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Your parents learned how to handle money in a different time. A far-off time when it was for more realistic to buy a home, a car or even, you know, eggs. Even when your parents mean well, their money wisdom might be, at best, holding you back and, at worst, doing harm to your financial health. Last week we asked you to share all the unexpected money habits you had to unlearn from your parents. Here’s what Lifehacker readers did to break the cycle of bad money habits in their lives.
Discovering that it’s OK to treat your self
One of the most common money mindsets that gets internalized is an intense guilt towards spending on anything that isn’t strictly essential—even if you really can afford it.
Lifehacker reader Triflers need not apply shares how they struggled to overcome the sentiment that “spending any amount of money on myself as a treat to myself is selfish, vain, and wasteful.” Now, they say they budget in “treat yo’self” luxuries, “because the point of having money is sometimes to just better your own existence.”
If you find yourself wracked with guilt over a little indulgence, reader Malthius adds on the practical tip of establishing “mad money” into your budget: “The trick my wife and I do is to put a fixed amount from every paycheck into our own accounts, with the rest going into the joint account. No matter what happens to our salaries as time goes on, no matter the wage disparity, we get a fixed amount of ‘mad money.’ The joint account pays the bills, and of course we spend joint account money on ourselves, but if we ever feel guilty about a spend, we can use our mad money without judging each other.”
Realizing that cash is not always king
According to LoremIpsum010101, the most pervasive “wisdom” that our parents cling to is that idea that “cash is king.” The best way to break this habit? Start small: “Put money into your 401k and watch it, or invest 10% of your savings in an index fund like Vanguard. Once you get over the idea that your money isn’t gone, and actually see it increase of a long period, you can work yourself up to putting your money to work.”
In the same vein, many of us inherited our parents’ major aversion to credit cards. Reader AguY explains that it was only after discussing finances with a close friend that they were able to learn how to use credit cards to their advantage. “Biggest lesson was to never get close to the card limit, only spend what I knew I could afford to pay off on a monthly basis, and use a program that links all my account in one area that is easily accessible.”
Overcoming bill anxiety
LKPNYC explains that because they never had enough money to pay all the bills every month, their single parent simply wouldn’t open most bills. This understandable, but fear-based, response led to collections, repossession, and so on. As a result, LKPNYC says the found themselves not opening bills as an adult due to the same anxiety from their childhood.
How they tackled this issue: “I had to start by asking a good friend to open one super scary letter/warning for me and read it first. I learned that it’s much better to call and say ‘I know I owe this, but can’t pay in full, what can we do,’ versus just ignoring it and hoping in vain it will disappear. It will never disappear, and it only compounds the problem. A difficult/awkward conversation on the phone is always better than denial.”
Opening up the money conversation
Lifehacker reader Silverwing548 shares their journey from growing up with divorced parents in vastly different financial situations. This led to them receiving mixed messages about spending and saving. Worst of all, they simply felt like they were in the dark about healthy money habits. Now, they are “making more of an effort to include my daughter in our money conversations, so it’s not some hush-hush secret that she’s totally on her own to learn as an adult like I did.”
At the end of the day, our parents are mere mortals. Their approach to money was likely far from perfect, and it’s important to take stock of what habits and mindsets are worth the fight to overcome. Luckily, there’s a strong chance your finances aren’t as bad as you think. Remember to be patient with yourself—unlearning our parents’ habits is no small feat, whether we’re talking money, communication, love, and all of that good stuff.