Earliest childhood money memories
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
Philip Larkin there, pointing out that lessons from our parents often mess with our minds.
But what about the things our mums and dads teach us, either purposefully or by accident, about money?
How do our earliest childhood memories influence our attitudes towards personal finance?
In this episode, your earliest childhood money memories and how they affect your life.
My inspiration for this episode came from a recent conversation with podcast guest Gaby Dunn, YouTuber, podcaster and now author of Bad With Money.
In her book, Gaby suggests we sit down with a pen and paper to consider our earliest money memories. She asks us to consider the money-related things we remember our parents or guardians doing. How did we internalise those memories?
One of Gaby’s earliest memories was as a five-year-old, when she remembers cutting in half a one dollar bill. Her parents got mad with her and, in that moment, she realised that this thing we call money is sacred, you can’t mess with it.
She told me that this particular experience stayed with her into adulthood, and the power of money that was realised in that moment had so much power over her.
Growing up, my parents weren’t well off; they were both incredibly hard workers, after coming from working class families in Bristol and setting up their own business. It was a case of social mobility in action. In fact, when asked my dad about his earliest money memory, he said:
Not having any. Dad walked to work on Friday’s because he had no money for the bus fare
— Nick Bamford (@nickbamford) September 26, 2019
And that was the story of his childhood in Bristol; growing up with very little, his father a milkman and a brick factory worker. I’ve no doubt that childhood experience shaped his experience of money, as it did for many of the post-war baby boomer generation. Even today, while successful, I wouldn’t ever categorise my parents as extravagant or recklessly wasteful when it comes to money.
Thinking back to my childhood, I’ve got a handful of early memories which I’ve no doubt shape my attitude towards money today.
There was the time I was emptying a piggy bank full of coins across the hallway carpet, counting and sorting. It must have been around the time my parents were starting their first business. A big client had failed to pay an invoice (we didn’t have a proper family holiday that year) and I was shouted at for making noise and fuss with my piggy bank savings. This memory taught me that money is a private thing.
On another occasion, when I was slightly older, I cycled to the village toy shop to buy something, I can’t remember what now, with my pocket money. But I was a few pence short and the shop owner sent me away with a flea in my ear. That experience taught me to always check you’ve got enough before trying to buy things.
I had a friend at school who came from a wealthy family; big, long driveway, tennis courts, the lot. We started a school magazine today, and his father offered us a room in his factory office, so we could design and print the publication together. But he wanted us to pay for the photocopying; an entirely reasonably request. And I remember being scared of the financial liability, having no idea how many copies of the magazine we would sell and whether I could afford to pay him back. That one left me incredibly cautious about taking on debt.
My friend Adrian Kidd, who’s a financial adviser, told me:
It's a key question we ask..what is your earliest but clear childhood memory with or about money…had some amazing answers but the best one was bailiffs entering a house when a lady was only 4. How do you think that shaped her money decisions?
— The Retirementor (@AdrianKidd) September 25, 2019
And of course, having the bailiffs coming into your home at such a young age, taking away treasured possessions; at best, it’s confusing. At worst, that sort of experience and memory would completely dominate your attitudes towards money for the rest of your life.
Financial journalist Laura Purkess said:
I remember at primary school a child telling me their dad earned £250k and thinking 'that's not very much'. Sigh
— Laura Purkess (@laurapurkess) September 26, 2019
A memory like that could set the goal posts at an unattainable level. Imagine spending your childhood and possibly young adult years believing £250,000 a year was a modest salary?
Another financial journalist, Hannah Godfrey, said:
When I was a wee child before the years of broadband internet my parents would make me pay to use dial up per however many pennies it cost per minute. I thought it was dreadfully unfair at the time (& still think it was a little harsh) but i've never been one to waste money since
— Hannah Godfrey (@Hannah_Godfrey) September 25, 2019
Some childhood memories of money are more positive than others. Those that allow us to respect and take care over our money, as long as it doesn’t drive this to an extreme, can support us into adulthood.
Paul Stocks, another IFA, had another positive message, one he’s passed onto his kids. Paul said:
My mum's simple message when I first started getting pocket money was 'save a bit, spend a bit'.
It stuck… And my kids are now getting the same message.
— Paul Stocks (@Paul_Stocks_IFA) September 25, 2019
Understanding your earliest money memories, sometimes referred to my coaches as your primary money memory, is important because it can help shape your money attitudes and habits.
This isn’t about judging whether an early memory about money was good or bad. What you’re trying to uncover here is how these memories might have influenced your beliefs and behaviours today.
We can change these beliefs, once we understand them. Change isn’t always easy, but it is possible.
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Until next time, I’m Martin Bamford and this is Informed Choice Radio. And remember, when it comes to your money, the more you know, the faster it can grow.