administrator for 23 years and while my mom stayed at home for most of my childhood, she still managed about 5 years of accounting work, as well as the meticulous task of taking care of our family’s finances. They also taught 60 Crown Financial Ministry classes, a 12-week Bible study on how to manage your money, and facilitated several of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University classes.
For whatever reason, managing money is a skill that often goes untaught, even though the consequences can be disastrous, so here’s what I learned from my parents.
1 Tithe first.
When my brother and I were kids, my parents gave us a weekly allowance of $1 per grade level. Well, maybe gave is the wrong word, because we had to work for our allowance by making our bed, setting the table, unloading the dishwasher, etc.
After receiving our allowance, we had to essentially budget it using 5 envelopes: tithe, savings, clothes, entertainment and miscellaneous. When we divvied up our money, we started with our tithe — 10% that was given back to God. We gave (and give) our tithe to acknowledge that everything belongs to God and because God commanded it. To this day, I am scared of not setting aside my tithe, in the sense that I don’t want to find out what would happen if I kept it. I’ve also seen how God blesses us when we are faithful and obedient to Him.
2 Save second.
After putting our tithe away, on to savings we went. My parents required us to save 20% of our allowance.
I haven’t always been a great saver, which I do regret, but now that I’m married, I (as well as Worchihan) am very serious about it now. We save as much as we can. Our first goal is Dave Ramsey’s recommended 6-month emergency fund. Our second is always having enough money to fly to Fiji or India or South Africa or the US whenever necessary. Third is preparing for a baby that we would like to have sometime soon.
3 Set limits/BUDGET.
I don’t think budgeting has ever been or will ever be popular, but my parents don’t care. They want to know how much they have and where it all needs to go.
We are not great at budgeting, but at this point in our lives, we don’t spend a lot on anything and save as much as we are able. I think budgeting will become more important for us when we have a child so that I don’t buy 8,000 cute $3 Carter’s onesies (yep, that’s how much we can get them for here in Bangkok!).
4 Track it.
When I was growing up, my parents used Quicken, which they love and highly recommend, to track every penny that came in or went out of our house. EVERY PENNY. I haven’t been quite so diligent, but we do track our monthly bills and other big expenses. I hate the feeling of looking at our account balance and wondering where all our money went. If I can look and see exactly where it went, I feel a lot better.
Tracking our money also makes us want to spend less. If you don’t spend it, you don’t have to write it down!
5 Avoid debt.
My parents have always stayed away from debt. Whatever they have bought, they have paid for, either with cash or on a credit card they pay off every month (obviously, minus houses, because my parents were not, and have never been, wealthy). Dave Ramsey says no to credit cards, but as long as you pay them off every month (and on time), they’re a good way to earn rewards, like the substantial gift card I’m looking forward to using (only on items we actually need) whenever we take a trip to the US.
My parents’ no-debt rule extended even to my brother’s and my college tuition. I remember my dad telling us way before it was time for college that we needed to go to community college for 2 years and then transfer, which is exactly what we did. (I even had some better professors/classes at community college than at the 4-year university I transferred to.) With my family’s help, our tuition was paid for, leaving my brother and I with no college debt.
I have completely adopted my parents’ attitude toward debt. I’m actually scared of it and will run the other way, screaming, if the idea even dares to approach.
6 If it isn’t broken, don’t buy a new one.
I don’t think my dad was trying to embarrass us every morning when he took us to school, but how could we not be ashamed of his gold 2-door 1980 Dodge Colt? (This was in the mid-90s, not 1980.)
My parents understood even when I didn’t that financial stability is more important than the year, make and model of the cars we drive. When I was in college, my parents bought used cars for cash for my brother and I, and while I may not have wanted to have been photographed by paparazzi in my 1992 Buick Regal, it got me where I needed to go, minus the $400 monthly car payments, and was even up to getting me a pretty hefty speeding ticket.
7 Don’t spend a lot day-to-day so you can go on yearly vacations.
When we went out to eat, which wasn’t very often, there was no soda for the Leacock family, whether we went to Chevy’s or El Pollo Loco (my parents’ Taco Bell equivalent). It was always water. And sometimes, everybody only got a dollar, allowing me to really fall in love with Jack in the Box’s 2-for-99¢ tacos (hold the lettuce).
Looking back, I appreciate this strategy. I never felt deprived, especially during our yearly summer vacations when we went to Orlando, Colorado Springs, St. Louis, Dallas and Nashville. Or when my parents took me to Europe like they promised when I was in college. My parents had the future in mind — all the things we could do if we didn’t live extravagant, fast-food-soda-filled lives.
We give because everything, including our money, belongs to God. We give because God gave. We give because “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded” (Luke 12:48). We give because we love God.
My parents taught my brother and me that it was our job to give. They demonstrated this by sponsoring several children in Latin America, by always having old friends and new friends over for lunch/dinner/Super Bowl parties, etc., and even by opening up our house to a woman in need.
I think if my parents were to sum up their views on how to manage money, they would say this: follow biblical principles. The Bible has a lot to say about money (more than 2,300 verses, in fact, deal with money). All your money belongs to God so use it — all of it — in a way that honors Him.
What did your parents teach you about money? Let me know in the comments!