My parents' money rules drove me crazy growing up, but as an adult, they've helped me save tens of thousands and get out of debt

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  • Growing up, my sister and I had to do extra work to "earn" things, like money to go to the movies or a new pair of jeans.
  • My parents took financial discipline seriously and didn't throw money at us or buy us whatever we wanted, even though they could have.
  • These lessons taught me the value of money and gave me a sense of independence. They've helped me achieve financial security, but they've also made me a more confident and compassionate adult.
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Picture this: My sister is 10 and I'm 15, and we're down on our knees scrubbing baseboards with a toothbrush and bleach to earn money — her so she can go to a movie with her friend, me so I can buy tickets to homecoming.

Don't worry, there were no child labor laws being broken. This was just how my dad chose to teach us the value of money.

Growing up, we rolled our eyes at these tasks and envied our friends whose parents took them on regular shopping sprees just because. As an adult looking back, though, I'm so grateful for the financial lessons this taught me. 

How my parents taught us the value of money

We always had what we needed, but we had to work to earn anything "extra" we wanted. This was always in addition to our regular chores, which were expected to be completed without reward. 

My dad could have just handed us money and gotten us the "cool" name-brand jeans. Instead, both he and our stepmom felt it was important to teach us the value of money and financial responsibility by having us work for the things we wanted. A few hours of work was usually enough to earn $20, which, at the time, was enough for lunch and a movie or a pair of Old Navy jeans.

Not only did this teach us not to expect to have things handed to us, but it also taught us how to moderate our consumption and prioritize our desires. If I wanted a new pair of shoes, a concert ticket, and a T-shirt, I had to decide which one I wanted most and whether that item was worth spending several hours of my free time working.

Balancing generosity and financial discipline

My dad was by no means withholding or stingy growing up, he simply didn't believe in giving us money whenever we wanted something. 

He was always generous with the stuff that really mattered. My dad helped me pay for college and a semester abroad. He would occasionally surprise us with a gift or a family trip, and because these were sporadic occurrences, we felt all the more grateful for them. We also watched him donate a significant portion of his money to charity. As an adult looking back, I think he struck a good balance between teaching us both generosity and financial discipline.

I also believe that by not indulging us every time we wanted something, my dad didn't just teach us how to work hard and manage money. He taught us how to be good people. We avoided the trap that parents who have more than enough often worry about: raising "spoiled" children. If we'd gotten anything we wanted, we might've grown up to be more materialistic, entitled, inconsiderate, or demanding as adults.

How this financial lesson has helped me as an adult

Instead, these lessons have translated to me working hard for the things I really want as an adult, placing a lower value on material goods, and ultimately achieving a sense of financial security at a young age. 

I also believe they fostered more compassion within me. Interestingly, being able to earn money to buy something I wanted growing up never caused me to believe that being poor is a choice or that hard work is an automatic path to wealth. If anything, growing up with an understanding of the connection between labor and money made me into an adult who is all the more frustrated when people who do difficult, essential work don't make a living wage.

I haven't always followed my dad's advice. I'm a bit more of a "free spirit" than my engineer father was at my age, and my financial life has been far from mistake-free. That being said, I've always been able to find ways to make money, support myself, and get back on track. 

When I racked up $10,000 in credit card debt after graduating from college and moving across the country, I eventually hunkered down and paid it all off, saving about $3,000 in interest in the process. When I quit my job to travel, I found a way to build a career online that could support my newfound lifestyle. After getting my income up and realizing I needed an emergency fund, I managed to save $20,000 in six months.

I don't know if I could've done any of those things if I hadn't been raised to understand that money matters and you have to work for the things you want in life. Thanks to the way my dad and stepmom lived and raised us, I have a strong sense of independence and all the confidence in the world that any time I need to make money to support myself, I can figure it out. The knowledge that I can always rely on myself is a far greater gift than anything money can buy.

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