Financial Resource Center

Money Management

February Financial Fitness Challenge--Uncover Your Financial Genealogy

by Susan Tiffany, CCUFC / February 7th, 2011

We all are products of our families in so many ways, and that includes how we think about and manage our money. Those of us with parents who grew up in the Great Depression, for example, know that it affected them all their lives—and affected us, too, because we picked up a lot of our financial attitudes and habits from them. Some people with frugal backgrounds become frugal themselves, while others from similar circumstances refuse to be constrained by financial reality. It's fascinating to learn more about where our complicated attitudes came from. Financial history can be a little secretive, more so in families that just don't talk that much about money. But it is a strong factor in our own money habits; we inherit elements of our financial styles along with curly hair or dimpled chins. I'm suggesting we conduct oral history interviews with our elders to get a better idea of our own money ideas, the ones we're aware of and maybe some that we're not so aware of. And if you are respectful and approach this as a conversation and not an interrogation, people generally are comfortable sharing these kinds of memories. Make the discussion part of a broader oral history interview. For example, you can say:
  • Tell me the first thing you remember buying with your own money.
  • Who gave you money when you were really young? (I think of my mom's Unk Leo, a big-hearted gentle tease who made a great show of pulling a quarter from behind my ear and then presenting me with the coin.)
  • How did you earn money when you were a kid?
  • Tell me something you really wanted when you were a kid but couldn't afford. (That would be an electric typewriter. Seriously.)
  • When was the first time someone made a check out to you? Who taught you how to deposit that first check? (Grandpa Crowe sent me a check for my first communion when I was eight; I remember mom showing me how to endorse it but I don't recall making the actual deposit. Mom asked grandpa to send us the canceled check so I could have the keepsake, and I still have it.)
  • Did you go to the movies and what did it cost? What did you buy from the concession stand?
  • What charities do you remember donating to when you were young?
  • What was your first job for a paycheck? Do you remember how much you made? (Oh you bet I remember—$1.10 an hour.)
  • What was the first present you bought for Grandma?
These are just suggestions and may trigger your own ideas. Ask a question—and then listen to the answer. Be careful not to rush in with your next question; let the answer, and the story, develop. It's OK to be silent. You're giving the other person time to collect her thoughts, and her memories.
Give the other person time to collect her thoughts, and her memories.
As you're learning about your family's financial history, you'll likely find it interesting to look back on your own lifetime experience with money and think about how your financial ideas have evolved.

The next generation

This experience can be interesting for all the members of your family. For example, you might encourage your teenagers to conduct this oral history with their grandparents and their aunts and uncles. It might have more impact for your preteen daughter to hear about early struggles with money from an aunt than from you, for example. It could reinforce lessons you've already tried to impart. Try to uncover family sayings about money:
  • "The more you have, the more you want." (This was a comment Grandpa Crowe would make when someone got a raise; it was a gentle caution against the tendency to expand your wants as you expand your resources.)
  • "You have to spend money to make money." (Many of life's worthwhile endeavors require an investment to get off the ground; this was another observation from Grandpa Crowe.)
  • "It's as easy to fall in love with a rich man as with a poor man." (What can I say; this one is from my six-times-married Grandma DeBell. Actually, Grandma Swingle Glossinger Tiffany Cheney Raynor Cheney DeBell.)
  • "Some people put it all on their backs."

    (This is my Aunt Char's way of observing that people have different priorities for their money; some people put it all in their wardrobes, some in their homes, some drive flashy cars—some even put it all in savings.)
As you have these conversations, you gain insights into a mix of family money beliefs and habits. You might develop a different approach to your own money as a result of learning more about these family experiences and viewpoints. But whatever you uncover, you're sure to collect some priceless memories.

Financial Fitness Challenge

One common early money memory is accompanying a parent to the credit union to open a first savings account. Pass that favor along to the young people in your life, and introduce them to your credit union and its services. The people at your credit union bring you this website and other tools to help you make the most of your financial resources. The Financial Fitness Challenge continues to look at ways you can make better financial habits no matter what condition the economy is in. Each month we randomly select five winners to receive $50 Visa gift cards; we choose each month's winners only from that month's entries, so enter often. Remember to register for the Financial Fitness Challenge. ST
Susan Tiffany, CCUFC
Facebook Post