What my father learned growing up about money
As requested by Jane Savers in response to my own post about what I learned growing up without ever talking about money, I’ll talk briefly about what my dad learned about growing up with money.
It can basically be summed up in this sentence:
Be cheap as you possibly can, and screw over anyone in your path because you are #1 and the only one you can depend on.
My grandmother taught him that, believe it or not.
My grandfather died about 10 years before I was born, but he had a decent amount of savings which my grandmother then used for the next 30 years to live on, which included paying for the last 8 years of her life slightly deranged, living out her days being cared for full-time in a nunnery.
When I was growing up, I didn’t know anything about my grandmother’s financial attitudes or spending habits. It just wasn’t discussed.
I didn’t know anything about the way she thought or acted, beyond that she was my grandmother and I loved her.
That was all that I knew while she was alive, so if you read on and think I’m criticizing or demeaning my grandmother, I am simply stating actual facts and then my own personal observations of what happened in hindsight of these events.
From what I gather, here are some snippets and insights into her personality (it will help you understand the environment in which my father grew up in).
THE FAMILY DYNAMIC
My grandmother adored my father.
She doted on him because he was the only son in the family, and as a result, I suspect my aunt (his older sister) is rather sore and bitter over the whole matter.
(Hey I would be too! I don’t blame her.)
My grandmother would do things like fetch my father’s slippers for him when he came home from work, cook 3-course meals every night, bring the paper for him, buy little treats.. all up until the time he moved out of the home with my mother, his new wife.
We call this in French, un enfant roi or a “Child King”, and in other cultures also they call these children “Little Emperors”, to which he absolutely was.
I am fairly sure she even lamented for many years of not being able to bear a son, in front of her daughter to boot, so when my father was born, it was like the gods had smiled upon them, and she treated him like a miniature god.
My aunt is a stoic woman with a stiff upper lip however, and would never let these true feelings out to taint any kind of relationship with anyone, but it is very clear that we are separate families, and not one big cohesive one.
Since my father was much younger (a late baby), my aunt was forced to work early as a maid cleaning houses, and it wasn’t until she married my uncle and went through what I think was a pretty hellish life dealing with someone so controlling, that she now has a good life with him because they’re filthy rich.
My grandmother adored my uncle because he was ruthless and cheap like her.
Like decamillionaire rich with 6 houses all fully rented out, bringing in $150,000 a year in income which is more than what they need to live.
..and yet, he is still the guy that will go to a restaurant and take all of the complimentary wet naps given to people at the table into his pocket because it costs money, and if he can save even $1, it is still $1.
He also doesn’t eat expensive food, and feels sick at the idea of paying more than $5 for a meal. I don’t really call that kind of lifestyle rich, but to each his own.
She does not share this money with my father nor does she rub it in his face (my uncle does, however and I suspect it is a sore point), and basically has a good life now because she is no longer a maid and does what she wants.
So now that you have that kind of sibling dynamic in mind, back to my grandmother.
MY GRANDMOTHER’S MINDSET TOWARDS MONEY
Before she was shipped off to long-term care in a nunnery, she had a lot of her money stacked away in plastic bags underneath her bed, and a lot of it “invested” in gold pieces like jewellery.
SHE WAS A PROFITEER TO THE MAX
In old traditional culture, you have to “buy” the bride from her mother, and how much you pay determines how much you think your bride is worth to bring into your family as an asset.
The standard price at the time was $1000 (this is really just a token gesture), but my grandmother offered $250, and my maternal grandmother who was not used to any of this, took the money, not knowing she was supposed to negotiate for her daughter to set a higher price for letting her leave the nest.
As a result, my mother humiliated and ashamed for the first year of her new life because everyone knew that she wasn’t even worth $1000, and that her future mother-in-law considered her to be unworthy of joining the family, as she only paid a quarter of the price of a worthy bride.
This of course sounds antiquated, silly and totally ridiculous TODAY, but back then it was kind of a big deal.
My grandmother also didn’t think my mother was worthy because she brought no assets with her (she was a poor village girl), and would have paid $0, but paid $250 to save a little face. For the rest of my mother’s life, my grandmother treated her like a house elf, and my mother, being the filial daughter-in-law, took all of that without saying a peep, even long after she died.
Anyway, when my parents were engaged, they live at my grandparents’ for free to save up all of their money for a down payment on a home to eventually move out, which is the custom in our culture.
When they got married, my grandmother paid for the entire wedding including the honeymoon (they were not given a lavish one, but a short one nonetheless), but took the cash gifts given by friends & family into her coffers.
You read that right.
To rub salt into the wound, she later crowed to my mother rather unkindly afterwards about how much money she “made” off their wedding as a profit even after paying for everything.
She didn’t give a single dime to my parents to help with starting their new lives (as would be the custom), and took all the profits she made off their wedding for herself in payment for letting them live in her house for free all of this time.
Eventually my parents gathered enough money and moved out into a rented apartment alone, and later, bought a bungalow.
My grandmother was someone who saw herself as #1, and although she adored my father, she didn’t let that get in the way of giving him anything because…. she’s #1.
She ended up dying and leaving zero at the end of her life to anyone save for a few pieces of of jewellery.
Or at least, that’s what we were told.
My aunt was the one who handled the estate, and who knows what she or her husband did with the money (if there was any left).
(My uncle is also a rather profiteering, cheap sort.. which is why my grandmother approved of her daughter’s match so heartily.)
SHE WAS CHEAP AND STINGY
I can’t even say frugal because she was just cheap. And stingy, and a bit of the profiteering sort as evidenced above.
She would go to the market and buy vegetables, but then beg for ‘just a bit of extra’ parsley or rosemary because she didn’t want to buy the entire bunch, she just needed a bit of it as a garnish.
Some market sellers gave in, but they all pretty much tried to avoid her and her “negotiations”.
When she made food, she would cook it, and then tell everyone at the table exactly how much it cost, how much they EACH ATE, and basically rub the amount into their faces.
My mother took it all quietly because she’s a passive sort, but she looks back on that experience of dinnertime with my grandparents and shakes her head at what transpired each night.
If you touched anything in the house, she would remind you of how much it cost.
If you used anything in the house, she would remind you of how much it cost.
She never, ever, let you forget how much anything cost, and as a result, my father grew up being cheap and stingy, himself, even towards his own family.
My mother, is the total opposite and is a little too generous for her own good because she grew up in a small little village, barefoot with barely anything to eat for the first 18 years of her life.
She went into the other extreme as a result, and tends to spend and give away her money very freely to others to the detriment of her own financial stability and well-being.
I have to sometimes step in and try to gently rein her in (ironic, considering my own spending habits right?).
Anyway, with such a mother, he basically grew up being cheap, stingy, never wanting to spend money on anything including basic necessities (a warm coat, a pair of warm boots), unless it was for him.
But an expensive $2000 camera for himself? No problem.
He can spend on that, from money he has squirreled away from being cheap and not wanting to spend any money on good groceries or food even though he gets a generous food allowance from my mother to go and do exactly that.
(But he’ll try and get you to buy it for him first.)
Coupled with his lazy personality, while always looking for a way to profit without working, he fell into the poor mindset of buying lottery tickets or gambling at casinos as a way to “win big” and relax once his fortunes rolled in.
A quick buck without work is what he wants and the first lottery he won basically screwed up his rational logic for the rest of his life because now he KNOWS it is possible to win, so he keeps trying to the tune of $500 a month.
..and that’s how my father was raised to look at money.
It is no surprise to me at all that he turned out the way he did, but I don’t believe that your environment determines who you become for the rest of your life.
I didn’t necessarily grow up in a perfect family environment either, but you can always choose to change yourself and your habits if you want to.
This goes for everything — getting out of debt, losing weight, getting a degree.. it really is just a question of your personality coupled with your work ethic and whether or not you have the grit to try and fight for your dreams to come true.