There’s a lot to be said about being on the same page as your partner financially. Teamwork makes the dream work after all. But when I think about some of the best financial savvy that I learned growing up, I realize that much of it comes from the fact that I grew up in a house with parents who weren’t quite on the same page.
Mom – If potatoes were on sale at one grocery store and another advertised a bargain on milk, you had better believe that we were stopping at multiple stores that week. Or that day. Whether the weekly ads were pulled from Sunday papers or the mailbox, my mom would carefully coordinate the stack with pages folded every which way as she diligently made her grocery list. In fact, she still does this.
Dad – Once, he received an urgent phone call from my mom, who was also at work, on behalf of my nana. She and I were baking, and we were out of butter. Never one to miss an opportunity for fresh bread or hot-out-of-the-oven cookies, my dad promised to stop by on his lunch break with the ingredients needed for our next treat. If you make a left turn out of my parents’ neighborhood, you hit a convenience mart. If you turn right, you find a local grocery store. It turns out, you also find butter for $6 at one store and $2 at the other. Guess where Dad stopped? Needless to say, Mr. Time is Money still doesn’t get asked to grocery shop very often.
My takeaways – I always shop from a list. And though I’ve largely sworn off couponing, I’m a big fan of mobile apps. I don’t generally go to multiple stores, but you won’t catch me grocery shopping in a convenience store unless it’s an absolute emergency. Nana’s cookies? Well, that might fit the bill.
Mom – The other day I tweeted about having over 5,000 unread emails in my Gmail promotions tab. To say it takes a lifetime of training to not only amass that kind of junk email, but to also tolerate staring that red number in the face whenever I use my phone might be an understatement. My mom is the queen of coupons. Not in the crazy couponing, you-don’t-even-wear-contacts way that I was. But I honestly can’t recall a time in my life when she shopped the mall or shopped online without looking for a deal first.
Dad – My dad has always lived by the philosophy that the only way to really save money is to not spend any. I can’t tell you how many times he torpedoed my bubble as I rattled off the sale prices on my more recent haul from the mall. But that’s not to say he won’t shop or eat out. He does. But what he won’t do is use a coupon. Not too long ago, Mr. P and I met my mom and dad for dinner at a local Mexican food restaurant. When we sat down, my mom placed a coupon on the table. After finishing a round of chips and salsa, my dad promptly snatched the coupon, wadded it up, and tossed it on his plate. In just enough salsa to guarantee my mom wouldn’t attempt to fish it out.
My takeaways – If I’m going to buy something, I’m going to get the best price possible. Sorry, Dad. But had it not been for the counterweight that is my father, I can only imagine how many pairs of shoes my closet once would have held.
Mom – To this day, my mom balances her checkbook to the penny. In fact, one of my favorite weekend memories was coming downstairs to see my mom perched at her desk with a calculator, a pile of receipts, and her checkbook in its blue pleather bank-issued cover. If she was off by so much as a cent, she would pour through her register, sometimes even recruiting me to key in the numbers that she rattled off. During the once-in-a-lifetime occasion where the bank actually made an error, she unleashed a victory dance generally reserved for lottery winners and Super Bowl MVPs.
Dad – While my mom commandeered the family’s recordkeeping, my dad ran the books for his business. And by ran the books, I mean kept all of his receipts, invoices, and other assorted bills in a leather pouch that he would drop off with his accountant every so often. His employees were always paid on time and his bills were always paid early and his bills were always paid early–much to my mom’s chagrin–but if he was off in his records by $25 or $50, he’d never sweat it. His accountant would sort it out, or so he would tell my mom with a smile, as her head started the subtlest of twitches.
My takeaways – I actually balanced a checkbook–and included my credit card expenses and payments–until about three years ago. Had I not learned to always have an idea, either to the penny or at least a general picture, of what was in all of my accounts, my shopping syndrome could have landed me in tons of consumer debt. Instead, it just prevented our savings from ever really taking off.
So Tell Me…What family finance lessons did you learn growing up? Was your family always on the same page?