Family Quirks – The Money Edition

As we negotiate adulthood, it’s safe to say that we can easily attribute much of what we do and how we do it to our upbringing and parents. Whether we are determined to raise our kids completely differently from how we were raised, or we know how to do a hard day’s work because our Dads taught us – our parents have a huge influence on what we go on and do in the future

I have been reflecting recently on the lessons about finance and money that I learned from my own parents. As we pursue financial independence and early retirement, Mr. PIE and I are making decisions for our future that go against the grain of standard society, and everything we were brought up to understand. We are doing things differently from our parents, and it’s interesting to consider if the money lessons I learned as a kid have any relevance to our current plans.  I know for a fact that my kids will grow up with a knowledge of money and investing that I didn’t grow up with, but that doesn’t mean that I learned nothing about finance from my parents. On the contrary, I think I learned a number of valuable lessons that I have been able to apply to being a grown up.

This is a reflection of where I have come from, my financial heritage if you will. Even before I start, I know that I have a lot to thank my parents for. They brought me up to have a very level headed approach to most things, including money. But haven’t we all got some crazy (endearing?) quirks from our upbringing? Let’s lay it all out!

Frugal is a way of life.

Both of my parents were very young children when World War Two began. Yup, they’re old and I’m getting older! I remember being assigned a project at school when I was in my early teens. We were to interview our grandparents about their war experiences. I simply had to go home and ask Mum and Dad my questions. My Mum has a wonderful selection of memorabilia – rations books, gas masks and the like, that make for fascinating stories. Their perspective as children during in the war is most likely rather different from adults, but the frugality required of families during rationing truly shaped their outlook.


There’s the story of my grandmother who had the same winter coat for at least 20 years – probably a lot longer. My mum remembers asking her if she would ever get a new one and being told that the one she had was perfectly good. Clothes were a luxury and to be looked after, mended and recycled into something else with creative sewing. A pair of shoes or boots was to be cleaned and fixed and used till the last.

I spent my childhood and most of my early adult life being thoroughly dreadful at buying clothes and shoes for myself. Part of this was undoubtedly due to my upbringing, clothes were low down the list of priorities for spending – and spending money on clothes for yourself was an unnecessary luxury. It was only more recently that I proudly shook this off and embraced the all American way of shopping. Cheap, easily accessible fashion meant that buying an item in two or three colors was perfectly reasonable. An expanding income could negate the guilt of buying for myself.

This day-to-day frugality I learned growing up extended to many other areas. My war-raised parents would always scrape any residual butter off the butter wrapper, keep and use the dripping from the roast meat, and re-purpose left overs into several meals. I learned that storing bars of soap before using them makes them last longer (they dry out apparently), and fabric conditioner should only be used sparingly and for specific loads of laundry like towels. Again, these habits were soon lost as I felt they were no longer needed in my modern, affluent life.

It’s a good thing that my early life lessons were deeply ingrained. In attempting to ‘relearn’ frugality I have a good background to rely on. Many of the changes Mr. PIE and I have made in our spending recently have lead me to reapply the ideals I learned growing up. Another unexpected upside is that chatting with my parents about grocery and gas prices is now a pretty enjoyable experience as it’s a newfound passion of mine and an old one for them!

Budget and save for future expenses

I have to smile whenever I see a Pinterest or Twitter article about teaching kids about money through their allowance. Invariably they espouse the concept of having kids split their allowance into portions labelled Keep, Give and Save (or something similar). Of course, if this is on Pinterest the three separate containers are delightfully crafted from mason jars and tied with burlap. (I love Pinterest, honestly – but if I see another Mason jar…..!)

8/2/12 Ralph Barrera/American-Statesman; With the help of the canning resurgence, mason jars are back with a bang, and not just for jams and jellies. We look at why these nostalgic jars are so popular and how some cooks, including cookbook author Shaina Olmanson, are using them as baking vessels for desserts. (THIS IS THE LEAD 080812 relishaustin) Broyles story

In the days before the internet my parents managed to use this concept with my brother and me (minus the mason jars). It’s probably passed down in parent lore. While Mr. PIE and I haven’t delved into (read: haven’t got our act together) allowances for the small PIE’s, I can tell you that it certainly worked for me. Each week I was given £1.00 (this was a long time ago!) which was to be split between three very ordinary looking money boxes. I recall the ratio was something along the lines of 40p to keep, 40p for gifts and 20p to save.

I believe that one of the things that made this process really work was that my parents made it very clear what the expectations for this money was. If I wanted something for myself, I had to tap the ‘Keep’ pot. I was expected to raid the ‘Give’ pot at birthdays and Christmas, although my expenses here were usually subsidized. Once a reasonable amount of money was sitting in ‘Save’ it got transferred to my Building Society savings account. These requirements and the amount of money I received changed as I grew older. I specifically remember discussing what types of things I was expected to buy for myself when my allowance went up to £5.00 (gasp!) It included clothes and outings with friends to name a couple.

What lessons did I learn from this? I guess without realizing it I was learning how to budget, pay myself first and live within my means. Occasionally I would negotiate a subsidy for a specific purchase (can’t beat learning negotiation skills). My satisfaction at seeing my saving grow back then was a similar feeling as I have watching our investments grow today.

Don’t talk about money – and get very uncomfortable if anyone tries

A peculiar thing happened in my house every week while I was growing up. My parents would sit down and tally up who owed whom what from the week’s expenses. I say peculiar because I never understood, to this day, why they had separate finances. Oh, and I haven’t asked them!

The Brits have certain characteristics thrust upon them – stiff upper lip and all that! Refusing to get into any depth of conversation about personal matters may well be one of the truest. Apart from the weekly tallying, finances in any form were never discussed in my house. I never knew until I was much older that the bakery business my Dad was part of was not a ‘partnership’ as he had alluded to. He was an employee and walked away with nothing then he left. My parents never had the slightest interest in my starting salary when I began work, or what I made when I came to The US. This was all personal territory and as such should not be talked about.

When I return to the UK with my new-found ability to talk about personal subjects (thanks America!) I find my conversations falling flat. I recently told my parents about our plans for early retirement and began to give some information about how investments and savings were paving the way. I was met with nods, some interest, and uncomfortable shifting in seats when I mentioned anything about investing or understanding expenses. A similar thing happened recently when I joked that getting laid off with a decent severance would be a pretty nice deal. We. Just. Don’t. Talk. About. That.

While not talking about money isn’t the worst thing in the world, I’m happy that Mr. PIE and I are willing to disclose all sorts of information to the small PIEs about our finances. The alternative is learning very slowly, as I did.

Work hard and be prepared to do the dirty work

While this is not directly related to investing and saving, I feel that this is a particularly important part of my upbringing.  I come from a thoroughly blue collar family and they know how to work hard. No one was ever chasing a promotion or looking for the next best career move; they simply did the best job they could and never skimped on quality.

I grew up working with my Dad in the bakery, or at home with him cake decorating. These jobs both require long, unsociable hours and an ability to meet timelines with quality goods. While this was an education in itself that I take with me even now, the greatest learning I took with me was one my Dad both voiced and lived: “you can’t ask your employees to clean the toilets if you’re not prepared to do it yourself.”

Don’t borrow money

Consumer loans simply weren’t part of my parents’ lives as they grew up. Of course they got a mortgage when they bought the house I grew up in, but as far as I know that was the limit of their debts. I distinctly remember the day the mortgage was paid off in full and a bottle of champagne was popped.

Negotiating the finances of student life was not the huge issue it is now in the US, or ever increasingly in the UK. Back then (I do sound old, don’t I?) University tuition was 100% covered. Your local council would also provide a ‘grant’ to cover living expenses. This was means tested, and I received the full stipend minus a ridiculously small amount that my parents were meant to pay. This and more arrived in the form of care packages, stocks of food and train tickets.

When I arrived at University, the grants had recently been frozen to allow student loans to be phased in. The terms were generous and the amounts were small. This is where I came face to face with the prospect of accruing my first debts, and it didn’t scare me – but it did bother my parents! I had an interesting prospect: I didn’t actually need the money to live on; I had done well budgeting what I had and subsidizing it with summer work. What I planned to do with the money was travel to Hong Kong! It seemed so obvious to me at the time. I could get my hands on some low interest cash and travel! Why wouldn’t I do that?

My parents cautioned against it and very wisely too. However, my argument was: “Right now I have the time but not the money. Later I’ll have the money but not the time!” I talked them around and became the proud owner of, wait for it……an £800 loan! I can stand by that decision today because I quickly landed a well-paid job on graduation and was rapidly debt free again. It could have been a different story had I not gained employment so quickly.

This debt limitation has been a cornerstone of life to Mr. PIE and me. Yes, we were both very lucky to emerge from the UK education system with very little debt. Yes, we took on a large mortgage when we bought our house in the US, and we have carried car loans also. What we have done is paid our mortgage down quickly, and paid off car loans well before their maturity. We have also never carried any credit card debt. Not carrying debt has been a foundation of our life, and almost certainly a teaching from our parents.

What I have learned from my parents

I didn’t learn about investing – that’s for ‘other folks’. Instead I learned about budgeting and saving. I didn’t learn how to talk honestly about personal finance, instead I learned about hard work and frugality. It has taken many years before I fully appreciated what I did learn from my parents. It took living a little of the affluent ‘American Dream’, then trying to relearn frugality to fully appreciate what was ingrained in me. I can only hope Mr. PIE and I pass on equally valuable and quirky lessons to our kids.

What money lessons did you learn from your parents? Do you have their money quirks? What money smarts do you want to pass on to your kids?


  1. Love this and I definitely learned similar things from my parents. The one that spoke to me most was “be prepared to do the dirty work”. My parents were both all about this. They did any job that needed to be done – and it didn’t matter what it entailed. We were definitely a blue-collar family and work ethic and quality work were modeled to us. I believe that is what has taken me far in life. My parents also never took out loans! There are definitely some other things (like investing) that I hope to share with my kids too. Great post!

    1. Thanks!
      In writing this I realized how much value there was in the general principals we learn from our parents, rather than the actual practical information like investing. Work ethic and keeping out or debt are not things to be learned in books. Investing is! I think our parents gave us a great foundation

  2. My parents were a little more open about money when I was younger, they are definetely not frugal but would share some information on our family’s finances. They always invested in 401Ks, but that was about the extent of their knowledge.

    One thing I learned from my parents is work ethic. They both worked (and still do occasionally) way to many hours and tried their hands at different side gigs to make extra cash.

    We talk a lot more openly now, most of the time I am giving the advice however.

    1. Thanks for stopping by.
      It’s great that you have some open communication. It could well be a generational thing as well as a nationality quirk!

    1. good to hear from you Tristan,
      sorry to hear that. I guess you could say that your parents taught you how ‘not’ to do it!

  3. What I learned from my parents about money was that you shouldn’t spend it as if it was burning a hole in your pocket, as was their routine. I swear, we could have probably lived WAY more comfortably had they just had the discipline to not “feel rich” at every paycheck. Even from the beginning I was more of a saver (disclaimer, I’m really horrible with money but compared to my family, I’m great!) and I would always have free money available to do things long after my sister and brother were broke.

    I also took on student loans, I needed them to cover tuition, but I took on more to help subsidize living above my means. Massive headshaking and eyerolling… While I didn’t get caught like so many of my friends with massive school debt ($64k) and no job prospects, I still get amazed that I thought taking on those loans for non-essential stuff was a good idea.

    I was even encouraged by my family to A) take out loans for more than needed, B) use my credit cards to further subsidize living above my means because “You’ll get a good job and pay those off in no time”. I also had about $16k of credit card debt after school…

    So that’s what I learned from my parents/family about money… My plan is to teach our kids about finances WAY better than my parents did. And I’ll avoid using any mason jars in the process, seriously, when will they go away, they’re not that cool. 🙂

    1. It’s always interesting to me when one family member breaks away from what the rest of the family seems to be doing – because they realize it’s not a good path to take. You were lucky and obviously very smart not to fall into the spending and debt trap also.
      Everything is learning though. You learned how you DON’T want to do it!

  4. Those are truly valuable lessons that were engrained in you! It’s funny looking back on childhood, the way we’re raised, and the lessons learned. Then as a parent trying to do our best to pass on equally valuable lessons that match the times. And the times have no doubt changed since the world war two era.

    What a treasure trove of collectibles your parents have too! A gas mask! That’s awesome!

    1. Hey GS, thanks for encouraging me to write about this! Yes, it was you who seeded the thought!
      My parents are not hoarders, but they are very good at keeping interesting things. It has made for some great projects through my years at school.
      You’re correct that we have to match the times in what we teach our kids. We have so much more information available to us than our parents ever did, which is usually a good thing!

  5. I learned a lot about being frugal from my parents, such as not buying something new just because what I had was “old” (but still in good condition and usable), frugal travel tips (packing snacks/finding free activities etc, not the credit-card hack kind), and that money was earned by hard work and therefore was something to be carefully spent, not simply thrown away. I hope I can instill the same sort of lessons in my own kids some day.

    1. Thanks for stopping by! Yes, My parents were, and still are all about using, fixing and re-purposing. That’s a habit I got out of when sucked into our throw-away society. getting back to it though!

  6. My parents were not finance savvy and do not save up nor invest but they have great jobs and never got into consumer debts so I was pretty lucky to graduate debt free. I “learn” my own money lesson by picking up the coins they left around the house.

    1. Hi Lynn, thanks for your comment. My parents are not investors either, I think it’s something of a generational thing. We have access to investing so much more easily than they ever did. We have easy to access information and it really is something for the masses now rather than something for the elite

  7. The good thing I have learned at home is to life below our means. To save for pension first, to buy a house (it got me apartment that turned into rental – now sold).
    Due to the situation, money was not available in abundance, it made me money aware.

    The best lesson by far was that had a monthly allowance we agreed upon to cover a pre defined set of expense! best learning ever?

    1. Hi ATL, thanks for stopping by!
      It sounds like you learned a LOT from your parents, those are all very valuable lessons.

  8. I learned mainly negative lessons from my parents, but I learned them well enough to not repeat them. One parent will never retire and will work themselves to debt because of their lifestyle. That is not a thing I want. I am open and honest with my girlfriend about my finances and my plans for them and what I can afford. She does the same with me. We support each other in our goals. It’s divine.

    1. There’s a lot to be said for taking the negative and making it a lesson. Can’t beat having an open and honest relationship and communication 🙂

  9. My parents didn’t have much but they always respected the working man or woman. They treated and tipped waitstaff and service people well. They taught me that someone’s salary or position is not the measure of his or her worth. And my parents used the envelope system way before Dave Ramsey did. There was always one marked “extra” in case my brother or I needed a few bucks when my parents were at work.

    I loved reading about your grandmother!

  10. I swear that all these new solutions found online or in the media have been around for years, they just get re-marketed!
    Those are valuable lessons from your parents!

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