Money Mic: My Parents’ Tough Love Made Me Money Smart


money lessons DoRiS ChowIn our Money Mic series, we hand over the podium to people with controversial views about money. These are their views, not ours, but we welcome your responses.

Today, one woman talks about the lifelong money lessons her parents instilled in her by letting her take control of her own budget from a very young age. The sometimes strict measures taught her not only to spend within her means, but also to save for the long haul.

Starting from the age of 4, my parents conducted a years-long, unplanned “experiment” on me. Don’t worry—it wasn’t as scary as it sounds. The experiment, so to speak, was intended to turn a toddler with a piggy bank into an adult with a well-funded bank account.

Let’s be clear: Their goal was not to teach me how to “get rich.” I grew up in an average, middle-class household in Singapore as the daughter of a technician and a housewife. We were by no means wealthy, but my parents had been financially independent by the time they were in their twenties—and they wished the same for me.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the goal of their experiment was to instill habits in me that would make smart spending, saving and budgeting almost second nature.

It Started With a “Salary”

The first major money decision they made was to gift me a set allowance for my personal spending. They would gradually give me “raises” as I grew older, and they changed the frequency with which they gave me the funds—all of which was meant to prepare me for when I got a real paycheck. My salary hikes, in Singapore dollars, went something like this:

From ages 4 to 6: 50 cents a day
From ages 7 to 8: $1 per day
From ages 9 to 10: $10 per week
From ages 11 to 12: $15 per week
From ages 13 to 14: $100 per month
From ages 15 to 16: $200 per month
From ages 17 to my early twenties: $2,000 to $2,200 every six months

When I was young, I kept the money in a piggy bank. The fact that I was responsible for the money inside not only taught me the importance of saving, but it also gave me ownership over my finances. I would use the money on purchases like chocolates and stationery when I was younger, and when I got older, it paid for after-school social activities and clothes. I would count the money regularly, and whenever the amount exceeded my last count, I felt exhilarated—my money was growing!

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  • Joshua Miller

    Wow, definitely a lesson I wish my parents would’ve somehow done with me…might do this with kids if and when I have some…definitely don’t want them having the same issues with money I’ve had in the past year. Of course I’ll probably also make sure to have them in a decent bank(still thinking about switching my banks not only for rates but convenience of mobile apps and other features).

    • DoRiS

      Thanks for reading! It is never to late to learn financial literacy. Keep going! :)

      • Joshua Miller

        Yeah I’m already starting to finally end the never-ending cycle i had my first few months at the job I’m at now. It was like i would earn money especially a good amount for part time, but it’s like as soon as it came in the door december I’d spent it somehow and didn’t know why….good thing I’m on this site now i’m getting closer to that 6 months emergency savings(still going to take a long time) and hopefully soon going to start another savings to use for actually spending while working further to that goal of 6 months(which I’ll then continue to stretch even farther to 12 and double it each time I meet it)

        • Joshua Miller

          I’m also definitely when I get to the point of having kids in hopefully 5 or 6 years doing this with them so they make sure they don’t get in the same patterns I had….especially teach them the value of saving…I knew the value of it but since I didn’t get that much when I was little I didn’t really think much of it…

        • DoRiS

          It is better to have an account for savings and another account for spending. Paycheck will go straight into savings and take out a little for spending. Ideally, the transferring of funds should be tough and takes a few days. This gives time to consider if that spending is necessary and value-adding.

          • Joshua Miller

            Well that’s why it’s the plan to have a 2 savings(one for emergencies and the other for saving up for a tv for myself since I don’t have my own and want one so I can watch stuff in my room with netflix, hulu and funimation elite) and a third account for holiday savings(which will end up going into my debit next year since this year I’ve got it planned to go into savings instead(didn’t think it through and might just be good that I did put it to go to savings this year)

          • DoRiS

            Sounds like a good idea. Perhaps can consider an account for investment and retirement too. Saving for a holiday is important, but if have to start from scratch again can be quite a hassle.

  • Caryn

    This is great! It makes me think about my own experiences with handle money growing up. This is something that I would like to do with my own children to teach fiscal responsibility at an early age. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us!

    • DoRiS

      Thanks for reading! Better to make financial mistakes as a kid than adult. :)

  • Lori West

    awesome story! Thanks for sharing! so glad they’re experiment worked well for you!
    It appears that you naturally tend to be more of a saver and planner (like myselfl and I’m sure that contributed to the success of this experiment.
    I have 5 kids who all handle money 5 different ways even know they are being raised by the same two parents. I have one son who at 7 years old proclaimed he would be in future multi billionaire -”That’s with a B mom!” And i believe he will as he rarely spends any money he gets and still has gift cards from his birthday several years ago! I have another son to spends his money before he ever receives it. So it definitely takes more work training our spenders than our savers and planners.
    Thank you for sharing your story and encouraging others

    • DoRiS

      Thanks for reading! Wow! 5 kids! Sounds like you have a young billionaire in making! :)

  • Laura

    It is not often that parents instill this type of financial responsibility in their kids. Even though I’m not a kid, I can still take a lesson from what you have done in my own finances.

    • DoRiS

      Thanks for reading! Financial literacy is a lifelong learning journey! :)

  • Mary Tan

    Thank you for this post; I can utterly relate to this as a fellow Singaporean! I grew up in a fairly well-off family but I never knew it until I entered secondary school (high school equivalent in US). My parents were strict about my allowance and frugal in their day-to-day spending. They could be lavish as well, but there was always a time and place for it. Without them, I would never have learnt the value of money.

    • DoRiS

      Thanks for reading! We are very fortunate to be able to learn money lessons since young! :)

  • V

    Ahm…in what universe was this “tough love”?

    By my calculations, your parents gave you over $35,000 as an allowance. I come from a large, blue-collar, immigrant family. There was no allowance. My parents didn’t feel that we should be paid to do chores around the house, that was a basic duty as a child, and I am in total agreement with that notion. I got my first job when I was 15 years old, because it was instilled in me that if I wanted something (emphasis on WANT), then it was my responsibility to earn the funds to get it myself.

    Your parents handed you large amounts of money on an annual basis, just for being alive. Congratulations.

    My parents gave us everything that we needed: a roof over our heads, food to eat, clothes on our backs, but we had to EARN the things we wanted on our own.

    That, my friend, is the true meaning of “tough love”.

    • Joshua Miller

      Well I think she meant it in the sense that beyond what they paid her as a allowance, or in the money around holidays they didn’t help her very much when it came to money. She was forced to with the money she did get to learn to budget if she really wanted something. Her version, my version and yours could vary tremendously. Of course I never got paid a allowance(I wish I would’ve but it was only talked about never made it off paper in plans), I only got money on birthday and christmas and no one ever tried to get me to learn how to budget. That’s tough love money wise. But it seems to me her version of tough love means learning to spend her money wisely without much help…

      • V

        “…they didn’t hep her much when it came to money.”

        Her allowance was an exorbitant amount, and on top of that she received an annual bonus for the Lunar New Year. If that’s not helping her much, I don’t know what is.

        I am not disputing that she learned budgeting and forecasting skills, which are of utmost importance, but to spin it as lessons learned as a result of tough love is inappropriate, and inconsiderate of those of us who have never had anything handed to us, and we still learned the fundamental lessons.

    • DoRiS

      Thanks for reading and appreciate your sharing! The title was decided by LearnVest and in the hindsight, I didn’t think it was tough at all.

      I have never calculated the total amount before till today. The total came up to about SGD $22,000 and not $35,000 over a span of 16 years. No allowance on weekends and school holidays either. I had a full scholarship for University, so they did not need to pay for it, and I had to return them the tuition money for my Diploma.

      In Singapore, most children get daily allowance, including those who require financial assistance. This is to pay for food and lunch during our breaks, as well as any stationery from bookshop. From 7 year old, we start to learn basic budgeting. In the 1990s primary schools, it costs about 50 cents for a plate of rice/noodles, 50 cents for a can drink, 60 cents for chicken wing, 30 cents for bun, etc. All of us learnt how to count and manage money from there. Since we have a small fixed amount, we can only spend selectively. I know some of my friends who received similar amount, but I have more friends who received more than me than those who received less.

      I got my first part time data entry job at 17 after graduation from Secondary School while most of my friends only started after 20. The minimal requirement for most jobs here are ‘O’ or ‘N’ levels (Secondary School graduates).

      In Asian’s culture of filial piety, once we start working, we need to contribute to family expenses and give our parents’ allowance too. This allowance amount can easily be ‘returned’ to our parents within 10 years of working full time.

      • V

        I appreciate you responding and clarifying a few things. Maybe the Learnvest editors need to know a thing or two about what constitutes “tough love,” before assigning that title to your story. I am glad you and I agree on that!

        It does seem as though your parents held you accountable for/with the money, and it certainly was an opportunity for you to learn basic financials.

        SGD $22,000 is still about USD $17,000. You have to realize that is a large amount of money for a child to use for daily spending. Those costs you describe exist here in US schools as well (lunch money, school supplies, etc.), and there is no way that I can fathom myself, or any of my friends/circle needing that much money to get by on, as a child.

        I understand, and respect the notion of filial peity in your culture, as that is practiced in my Caribbean culture as well. Giving back to the parents that worked hard to raise you is certainly honorable.

        Like I said, I do appreciate your clarifications, and at the end of the day, you have certainly learned the hard lessons that take many people a lifetime to learn.

        Thank you for sharing.

        • DoRiS

          Thanks for your reply and sharing too! We are lucky to learn important money lessons when we were young!

  • MaliaM

    Wow! Great lesson and smart parents. Thank you. What a great read.

    • DoRiS

      Thanks for reading! :)

  • Nita

    Very valuable lesson. Kudos to your parents and you. Thanks for sharing.

    • DoRiS

      Thanks for reading! :)