If Only I Knew Then … Parents’ Biggest Financial Regrets

Penny Wrenn

money kidsI recently asked my mother, “Do you have any regrets about the money decisions that you made with me?”

Her response: “Too many to name now. ‘Real Housewives’ is about to come on. I’ll email you later.”

She never did. And I suspect that she avoided following up with me because she didn’t want to be bothered with the weight of regret. But if she had taken the time to list a few things, she probably would have said something about how she spoiled me too much—that she shouldn’t have bought me so many Barbies or that new Dodge Shadow when I turned 16. I believe that my mom thinks that all of those purchases somehow added up to my penchant for spending rather than saving.

She may be right. But I’m sure that a nurture-nature combination was at play. Besides, I’ve long since let my mother off the hook for whatever bad money habits that she might have passed along to me … now if only I could get her to let herself off the hook too.

But that’s the thing about parents: Their wouldas, couldas and shouldas can haunt them for a lifetime. In fact, I’ve yet to meet a parent who isn’t somehow saddled with the things they wish they’d done differently with their kids.

When I asked other parents of grown kids the same question that I asked my mother, their responses were thoughtful and surprising. What wasn’t surprising, however, is the fact that not a single one of them said, “Regrets? I have none.”

RELATED: The Top 5 Financial Regrets and How to Prevent Them

  • Lynne, age 63

    Not sure if budgeting can be “taught” to your kids. I’m a divorced Mom who has raised two daughters since they were 2 and 3 years old. My parents were not good with budgeting and we had to move twice a year for about 15 years because they couldn’t pay the rent/mortgage. I was determined that I would NEVER EVER go thru that when I grew up. My daughters saw all their life how I budgeted, paid bills on time, used coupons, bought items on sale, put money in my 401K and kept my ONE credit card at a low balance. For the last 13 years I was able to maintain a zero balance on my credit card, paid off my mortgage and have since retired at the age of 62. Both daughters, now 33 and 34, have two or more credit cards maxed out, are living paycheck to paycheck and putting the mininum amount into their 401Ks. Any advice I give them goes thru one ear and out the other. They both know that they inherit my home and retirement money, so they really aren’t worried that they will not have money for their retirement. My youngest bought her home two years ago and is engaged to a man who is good at budgeting, so there is hope for her to get her money situation on track. My oldest has moved back in with me after being on her own for three years and is showing no signs or ambition to budget her money and eventually be own her own again. I guess it’s a hit or miss with people learning to budget.

  • Terrence

    I started working mid-teens as a paperboy and knew the concept of having money but not necessarily saving it. I am now 42 and this is the first year I decided to max out my 401k while contributing the max to a Roth IRA. After high school graduation, I joined the military and participated in savings bonds. My parents never budgeted nor taught me how to budget and I eventually learned to budget on my own part way through my ten year career in the military. Now, I track every penny on a budget and cut expenses where I can. Unfortunately my younger siblings have not adopted a budget and do not care to do so. A parent (who does budget or save) and a school course should introduce money saving techniques to kids. I got into credit card debt going through an expensive (for me) divorce and maintaining more than one living arrangement. Ultimately, I learned to save because I wanted to retire at an early age and not have to work in my later years because I needed to but because I wanted to. As soon as one is declared an adult (primarily living on his or her own, or at least separate from his or her parents) they must take their own financial responsibility into their own hands.

  • http://myoverflowingcup.com Heather @ My Overflowing Cup

    My husband and I learned these mistakes the hard way. We weren’t taught these things by our parents so we quickly found ourselves in mountains of debt because we thought we could afford the monthly payments. We are trying to talk to our kids and be good examples to them so that they won’t make the same mistakes. Sometimes, though, even when kids have been taught, they still want to make their own mistakes. I have been writing about this on my blog lately so it’s interesting to read other points of view as well. Good article!