Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Catalyst

When I first started high school, my father decided to try an experiment that would forever change my perception of money.

He asked me to create a budget for the entire year.  It needed to include everything, because once we agreed how much I needed for the year, he would write me a check for the full amount, and I would receive no additional funding for the next 12 months.  No allowance, no weekly movie money, nothing.

Given the magnanimity of this request, I took out some paper and started writing down everything I could think of...

First, I started with the clothes, books, lunch money...
...Then I remembered the incidentals...sports equipment, weekend hangouts, yearbook...
...and Finally, I added the extras...spending money for Christmas gifts, birthdays, etc.

If I remember correctly, I budgeted $900 for that first year (I won't yet tell you what year it was, suffice to say it was before 2000).  Now, that's less than $20 per week!

The next 12 months was pretty stressful for my ninth-grade self.  I felt an enormous pressure to spend my money responsibly while simultaneously trying to hang with my carefree high school buddies.  But I made it through the entire year without needing to ask for any additional parental funding.

This went on for the remainder of my high school years.  And I quickly found summer jobs to supplement my annual income.  Nothing too glamourous...the local ice cream shop, the grocery store...just enough to build a little buffer.

I won't lie - the process of managing money to this level is probably more than any teenager should be subject to.  It may have caused some undue stress later on in college when I would work too many part time jobs in hopes of paying off my student loans faster.  But it did teach me a valuable lesson early on, one that has prevented me from ever taking money for granted.

Many years later, as I reflect on my current life situation - husband, kid, good-paying job, multiple houses and rental properties - I know that I am grateful for my dad's experiment, for the fiscal responsibility he bred into me.  I hope that I might pass it on to my children one day, and maybe help a few other souls along the way.

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