In Discussions, Discussions, Life, Money

What I learned from growing up without ever talking about money

There is a fantastic post from Charles, talking about growing up in government housing, which I found fascinating to read.

I would also highly, HIGHLY recommend reading Revanche’s post: Random thoughts on poverty and the poor.

Anyway, back to Charles’ post. Oddly enough, her (?) experiences were kind of eerily similar to mine in some cases, and in others, not at all.

I grew up solidly middle-class, if you can call it that. I call it more middle-class money with a poor mindset.

See, my parents won the lottery then wasted most of it on themselves, so we had money to pay for a middle-class lifestyle.. but they didn’t really earn it which means they didn’t really put the work into saving it and had no clue how to (still don’t).

A few correlations between that post and my experiences:

1. At that time, we were considered the “rich neighbours”

My father drove a luxury vehicle (no joke), a second car just for everyone else, and we had a huge house (3 to 4 times the size of my friends’ houses). By all appearances, we were “rich”, or at least well-off.

No one could understand how my father could afford all that just working part-time at a retail store, and it wasn’t until an actual rich kid who had doctors as parents asked me: But what does your dad do as a career? ..after seeing my dad’s luxury vehicle, that I found it a little odd.

Still, you’re a kid.

WTF do you know about how money works, if no one talks about it at home?


2. We kids had a burning desire to work for ourselves

So while Charles’ friends were talking about starting a business and becoming rich right off the bat but not wanting to talk about going to college, my sibling and I actually did it when we were kids but never thought that we would NOT go to college.

Specifically, when I was around 14 years old, I learned how to make thousands of dollars from virtual (fake) millions online. Then as I left that video gaming world, I started a second business consulting for small businesses when I was around 15, and from there, built a clientele that took me through my college days, and helped pay some of the bills.

(Good thing too, because I moved out at 19 to live on my own.)


But never once did I ever think I would NOT go to college. I knew that consulting for these small businesses was a feast and famine situation and I needed an education.

It didn’t pay for everything but it paid for a decent chunk of my living expenses and student loans.

My sibling did something similar and started a small business as well but that petered out after he graduated college.

Still, my one sibling and I had a kind of independent streak in us to do a side job on top of our real jobs, be it going to college or working an actual full-time job, which is the reason why we are now both independent freelancers.

..but we never thought that education was something to avoid, no matter how much it cost, which is a very middle-class mindset.

We naively assumed our parents would pay for at least some of it (how could we have suspected otherwise with the way we were living and what they were telling us about how they had all this money saved for us?), which turned out to NOT be the case.

3. My parents were and are still terrible with money

If winning the lottery and then spending the next 35 years of your life with ONE parent working part-time at minimum wage, while gambling a lot of that money away to try and win the lottery for a SECOND time (TO THIS DAY) is not an indication of being terrible with money, I don’t know what is.

If that doesn’t qualify, please tell me what “bad money management” looks like.

Not only that, they are terrible with judging how much money they need for the future because they never think about it.

They live in the present, and never think about what will happen tomorrow, much like how little children act.

My father thought he could retire on that money at the age of 35, and live the next 35 years or longer, while spending like a rockstar moron on lottery tickets.

I guess he figured us kids would be the backup retirement plan, which he has made pretty clear due to our culture basically saying that kids HAVE to start paying for their parents, which I have ignored and had fights over, because… he’s STILL spending like a moron on lottery tickets and can’t be trusted with money.


(What my dad expects me to give him monthly to basically fuel his sense of worth to make him feel rich and to fund his lottery playing habits)

My mother still thinks that retirement money could only be gained from winning the lottery.

Savings? WTF are savings?

Are you insane?

The only way to get money is to win the lottery.

As a result, my parents can’t continue living their expensive lifestyle, even today with my mother pretty much making all the money in the house.

They basically think and live like poor people.

My mother for instance, saved well over $15,000 in her bank account this year.

However, instead of going on a modest vacation where she spends $5000, she plans on spending every penny down to $0 and enjoying her life for the brief week that they will be gone (yes, blowing $15,000 in 7 days is her goal this year).



They’re the adult equivalents of all the reasons why you and I overspend.

You could make the case that I can’t really say much.

I mean, who am I to talk, with my spending sprees?

THE GALL of me!

I didn’t work all of this year (not by choice, as I did hustle for contracts but they fell through & then this cute little surprise came along), and I spent about $15,000 on my wardrobe this year (mostly getting rid of Made in China crap)… but I have only 2 things to say in my defense:

  1. I am not living paycheque to paycheque (you can’t, as a freelancer).
  2. I am not spending all my free money before the year is done (“free” meaning cash).

4. My parents never talked about money but we didn’t grow up “poor”

I’d hear my dad getting mad if we left a light on or left the water running a little longer than needed, but that was more because he’s penny-wise but pound-foolish.

If you aren’t familiar with that term, it means that he economizes on the little stuff (also called being “frugal”) where he turns off the light and saves $0.000002 cents, or uses colder water to shower (another $0.000002 cents), but then spends a lot of money on stupid, STUPID things like $500 a month on lottery tickets in wanting to chase that second lottery win.

So my parents never talked about money, especially not with us.

Never had a budget, never talked about how to save our money, how to invest it wisely, or basically.. anything to do with wealth-building.


I was also one of those kids that went to school hungry every morning. It wasn’t that we didn’t have money, it was that my parents were kind of .. lax in the whole parenting department.

This was mostly because my dad couldn’t be bothered to wake up to make us breakfast before we went to school.

It’s the reason how and why I learned how to open packages of food, soup cans and basically eat what was available in the fridge to cobble together a meal at a young age.

All of this, added up to being independent at a very young age, which I see as a blessing in hindsight.

Where was my mom in all of this?

My mother who is not lazy in the slightest, was TRYING to find a job but couldn’t, so she started getting another college degree, and left early in the mornings to get to her 7 a.m. classes by bus (also another throwback to my father not being bothered enough to wake up early enough to drive her to school).

My mother grew up poor, but my father grew up rich.

You can see it clearly outlined in their habits (my mother gives a lot of money to her family as well as working VERY hard), but that made for a very odd upbringing for us, because we were rich… but also poor in many ways.


Most of my siblings (exception of one), are basically financially independent and savvy.

That is, we know how to save, we understand how to invest our money and so on. Some more than others.

The downside is that we know how to spend.

In fact, we know how to spend like rockstars in the moment because our parents taught us how to do it.

It is something I still struggle with.. hence the spending / saving nature of my blog.


The only saving grace of our taste for spending, is that we are tempered by our fear of turning out like our parents, and I in particular, have a semi-frugal partner as well (I say semi-frugal because we always travel a lot).

One of my siblings in particular, seems to feel slighted that he doesn’t make as much money “as the rest of us”, but then goes and borrows thousands of dollars from my mother who doesn’t have the money to begin with, and then pretends he doesn’t owe her a dime.

He has learned that penny-pinching but pound-foolish, poor-person behaviour to a T.

(We’ve already intervened, and put the ultimate kibosh on her ever borrowing on credit to give him money for a down payment on a home.)

I should also mention he makes $60,000 a year which is NOT “nothing” or a small salary in my opinion, it is just that he thinks it’s low relative to what we can make, so he feels like a small fish in an ocean, and very jealous as a result.


Basically my entire childhood, up to the point of going to college was a blurry, hippie dream.

It wasn’t until my parents finally broke the news that NO, we do NOT have the money we promised you for college, that I had a huge wake-up call.

I had floated through my whole life thinking that money was not a problem because we never talked about it (and we always talk about problems right?) when in fact, it was a HUGE problem because we DIDN’T talk about it.

Ironic huh?

At the end of it all, I realized my parents would never be there for me financially, and that’s okay with me because it made me hustle and learn how to get out of $60,000 of student debt in 18 months, turn my financial affairs around by learning how to budget and track expenses.

…and now even after having worked basically half my career due to choices I made such as taking off to travel* and circumstances like this one, and a more relaxed approach to life a la mes parents, I still have a pretty decent net worth for someone my age.

*I did the math and I have traveled about 3 years in total to various places, for months at a time. See places below:


My net worth could be higher for sure, but I still have half my life ahead of me before I retire, and I am not too concerned about making enough money to reach it.

I’m still searching for the balance of saving and spending.


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Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

Am my own Sugar Daddy. Am a millionaire at 36 after getting out of $60K of student debt in 18 months, a little over a decade earlier, using I have worked 50% of my career (taking 1-2 year breaks), and quadrupled my income within 2 years of graduating, going from $65K to $260K with an average lifetime savings rate of 50%. I have 11 side incomes that are on track in 2020 to make me $50K - $75K. I could retire today if I wanted, but love my work-life balance as a freelancing consultant in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). I am all about balance - between time and money, and also enjoying my money. I also post daily on Instagram @saverspender.

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  1. Stephanie

    My parents taught me well. And I am doing quite well. My income is low (I’m a grad student on a fellowship), but I have no student debt (my parents invested and saved to pay for college, and since I’m American and college is crazy expensive, I’m extremely grateful) and a positive net worth.

    My guess is that you are Asian, but I have no idea whether other cultures practice filial piety. However, as I understand Confucius’s teachings, filial piety is a two-way street. Kids have to take care of their parents, but the parents need to be devoted parents who teach the kids well and are responsible. Blowing money on luxury homes and cars and vacations while breaking a promise to set aside $10,000 for college is obviously (to me, at least) not okay. I hate to be so judgmental, but your parents don’t deserve your and your siblings’ help. Any help they get is from your grace and shouldn’t be considered payback.

    I think that my parents were pretty close to model parents, and I’m all the more grateful for it, even though we have some cultural disagreements. (Traditional Chinese family + bold engineer American daughter do not seamlessly go together.) They deserve any future support they might need from me. Ironically, my dad’s been very successful financially and probably won’t need my help. (Don’t make sense for him to take my money while he’s richer than me!)

  2. Lila

    Wow I don’t even know what to say. Sounds like you learned a lot from your upbringing. No parents aren’t perfect but they sound like good people if most of their kids turned out well.

    I grew up with my parents talking about money. They taught me how to write a checkbook and balance it.

    Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I kind of wonder if you’re parents are a bit bored maybe its why they spend a lot?

    A lot of people have spending addictions regardless of income, when they are bored, have no direction or are unhappy with their lives for some reason.

    I read about these two men who made over six figures but ended up in debt because they were unhappy and took time to figure out why. They write the blog (The Minimalists).

  3. Eva @ Girl Counting Pennies

    Okay…wow! I don’t know where to start! I’ll be honest, I had mixed feelings reading this post. I think it’s great that your parents were lucky enough to win the lottery and it’s certainly a shame that they were not as financially savvy as you are with their winnings. It happens. This is one of the reasons I’m always a bit reluctant to play the lottery. I keep thinking I don’t want to win BIG. I may not know what to do with all the cash, winning a few millions is probably more than I could handle. Give me a couple of hundred grand and I’ll be happy, haha! We all make mistakes, we are all human. It’s great if you learn from your mistakes. If not… oh well. I wouldn’t judge. 🙂

    1. save. spend. splurge.

      I’d be happy to win big NOW, because I understand where I’d put the money and what I’d do with it… but my parents still think winning the lottery is the key to retirement.

  4. dojo

    My folks also made some mistakes (not as big as these) and I grew up thinking it’s not ‘nice’ to think/talk about money. And of course got my butt into some debt and trouble.

    I’m not gonna raise my child like this. We do talk money (me and hubs), we do save and the kid will find out about this: we’ll discuss openly, have her save money, learn the tricks etc. I don’t want to get an adult from her who doesn’t know how to handle money

    1. save. spend. splurge.

      We are definitely doing the same thing. Talking about money!!!

  5. Tania

    My parents are very good about saving money and investing and I always knew growing up that they didn’t make a lot (relatively speaking, some might view them as well off, they are underpaid public school teachers). Both of my parents also grew up poor although my dad doesn’t like to be called that (they had everything they needed so he doesn’t consider that poor).

    They helped with college but I knew I couldn’t just randomly decide to go to some uber expensive private school. I’m not the greatest with my money because of spending but I’m flummoxed by many of the stories of student debt today. Not all, some are understandable but many went to an expensive out of state school and majored in something with a low return. I just always assumed there was a budget to consider when selecting a school and went in state.

    Your story is always interesting to me and I feel like you don’t talk about your siblings much, this is the first time on this blog and your old blog that I recall you mentioning your siblings. Jealousy is so unproductive! Your one sibling will be better off when he stops focusing on you and more on himself.

  6. Alicia @ Financial Diffraction

    My parents were great financially, but I can’t say it was well verbalized to us. We had an allowance that would have been a great learning tool, but it wasn’t utilized as one. Well I suppose it was to an extent – we couldn’t just blow it. But we never had full discussions about anything, even though my Dad was a crazy awesome investor/wealth accumulator.

    1. save. spend. splurge.

      @Alicia @ Financial Diffraction: Hmm this makes me want to make a point to talk to my kids about investing and accumulating wealth, to show them the ropes.

      Although you have turned out very well, so it must have worked out somehow!

  7. Heather

    That sounds like a pretty wild upbringing, you should be proud of where you are with those type of financial lessons behind you!

    I feel some parallels with your story (to a certain extent- no lottery at my house). And have become financially independent because of the lessons (lack of) from my parents. Still learning though of course!

    Thanks for sharing your story!

    1. save. spend. splurge.

      Thank you for coming by!

  8. MakintheBacon

    My parents really never talked to me about money either. I never had an allowance, whenever I wanted something, most of the time they would buy it. In high school, they wanted to me to focus more on my grades, rather than getting a part-time job to help for my future tuition. I only worked a couple of summers in high school. We were far from rich though.

    I hate to admit it, but I was pretty spoiled. When I was working and living at home, I didn’t have to pay rent. All I had to pay was my cell phone and car payment.

    While I was never one to go on spending sprees, it wasn’t until university that I really learned how to budget and save my money. My parents never taught me about how important it was to have a budget. My mom eventually told me I should start investing though but didn’t really give me much direction.
    My dad isn’t into fancy gadgets or cars and brags about buying things that are deeply discounted, but at the same time he doesn’t really know how to manage his money. Never once did he tell me to put aside money for a rainy day. I guess in a sense, I kind of learned most of it on my own.

  9. Ariana

    This sounds like your parents were blessed but did not take full advantage of the possibilities with an enormous windfall. And it also sounds like they have endured so many years of “harvest” that they have become ill-prepared for financial “famine”. Especially while living in a safe area.

    Where I am from, if you win the lottery, you or your family gets kidnapped and held hostage for a ransom. So you had either to move or to not flaunt your wealth by keeping a low profile.

    During my childhood I have learned to manage my money in a way to survive in a dangerous place: to dress in plain clothes (thieves have expensive tastes), stock up on food and save as much as possible in case I had to move due to political instability.

    1. save. spend. splurge.

      @Ariana: I think my parents were ill-prepared for the money they got, as they had zero financial education and no sense of what to do with the money they won.

      Your childhood sounds far more dangerous than mine ever was. I was pretty lucky, and I know it.

  10. Charles@gettingarichlife

    Glad you liked my post as we share a lot of similar views. I wanted to clarify when I mentioned about my housing friends who wanted to be “entrepreneurs”. They always talked about making money but there was no actual business model or plans, it was all talk. If we had a lottery that would’ve been their business plan. Many of them are still living there today with various kids waiting for their business to take off.
    It’s amazing how different people respond to their environment. Some repeat the cycle, while others like yourself are so sick of it that you are determined to leave it behind.
    Even though I hated being poor it took me a few years after graduating from college to turn my finances around. I was trapped in that cycle for years until I finally got tired of it.
    People often mistake making money to being wealthy when in reality your mindset, attitude and actions towards money is the key determinant to financial independence.

    1. save. spend. splurge.

      I really liked your post. It resonated with me for sure.

      I’d agree with the fact that people tend to chat about business building but never actually want to execute it (it’s a lot of work to build a plan, hustle for clients..)

      I had my real wakeup call when I finally left college and saw I was $60,000 in student debt. That smacked me in the face because it was almost the exact gross amount I was earning as a salary for a YEAR!

  11. Morgaine

    I wrote posts about this … and I grew up with a very unrealistic view of money. My Dad liked to talk about the concepts of money but never really showed me their bills or if he budgeted (I don’t think so). My Mom was a classic ostrich, she had no idea what was going on with the money. As long as she had her $200/wk for groceries she didn’t care. When my Dad died in 2009 she had to look at the finances for the first time in a long time and she was completely overwhelmed, she still calls me frequently to ask questions or pay her bills online. I think its hard for parents to teach pf principles if they don’t know them or follow them themselves. I will definitely be showing my kids how to budget and where money comes from (not the lottery!) and hopefully we can break the cycle.

    1. save. spend. splurge.

      My dad never talked about money. Neither did my mom, and she is still an Ostrich.

  12. Jane Savers @ Solving The Money Puzzle

    Did all your friends and neighbours know your parents were lottery winners?

    Could you please write about your fathers upbringing with money. I guess his parents never talked to him about money or taught him how to save and budget.

    1. save. spend. splurge.

      No one where we lived knew they won the lottery, only immediate family members and close friends knew.

      I will write about that 🙂

      1. Jane Savers @ Solving The Money Puzzle

        @save. spend. splurge.: Did you move after the big win? Did you go somewhere that no one knew you?

        That wouldn’t work today. They publish the names of lottery winners and people are nosy and Google the names of their friends and neighbours and secrets are harder to keep.

  13. Jessie's Money

    Wow! You’re honesty is incredible – I can see how much you have learned from your parents example (lack of example?) and that’s awesome! My parents never introduced talking about money (that I remember), but I was always fascinated by it and when it could do so i asked a tonne of questions. That resulted in me knowing more about our financial situation and deciding to save. I think I opened my first RRSP at around 16 lol.

    1. save. spend. splurge.

      Haha I don’t hold back. It’s better being Anonymous so I can tell it like it is.

      I am impressed you had an RRSP at 16! I did not even know it existed until I left college.


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