When you met your significant other, in those early heady hyperbole-riddled days of Sunday morning brunches and trips to bucolic B&Bs, what did you talk about when you fantasized about your lives together? Did you dream about where you’d live? How many kids you wanted? Perhaps, since I’m talking to you, here, on Kveller.com, is it safe to assume you discussed religion and whether either of you cared enough to build a sukkah or join a synagogue?
I bet you discussed all of those things. Maybe you even went so far as to get into the nitty-gritty of your future kids’ education and if they’d play sports and how much time you thought you’d spend with extended family and where you’d vacation, if you were lucky enough to take one.
But did you talk about money? Did you get really serious and look at each other across the table at that Indian/Greek/Italian/Sushi place you both loved and say, “Honey, I want to know what your financial personality is like, I want to really know”? Did you demand that your new love explain just how he or she reacts when issues of finances get serious (ie. when someone loses a job, or the two of you decide to make an enormous investment together, or you write a will, or you open joint bank accounts)?
Maybe you knew that your significant other earned a lot more than you, or earned far less. Maybe you knew whether he came from a wealthy family or a not-wealthy family. Maybe you knew whether he or she shouldered serious credit card debt or student loans. But before you took the plunge and committed to a life spent sharing bills and climbing out of said debt, did you know–like, really know–what your partner’s financial personality was like?
This funny thing happens in my brain when I see numbers. (It’s the same thing that happens when I see a football game on a television screen.) Some synapse stops firing. Static fills the space between my eyes. I stop hearing things. I lose the ability to concentrate. My thinking powers turn off. Maybe it’s involuntary, maybe not. What matters is that it drives my husband bonkers and for good reason. Whereas he operates under the assumption that it might not work out, that people have the financial rug pulled out from under them all the time and that we must be vigilant, be concerned, be, well, worried and pour over bank statements and constantly reevaluate our spending habits, I tell him, in a way that I imagine is absolutely infuriating, that I just know things will be okay.
The background is that we just bought a house. And sure, you can’t blame my spouse for being extra cautious now. Ever the financially prudent, my hubby is a man who has worked incredibly hard (and from a really young age) and has never ever relaxed into his financial position. And with the responsibility of home ownership, he’s not about to kick back now.
I can’t blame him. As far too many Americans know, any financial security you might have can very quickly melt away. It’s vital that we be not just responsible about our finances, but cautious, even. We must spend below our means; we must save. We must teach our daughters the value of a dollar; we must impress upon them how important it is to be financially responsible.
But I do not want my daughters to fret about finances. In the same way that I wish them healthy eating habits but also an uncomplicated love for food, I want them to always feel secure financially, but with a healthy dose of fiscal responsibility. Basically, I want them to inherit Jon’s uber-responsible nature, but my hopeful attitude. How do I affect that? How do we, as parents, explain to them that there will always be a safety net, when it’s entirely possible that there won’t be? How do we successfully blend our wildly different attitudes towards money matters (basically, “somehow it all works out,” versus “holy crap, batten down the hatches and prepare for the storm”)?
Yes, we plan to teach them about saving. We plan to instill within them a strong work ethic; perhaps they’ll hold down jobs as teenagers and earn allowance by completing chores around the house and neighborhood. Their grandparents will continue to spoil them, sure, but I’m also sure their grandparents will continue to take them to soup kitchens on holiday eves, just as they’ve done with their other grandchildren. And we’ve already got good practices in place for giving charity. We look forward to a time when they’re cognizant of what that means and letting them participate.
But how does one actually influence that deep center that lies within their child, the center that either feels whole and secure or anxious and unsafe?
In my fantasy, I’d teach my girls that money doesn’t matter. I’d teach them that following your passion and getting a degree in glass blowing is what you should do, if it makes you happy. In my fantasy, being happy and healthy is all that would matter. But this isn’t my fantasy, its life. And I need to find a way to help them feel good about the world they were born into, when the truth is, it’s a very insecure and shaky world indeed, a world in which they’re going to need to be at least a little bit worried about money, to protect themselves and their future.
So I’m turning to you, in your myriad of differences, dear readers, to advise me. How do we raise two savvy young things, without making them nuts?