A Tale of Two Sets of Parents

As an accountant, I am fascinated by the way people earn and spend their money. I’m also intrigued at my own family history of money.

In regards to my parents versus my in-laws, the way they spent their hard earned cash couldn’t be more different and it’s shaped the way Jay and I view our money today.

My Parents:

At 70 years old, my parents are both retired.

My father entered the Air Force upon graduating from high school. He served his country for several years before entering college. He knew after his service, the government would help pay for his education which was one of the key reasons he enlisted. His family couldn’t help him with the expenses so he figured out a way to do it himself.

He graduated with a degree in accounting, a masters in Business and successfully passed his CPA exam. He worked for the state for a number of years before starting his own CPA firm (that my sister and I took over) when we were just kids.

My mother received her degree in teaching and began her career in education upon graduating college. She went on to receive a Masters in Education while working full time.

The story goes that they met at a bar…on a MONDAY night! They got engaged after six months of dating and were married within a year. They just celebrated their 46th wedding anniversary.

With a loan from my grandparents (my mothers parents), they built their first and only home – mortgage free. It took them several years to have children.  After visiting a fertility doctor, they successfully conceived my oldest sister. Two years later, my middle sister arrived with the help of the same doctor. They left me up to chance. If they got pregnant without the help of medicine then great. If they didn’t, they had two beautiful girls. I came along two years later to “complete” the family. My mother took off 10 years to raise us before re-entering the work force as a teacher.

Growing up, we took one vacation a year – to the beach – with the occasional trip to Disney World. We rarely went out to dinner as children. If we did, it was to McDonald’s or a neighborhood restaurant/bar with loud enough music to drown out the noise of three little girls. It wasn’t until we were older (and more well behaved) that our parents would take us to nicer restaurants – particularly when we were on vacation or for a special occasion.

Our parents sent us to Catholic school – avoiding the public school my mother taught in. They drove cars into the ground – only buying new ones when absolutely necessary. Usually in cash and not always brand new.

When my mother went back to work full-time, they banked her entire salary.

When I was five, my parents got a pool. To this day, they said it was the best investment they ever made. It kept us active and outdoors all summer long. As adults, we now take our children there to swim. It’s a full circle moment for my parents.

Our parents had us in every sport imaginable, oftentimes my father being our coach. We were constantly active and rarely spent time in front of the television.

When I was in second grade, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Being so young, I didn’t know much of the details, just that it was serious enough to make my mom and dad cry. I prayed the rosary with my aunt the night before her surgery. In my mothers words, “It wasn’t an option to die. I had three young girls who needed me.” She fought and won that battle – TWICE. Because just four years later she was diagnosed a second time. The call came in to her classroom phone while she was in the middle of a lesson plan. She received the news from her doctor, hung up the phone and kept teaching.

I think this was a turning point for my parents to live life more fully – not to be confused with excessively! We started to do more things together as a family. Vacations became longer and outings became more frequent. To say they earned this right would be an understatement. They didn’t lavish us with expensive toys and gadgets. They created memories for us. Never once did they care about the watch on their wrists, the clothes they wore or the cars they drove. They were happy with everything they had.

Now that’s not to say as teenagers, we didn’t want more. We shopped at the Gap and Abercrombie & Fitch. We also started working at 15 years old at the neighborhood ice cream shop and pizza place. In between soccer/softball/track practices, we worked.

My parents helped us buy cars and paid for the insurance and maintenance. I think this was more for their own sanity – having carted us around for 16 years prior. They sent us off to college – paying for it in full. No student loan debt for any of us. If we wanted a Masters degree, it was on us to pay for it.

Upon graduation, we all received jobs and were officially off my parents “payroll”. The last time my parents ever helped me financially was in 2005 – a few months after I graduated college. That was it.

My parents are still extremely generous – even though we are adults. If we ever go out to dinner together as a family, they will pay. Believe me when I say, we try everything in our power to wrestle the check away from my father. Or we flag down the waiter privately to get the check, only to be told it’s already been paid for. Every birthday, holiday and event is met with a check or “fun” money for the children. Bear in mind, there are six adults (sisters/spouses) and nine grandchildren.

My in-laws:

Jay’s parents grew up in the same town and knew each other from high school. They both went off to college, graduated with business degrees and began working at the same bank together.  Their “interest” in each other began to “accumulate” and soon after marriage, they began to “multiply.” (I’m cracking myself up.)

Jay came in this world as calm and as cool as he is 30 some years later. Unlike our son who is a manic – Jay’s parents like to comment “I don’t know where he got that from. Jay was never like that as a child.” SO CLEARLY HE GETS IT FROM ME RIGHT?!

But Jay doesn’t worry more than he has to and although quiet, comes off with zingers like no other. I find myself chuckling over comments he makes after the fact.

Two years later, his sister arrived 6 weeks before her due date. It was touch and go for awhile but she pulled through without issues. She graduated from medical school and is a medical examiner.

When Jay was 11, his parents moved the entire family to Florida. A far cry from his northern upbringing. I often think to myself how hard that must have been for him. He claims to have been excited about it but I wonder if the experience shaped him more than he leads on. His sister, however, never wanted to move and had a harder time adjusting. While Jay went to public school, his sister went to private. The reasons behind this are generally unknown and not discussed.

His father purchased an office supply company that did quite well before the Office Depots/Maxes and Staples moved into town. With the success came spending. Cartier watches. Diamond earrings and bracelets, Mercedes. High end designer clothes. Memberships to swanky country clubs. Even with all that, Jay came out of college with student loans.

His sister came out of medical school debt free. Their parents paid for her first year of school (which he won’t let her forget) and the rest was paid by an inheritance from their grandparents and scholarships. Because he paid for that first year, their father feels entitled to call her with any medical ailment that befalls him. He disagreed with her job choice, constantly reminding her that she would have made more money if she chose another specialty. He also scoffs at her old Honda. He feels she should have a “doctor” car.

As the economy started taking a dive, his father began to worry. His business wasn’t doing well and it came time to sell. He and his business partner did not receive the what they hoped for. It also forced him into an earlier retirement than he planned.

While Jay’s mom worked at a retail store, she didn’t bring in the amount of money they needed to keep up with their lifestyle. In order to “save face” and “get them out of certain financial obligations” (their words, not mine), they decided to move to the west coast of Florida. Their idea of downsizing was getting rid of the pool.

Suddenly, a man who didn’t think twice about flying first class and jetting off to Europe became obsessed with his spending. If ever we go out to dinner together, we either pay or split the bill. Every Christmas, we get them a gift card to their favorite restaurant. It’s the only time they go. They won’t get a drink with dinner because it’s too expensive.

How this has affected our financial life:

I think there’s a fine line between living like my parents and Jay’s. My parents buckled down early in life and saved. Jays parents chose to live the good life while they were younger. I don’t necessarily find that to be a bad thing – although they chose materialistic items to spend their money on. Did my parents miss out on things when they were younger in order to achieve what they have now? You bet. But they provided for us in ways that gave us a better footing in starting out after we graduated.

Never once have my parents passed up a fancy restaurant or a glass of wine because of  the cost. They also go on whatever trips they wish in their retirement.

Jay wants us to be live like my parents. Bank one salary, pay for our kids education, retire with the lifestyle we want. Oftentimes, Jeff looks at life more economically than he should and forgets to live. There has to be a balance of living in the now but planning for the future.

We’re trying to figure it out as we go.

Tell me,

How did your upbringing affect your financial outlook?






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