A childhood punishment shaped my finances for decades

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  • As a child, my grandmother would give my sister and me a quarter when she came to visit.
  • One time she forgot, so I reported it. My mother was so mortified that she sent me to my room.
  • This scolding subconsciously taught me not to ask for money, and it held me back for years.

I don’t have many memories of my maternal grandmother because she died when I was 4 years old. One incident stuck very clearly in my mind, however, and surprisingly it wasn’t until decades later that I realized it had shaped the way I had handled my finances all my life.

Every time my grandmother came to visit, she gave my sister and me a quarter, which we gladly added to our piggy bank. One day she forgot to do so, and when I pointed this out to her, she immediately reached into her purse to correct it.

My mother, completely mortified, sent me to my room with the stern warning that asking for money was not polite. At the time, I did not see where the problem was. Why couldn’t I ask for money? After all, I asked for lots of other stuff all the time, like extra desserts and bedtime stories. What was so wrong with asking for money? My mother never explained to me, and although well-meaning, the reprimand stayed with me, unwittingly affecting my finances.

I felt uncomfortable asking for what I needed

For one, it limited my earning potential because it kept me from asking for more. It was easier for me to quietly accept what was offered to me, especially when interviewing for a new job, than to say, “This offer seems a bit low. Could you increase it to X instead? “

I didn’t learn this trick until much later, when I was well into my freelance writing career. It didn’t come easily (it still doesn’t, by the way), but I’ve learned that it’s what is expected of me. Not only does it make me look like a professional, it also makes me feel like one.

This incident also affected my ability to apply for financial assistance, whether small amounts for minor projects or larger loans for major items like a car or a house. In each case, I felt like I had to do it all on my own.

Although it slowed my progress, it helped me see the value of putting money aside so that I could eventually achieve my goals. Another valuable side effect is that it has boosted my perseverance muscles to Ms. Olympia levels – a really useful trait when I am freelancing.

Accepting money was just as difficult

When the moolah showed up, another set of problems arose. I found accepting money to be as difficult as asking for it, especially if it was a gift. After all, I hadn’t worked for it so how could I deserve this bonus? It’s like the little girl inside me keeps looking over her shoulder to see if someone will send her right back to her room for daring to reach out and take what’s on offer.

Other strange questions would arise in my mind: Have I been pitied? Did people feel sorry for me? No doubt a remnant of flashbacks of my grandmother looking at me sadly as I peeked through my bedroom door.

I learned good money management from my parents, however

Although I may have been embarrassed by this particular episode of my childhood, I was lucky in the sense that both of my parents were hard working people. While we weren’t rich, my three siblings and I never wanted for anything. My parents were geniuses at spending money and making the most of any situation.

It allowed them to pursue their passion for road trips, first filling the six of us, our luggage and as much food as the Thunderbird could hold (I always found myself wedged between my two older brothers with the kit my mother’s makeup stuck under my feet), then later in the relative luxury of a small motorhome. Whether it’s a weekend outing or a two-week expedition, these trips are some of my fondest memories.

Fortunately, following my parents’ money management skills helped me clear my blocks about money. And becoming aware of what was holding me back allowed me to finally free myself to fully exit my metaphorical room.

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