What Do Your Parents Mean for Your Money?

Cheryl Lock

parenting stylesIf imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, parents don’t always want to be flattered.

At least not when it comes to financial decisions.

For proof, all we have to do is look to our own parents. Sure, it’s true that in some cases Mom and Dad were beacons of fantastic financial wisdom, but other times, that just wasn’t the case.


As we work through how to teach our own kids about money—and how not to pass on our bad habits—it can be helpful to start at the source. Today, we bring you five real people who share how their parents’ money habits shaped their financial outlooks later in life. What’s more, we’ll give you advice on how to learn from their experiences.

1. I Watched My Parents Juggle Debt … and Learned From It

Linda Atwell watched her parents struggle with debt all their lives and would have followed in their footsteps, but she married a man who couldn’t stand the idea of debt. She compared the example set by his parents (who never owned a home but put five kids through college) to that of her own (who couldn’t afford to take the family on vacations and limited the kids’ school clothing budget to $25 per year).

She realized that, though she loves her parents, she wanted to break with their legacy when it came to money. Because of that, she and her husband now use one credit card and pay it off every month. Plus, they bought a house and paid for it in less than 10 years.

RELATED: My Teenager Expects Me to Pay for Everything

If you’re concerned about teaching your kids about debt, you should show your kids that keeping a handle on debt is important, and allow them to get a feel for what it means to have some debt. Hollis Page Harman, an Emmy Award-winning financial literacy expert and author of “Money Sense for Kids,” says that the Atwells are doing a great job living below their means. “However, parents should allow their children to feel [what it's like to overspend] their allowance and do without until they can repay their purchase,” she says. “That’s a teaching moment kids can really learn from.”

Real life example: If your kid comes into money, say, from an allowance or a birthday, and blows his cash immediately, let him flounder. Allow him to feel discomfort. Next time, that money won’t disappear so quickly!

2. My Parents Sent Conflicting Money Messages

Colin Drake grew up in an affluent family with parents who had differing views on finances (Mom only bought sale items while Dad constantly splurged). That conflict made it harder for him to understand what was the best way for him to handle money in his own life; he and his siblings all have different money styles because there wasn’t one consistent message taught at home.

He’s taken that tension to task: As an adult, he is a financial advisor, and he incorporates the concept of money personalities—and how it’s important for both parents to be on the same page—into his work.

If you and your partner are like his parents, you should try to send consistent messages about spending to your children. Because Drake’s parents had two very different money attitudes, they had no common ground about money to imprint on their kids. “Instead, the children adopted one way or the other without any understanding of the pros and cons of each,” said Harman. “As parents, it’s important to agree on how to raise money-smart kids [and stick together on it].”

If you and your partner have different money styles, be extra communicative (you can find a guide to that conversation here): What do you want your kids to learn from you? Keep your agreed-upon lessons in mind as you navigate money in everyday life. When you feel that you or your partner is veering from the plan, pick up the conversation to get back on course.