Monday, July 23, 2007

The Value of Money

I think that the term "The Value of Money" is extremely vague, and I've never really understood what we're meant to understand when we are taught it. What are our parents trying to instill in us when they teach us "The Value of Money," and how do they go about doing it?

From what I remember, money was never a huge issue while I was growing up. I received a regular allowance but I don't remember what it was. My parents were always pretty happy about buying me books, though they were less enthusiastic about music. I do know that I pitched in for my first computer, but since I didn't actually have a job (I was ten at the time) I suppose that money came from my parents and relatives to begin with.

I guess "The Value of Money" is the understanding that you are responsible for both earning and budgeting your money. You're supposed to learn not to be too frivolous with it, and to save for important things, and to go out and find a legal way of acquiring it. You're supposed to be creative and go out to make money on your own, and in that sense I did: I mowed the neighbour's lawn, I washed windows at the store my mother worked at, and I typed essays for schoolmates.

But I often wonder if I've learned the lesson, or if "the lesson" as it applies to society is really the best and only way of doing things. Student loans made me fearful of any sort of debt so I get squirmy when I think of buying a house or a car. I don't buy many expensive things, preferring to bleed my bank account with smaller items like clothing and music. Other than RRSPs -- which I'm putting quite a bit of money into nowadays -- I suppose "The Value of Money" lesson as it relates to "saving" has been lost on me.

So I've been thinking about what money (and its perks) means to me. When I don't have much money saved I begin to stress out, not because I can't buy things but because I'm fearful of calamity: what happens if a huge expense comes up, or if I suddenly lose my job? When I have some money stored away I don't feel more worthy than others -- I don't have a sense of "class" as it comes to money -- but I DO feel more secure. I don't like to feel that I have unbreakable ties to most things, and having money helps loosen some of those ties.

I never feel the need to tell people about my bank account or the shape of my credit, unless I'm feeling anxious about not having enough or guilty for having spent it on something stupid. Sometimes, just by verbalizing an anxiety, it eases down to a comfortable level.

I don't enjoy spending money. At all. And I don't enjoy shopping, though it can be fun to watch other people shop. The joy only comes when I actually HAVE something. I like having "things" but my "things" are largely divorced from the money I spent on them, and they are twice divorced from the "work" I did to make that money in the first place. When I'm doing my job, for instance, I don't sit there thinking "because of this I am able to pay my rent," though I DO get a sense of security from regular work, and a sense of pride in the work I do.

So I don't think I've learned the "money" lesson as well as I could have. I don't have a lot of foresight or restraint when it comes to frivolous purchases. Money to me is an abstract notion that keeps me happy, because it somehow (distantly) buys me some happy things and it also reassures me that I'm pretty much self-sufficient.

Is that the "Value of Money" lesson? I don't know. Some other people seem to have a much more exact and clinical awareness of money than I do.


Thinkulous said...

This is a very big and interesting topic. I'm sure there've been psychological studies done, both on individuals and from the social psychology standpoint. But I know what you mean, personally, about not being sure you have the lesson down. I had certain parts of the lesson repeated to me frequently, but never really got the big picture.

I definitely think, and have been saying to friends lately, that parents should sit down with a teenager at some point and say, "This is what we earn. This is how much a house costs. This is how we were able to afford it. This is how we pay for your school/our car/etc. 20 years ago, we had X money, now we have X+Y, because we did A,B and C (invested, saved, didn't spend on thus and such).

I know I suffered by not getting that kind of specifics. In America, at least, money is both the national addiction -- and the nation taboo. You fixate on all that it *buys* you or *means* for you -- but you never talk about it. Awful combination!

My financial Achilles Heel is that, once I have enough to survive in the bank, I turn right away from thinking about it, and focus on things I find "rewarding." Music, writing, hiking, relationships, spiritual life.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

I don't know if my parents ever sat down and gave me the "cost of house, mortgage, investments, saving" version of the "Value of Money" speech. They probably did, but that sort of thing would have gone in one ear and out the other (in fact it still would). I think it's too abstract for many kids.

In grade eight we did a weird sort of "housekeeping" exercise, where we paired up and were supposed to run a household with a fake bank account, fake credit cards, fake car, etc. Again, for me it was too abstract and I didn't see how it related to my world at all. Probably didn't help that I didn't like my "wife."

I have the same Achilles heel: as soon as I have enough money, I relax and spend it faster.