I didn’t have money growing up… and I didn’t know it. What my parents taught me about it, and what I later learned on my own, means I’m now in a strong, healthy financial position.
Here are the two biggest things I’ve learned.
When my parents first got together, my father hadn’t been working for very long and my mother had only just left school. Needless to say, they didn’t have a lot of money.
Then I came along.
The thing is, when I was growing up, I never knew we were poor. I never felt deprived, never felt like I went without. I had a lot of new-to-me clothes thanks to various cousins and family friends and, though I didn’t eat gourmet meals, I never went hungry.
And good ol’ Santa always came up trumps.
My parents worked tirelessly for everything they had (and to give me everything I have) and, from them, I learned the true meaning of value and hard graft.
Weekends were spent fixing up the house or building on another room or clearing out the garden or servicing the car or footing turf. (Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with that last term, it’s an Irish thing.)
I learned that labour bears fruit, and there’s a great deal of satisfaction to be had in creating something with your own two hands.
I learned that when everyone chips in, great things can be achieved. And in a fraction of the time.
Earning a living, either financially or by building something from nothing, was lauded. It was a way to gain independence. It was freedom.
I got my first job when I was 15. It was the logical next step in living my own life and paying my own way. It was a rite of passage.
That’s what my parents taught me – if you wanted something, you worked for it. If you worked hard enough, you got it.
Apart from a few short breaks (for exams, to have a baby, etc.), I haven’t stopped working since.
One additional thing I learned as I got older is that money is a tool. It’s not good or bad, the source of all happiness or the root of all evil.
It simply is.
It’s something I can exchange for other resources. Often, those resources are things like food and clothes. Other times, they’re time and energy.
A lot of people become hoarders of wealth, endlessly accumulating it to their detriment. In doing so, they’re denying themselves many of life’s pleasures and enjoyments simply because they refuse to trade one resource for another.
Look, I’m not naive enough to think that money doesn’t bring a certain amount of security with it. But the problem lies in valuing it higher than your time and stress levels.
Making money a priority and putting it on a pedestal is why so many people are unhappy. They believe that all life’s luxuries flow from their finances.
But money is only worth what you’re willing to exchange for it.
It all clicked for me when I was in college. Every few days I was struggling home from the shops with heavy bags of food and cat litter. I hated every second of it and was always miserable by the time I made it in the door. I refused to pay the €4 delivery fee because “I could do it myself.”
One day I suddenly realised it was worth it. It was worth parting with €4 to have someone else do all the heavy lifting. It was worth sacrificing the cost of a frozen pizza for my sanity. I forked over €4 for happiness, and it was worth every cent.
From that day forward, my whole life changed.
I’ve always been a hard worker. I’ve always understood the value in earning something for myself. In putting in a day’s labour and reaping the rewards and a sense of satisfaction. I don’t take too many things for granted because I know how hard I’ve worked for them.
Putting in effort for something you want is rarely a bad thing.
Like I said, I learned that from my parents.
The line is drawn where that effort makes you miserable. Where that effort detracts from another priority. Where that effort deprives you of something else you want more. Something that would make you more content and increase your quality of life.
I wasn’t just paying €4 for something I could do myself; I was paying €4 to recoup all the time and frustration it took me to go to the store and drag all that stuff back. I was paying not to feel sorry for myself and have something so silly put me in a foul mood and, frankly, ruin my day. I was paying for the energy to cook a healthy meal afterwards rather than getting home too tired to do anything but put a pizza in the oven.
Was my time, temperament, and health worth €4 to me? It sure was!
These days I have a car so shopping’s not so much an issue. But the lesson remains with me.
If there’s something I can do myself and it won’t put me out too much and I know I’ll be satisfied when I’m done, even if it’s not the most exciting thing in the world, I’ll do it myself.
If I know I have better things to be doing, I’ll pay for the privilege of being able to do them.
Money is a tool. You don’t just use it to buy tangible things, you use it to buy a better quality of life. You use it to buy yourself some extra freedom, or happiness, or more time with your kids.
Just because you CAN do something yourself doesn’t mean you shouldn’t trade some of your money for it so you can do something better.
Simply HAVING money doesn’t make you happy; it’s what you do with it.
What’s your happiness worth to you?