Written by: Lisa Toews-Daugherty
I grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Amish country. No, we weren’t Amish. Thank goodness! I thought Amish children were so very deprived because they had to live without electricity, phones, and cars. I mean, how did they survive? But watching them live out their values had a big impact on me. I didn’t realize how big until I sat down to write my money autobiography.
A money autobiography describes your relationship with money. And we all have one. Some are healthy, some are not, but each and every one of us has a relationship with money. It’s a great way to start understanding why you spend money the way you do, what patterns you’ve had throughout your life, and how that plays out in your current financial situation.
Mine started as I watched the Amish horse and buggies go by our farmhouse. I learned that people lived by choice, quite happily and with great contentment, with far less than what I had. My parents were very involved in the community, and I was taught the importance of giving both time and money to others. One hard lesson was when I was 16 and we went shopping for a car that I assumed was for me. My dad and I picked out a used Toyota Corolla, drove it to the church, and donated it anonymously to a member in need. Ouch!
We weren’t rich, but we scrimped and saved, even when we didn’t have to. I was never sure how much money my parents earned and would never dare ask. I just knew that we lived within our means. They taught me to do the same. I still remember when I got my first clothing budget – and how quickly I splurged on this great pair of flannel-lined jeans that I wore exactly once because I bought them on sale in the spring. I was obsessed with keeping track of where each and every penny went, and I dutifully logged every expense into a ledgerbook, added, tabulated, and tracked. I knew if I spent $6 on lunch instead of $5, then I’d have to make it up elsewhere to have my carefully allocated budget come out even. I felt guilty over every non-essential expense. That’s the money foundation I brought into adulthood.
Now in my mid-forties, I am thinking about the money messages my husband and I are giving to our daughters. As a nod to my parents, we gave our 14 year-old a clothing budget on a pre-paid debit card. I believe she spent most of it at Starbucks. It’s a valuable learned lesson in impulse control as she walks around literally with holes in her shoes. I am trying to be more open about money than my parents were and to be a role-model for making financial decisions as a couple, setting priorities, managing shortfalls. It’s also important to me that our children know how their activities and expenditures impact our family budget.
What is your story? What baggage do you bring to your relationship with money? What lessons from your childhood resonate with you now? How is that impacting your spending and saving? That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Send us an email and we will forward a worksheet to help you write your own money autobiography.