do we inherit our spending habits?

8 02 2010

yesterday was my mom’s birthday, and i’m telling you right now- she is one amazing lady. i’m talking about a woman who made us quiche out of government cheese when we were on welfare. if that isn’t the definition of class (and resourcefulness for that matter), i don’t know what is. however, if i did have to choose one thing about my upbringing that i would change, it would most definitely be my financial education.

our little family would eventually climb out of the welfare system, and make a pretty nice life for ourselves. there was private school, themed birthday parties, 16th birthday cars (not that i ever learned how to drive…). life was good. but somewhere in the transition between poverty and  upper middle class-ness, the lesson about how not to end up back in poverty again got lost. i was never taught the value of saving. i didn’t learn the rudimentary aspects of bank accounts, and certainly the mysteries of the credit card APR were never discussed. and the day i learned that i would have to pay back my student loans… shocking! i entered into a world of financial independence not even knowing how to write a check.

what i did learn about was shopping. for necessity, for celebration, for fun- new stuff came into our home in a steady stream. cars were traded up every 2-3 years. new living room furniture arrived on roughly the same schedule. it was no tragedy really, my family could afford what they bought- but all i came out with was the understanding that shopping is a constant need, the ultimate way to fill up the empty spaces in life. it’s still my biggest crutch. in times of crisis, some people might get drunk, or pick a fight, or eat a whole cake… but nothing cheers my broken spirit more than a good spendy trip to the mall. not good. especially for a person who doesn’t make a lot of money or have any sort of savings cushion (what’s that again?) to fall back on.

when i was first starting out on my own, i knew so little about money- and wanted so much to maintain that flow of stuff into my life, that i made all the cardinal mistakes:

1. i took out bigger student loans than i needed to so i could spend the money on “fun” things (all of which i no longer even remember buying/having/enjoying).

2. i opened a store credit card, bought one set of calvin klein underwear, and then never paid it. the black mark only just slid off my credit report last year.

3. i opened 2 high interest (not that i ever really knew what a fair interest rate would have been) credit card accounts, and kept convincing myself that i “needed” to buy things that i couldn’t afford, and that i would pay it all of on my next paycheck, or student loan, or tax return, or birthday. i never did.

4. i didn’t save. anything. ever. so when i lost my job and unemployment didn’t kick in for 2 weeks- i had to sell all my CDs just so i could eat.

i think it’s pretty obvious from the contents of this blog that i still struggle, all the time. i still have crazy debt. i still spend too much. i still think that shopping is the cure-all for my problems. but i’m learning, and at the ripe old age of 32, i finally feel like i’m pulling the airplane out of the tailspin.

but absolutely no disrespect to my mom. kids are hard! i think that parents are expected somehow to know everything- to do everything the exactly the right way for their children, and i don’t really think that’s fair.  for all of my lack of financial education, my mother gave me my sense of humor and style, my ability to love and forgive, listen and empathize, my eternal optimism, and my general gratefulness to be alive in the world right now. i may have some debt (ok, some serious debt), but i’m not a hooker or a ponzi schemer. i rarely have more than 2 drinks, i give really  good presents, and i can still name all my US presidents in order in under 15 seconds.

i guess the point here is that i think we should never stop trying to be better (for ourselves & our kids). i will learn from my mother’s mistakes as well as her successes. although i’m sure i’ll find some other fun way to screw up my future children, they will most definitely be taught how to balance a checkbook, and how to properly sacrifice to the gods of FICO.  and they will most definitely be loved- even if they manage to fuck up their credit anyway.

you’re the best mom! happy birthday!

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