What was modeled for us as children seems to lead us down one of two paths: We either grow up to emulate what we experienced or we do the exact opposite. This can happen whether what was modeled for us was positive or negative.
If the model was extreme — well, that almost guarantees we’ll contradict it. That is definitely true when it comes to managing money.
Read More: 21 Signs You Need Help Managing Your Money
Different Kids, Different Experiences
My issues with money began long before I had children, but, of course, I continued making money mistakes after they were born.
My two oldest sons witnessed firsthand the money mistakes my husband and I made, as well as the steps we took to correct them. The age difference between my three children is pretty significant, with about 10 years between each. As a result of the age gap, my two boys grew up during different stages of our financial journey. My oldest grew up while we were making mistakes and digging our financial hole, while our younger son grew up as we were climbing out of it.
Because of their different experiences, I affectionately think of them as my “Debt Kid” and my “Debt-Free Kid.”
Debt Kid vs. Debt-Free Kid
Debt Kid got to enjoy our financed, debt-filled lifestyle. It was not necessarily extravagant, but it was marked by living outside of our means. He got to enjoy travel, a lot of dining out, shopping as a pastime and lavish holidays and birthdays.
He was a teenager when we started taking steps to manage our money better. Surprisingly, he was mature and understanding throughout the two-year process of paying off our debt.
My other son, Debt-Free Kid, was a preschooler when we began cleaning things up. Even though we were still living beyond our means during his first few years of life, he was too little to remember that stage. For the most part, he was exposed to frugal living, couponing and strictly operating within our means.
As you can imagine, they have different attitudes regarding money. But, I am surprised at how those differences have been playing out given their distinct experiences, and I’ve observed some key areas where my model has affected their spending and saving habits.
Experiences vs. Stuff
Debt Kid will spend his money on activities and going out with friends, but when it comes to spending in other areas, he’s pretty conservative. By “conservative,” I mean cheap. He will go far too long without making some much-needed replacements in his wardrobe or covering other basics because he doesn’t want to spend the money.
Debt-Free Kid, on the other hand, likes stuff. Books, toys, clothes, electronics, random As-Seen-on-TV products — he wants it all. I’m sure this is because when we were paying off our debt, we pretty much eliminated all unnecessary spending. Maybe he felt deprived, and he’s making up for it.
Price vs. Quality
Another notable difference is what they prioritize when they spend. Debt Kid is all about the price. It’s the first thing he considers when making a purchase, and sometimes it’s the only thing. This, I’m sure, is a direct result of how I approached my spending during our debt-free journey. I didn’t care about quality; I only cared about how much money something cost. (I have since changed my ways, but I’m afraid the damage has been done.)
Debt-Free Kid prioritizes quality. And I guess that makes sense since he loves stuff. He sometimes goes to the extreme, though, and tends to lean toward name brands, incorrectly assuming that an expensive or name-brand item always equates to quality. It doesn’t.
Delayed Gratification vs. Instant Gratification
Interestingly enough, both kids have the ability to save, but their motivation for saving differs.
Debt Kid can save just for the sake of saving. He’s also known to keep a decent amount of cash on hand without the temptation of spending it.
Debt-Free Kid is willing to save — if it’s for a future purchase. Even then, he has difficulty delaying gratification. On several occasions, he will declare that he’s saving up for a big item, only to raid his savings when an immediate want pops up.
Modeling a Balance
It’s eye-opening to see how my model over the years has affected my kids. It’s noteworthy to see how being extreme in one direction can drive them in the opposite.
If you have kids or influence children in any way, be aware of the financial example you are setting. Time will tell how our kids’ habits and relationship with money will develop and evolve, but it’s important to do what we can to make sure we model positive behaviors for them and strike a healthy balance.
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