A Real Life Product of Two Parents’ Tough Financial Love


This post is from my friend Erin of BrokeMillennial.com. I asked her to share her story because it’s a great example of how giving your kids a little taste of the “real world” can help them grow into responsible adults. Take it away Erin! (P.S. I’m writing over at Erin’s site today too, so when you’re done reading this you can go check it out.)

At the tender age of seven I experienced my first financial smack down, dealt by the hand of my very own father. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this was simply one of many lessons my parents had in store for me that ultimately lead to my development as a financially literate millennial adult.

Money held a certain fascination for me, even before I truly understood the power of the almighty buck. I hatched a plot to capitalize on my childhood adorableness and little sister’s big, baby blues in order to get my hands on some dough.

On a hot North Carolina summer morning, I roused myself from my bed early on a Saturday to use my Mother’s yard sale to make a few of my own dollars. Using my little sister as free labor, we set up a Little Tikes picnic table stacked with Krispy Kreme doughnuts at the end of our driveway. As yard sale enthusiasts entered I politely asked if they’d like to buy a doughnut for fifty cents — a pretty decent mark up after my Dad bought a dozen for $4.

We hustled those grownups until our doughnuts sold out a little over an hour later. I proudly sat stacking my quarters and counting my earnings when my Dad appeared over my shoulder.

In the exchange that followed I received my first lesson in basic economics: net profit.

My Dad — who’d  purchased the doughnuts — had me pay him back for the money spent to buy the product and then pay my four-year-old sister for smiling and luring in customers.

This transaction didn’t go down easily and my face looked something like this:

shocked baby

But this simple lesson was only the beginning.

Require your children to have ownership in their toys

Not long after I started my doughnut stand did I begin dabbling in other money-making schemes, notably the pet-sitting industry. As I started to bring in pocket change, my parents began teaching me how to think through making a purchases and putting a value on my money.

When I’d ask my parents if I could have a certain toy the response would always be:

“Will you pay 50 percent?”

If I was willing to meet my parents halfway to purchase some Sea Monkeys, a Beanie Baby or some Pokemon cards, then I could get the item.

More often than not I’d carry the desired item around for a little while before returning it to the shelf as we approached checkout. This simple strategy taught me to curb impulse buying before I even needed my first training bra.

Make children earn and ask for their money

As I matured — and needed a “real bra” — I started to expand my pet sitting empire and even began to watch humans.

During my adolescence, my parents also began offering an allowance as payment for basic house chores. The catch being that my sister and I had to ask for allowance on Sunday nights. It wasn’t just handed over like most of my friends. If we forgot to ask — no allowance for us.

I quickly learned not only how to value my money, but how to start tracking my income. My Mother even gave us a tutorial in balancing a checkbook (mine had pretty clouds on the front) and to this day I have an obsession with crunching my numbers once a week.

Don’t pay for college (in full)

I get that parents want to pay for their children to go to college. They dread sending a child into the world crushed under the weight of student loans. While I abhor debt, I advocate that parents require children to have a financial stake in their educations.

Harkening back to my childhood years of paying 50 percent for a stuffed animal, my parents decided I’d be responsible for half my college education (even though they could afford to pay for me in full). My strategy then became to find a way to pay for my portion without draining my bank account. This lead me to aggressively applying for scholarships and trust me, there are some crazy ones out there.

Even though my parents required I pay for half my education, I still graduated debt free because I elected to go to the school where I received academic scholarships instead of picking the bigger name, expensive private school I originally planned on. By being an investor in my own education I was incredibly motivated to always attend class, perform well and graduate with honors in order to secure an ROI for my education.

“Real World”

Cut off.  It didn’t even need to be a conversation.

I knew without asking that my parents would in no way be supporting my post-college lifestyle. For that reason, I saved 50% of all my paychecks in college and graduated with a decent nest egg so I could fulfill my dream of moving to New York City. In June of 2011, I made that move on my own, without financial support from my parents.

Standing on my own two feet immediately after graduation may have been a bigger sense of accomplishment then my diploma.

Tough love is the best love

I knew — and still know — that should I ever need assistance I could go to my parents (for a loan of course). They are by no means heartless or scrooges, but simply used tough love to give me a precious gift: financial literacy.

I credit them for so much of my success in life and ability to thrive (especially financially) in one of the toughest and most expensive cities in the world.

Photos courtesy of Denise Krebs and GIPHY

Start building a better financial future with the resource I wish I had when I was starting my family. It’s free!

23 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • MyMoneyDesign April 7, 2014

    Your story reminded me a lot of where my daughter is at now. She is starting to want to go to the mall to buy clothes for middle school. Obviously we buy her clothes, but a few things above and beyond we’ve told her that she will have to pay for if she really wants them. She’s quickly learning just how far your money really goes at the mall. Plus she learned about the clearance rack!

    • BrokeMillennial April 7, 2014

      The clearance rack is always my starting spot, especially at name brand stores when they’re running huge sales. You can make out like a bandit if you don’t care about always have the “in” styles. Great for you teaching your daughter how to value her money!

  • Brian @ Luke1428 April 7, 2014

    Thanks for sharing your story Erin. I think it’s great your parents required you to pay for some college. We plan on doing that with our own kids. Really brings the level of responsibility home to rest on their shoulders.

    • BrokeMillennial April 7, 2014

      That’s so good to hear. Not only does helping pay bring the responsibility home, but it truly makes you evaluate the ROI of your college. Great lesson to learn at a young age.

  • John S @ Frugal Rules April 7, 2014

    Thanks for sharing your story Erin! I love the gif of the kid btw! Our daughter, who is our oldest, is six and really starting to get to a point where she is interested in money and questioning all thing related to it. The idea of responsibility and cost is something we’re really starting to work on with her and it’s encouraging to see her begin to process through it, albeit in understandably small steps.

    • BrokeMillennial April 7, 2014

      I was at my parent’s house when I wrote this and had to share the gif with my Dad because it was too perfect. He cracked up.

      It’s certainly fascinating to watch children start to understand money and watch how their parents teach them. Those early experiences make a huge difference in the long run.

  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer April 7, 2014

    Wow – your parents are nicer than we are; if our kids want toys outside of birthdays or Christmas, we make them pay for the whole thing! 🙂 Seriously, though, your parents are smart people, Erin. We are in the process of implementing a clothing budget for our oldest, where we give her a certain amount of $$ each month to be used on clothing however she chooses, but then, we are done buying her clothes. If she spends all of her cash on some kind of fancy jeans, but then has no money for underwear in six months, tough bounce. 🙂

    • BrokeMillennial April 7, 2014

      Hahaha, that’s great. Designer jeans and ratty underwear. I’ll be interested to see if your policy fosters early entrepreneurship because she’ll be encouraged to figure out how to generate her own income.

  • Andrew April 7, 2014

    Really enjoyed reading your story. I think it is so important to teach children the value of a dollar. I learned financial discipline from my parents…intended or not, because we didn’t grow up with much. I’ll definitely try to incorporate these values when teaching my son about money.

    • BrokeMillennial April 7, 2014

      I’m sure it will rub off naturally too. Children tend to learn by example and if you’re fiscally responsible then no doubt he’ll see that as “the norm.”

  • Brent Applegate April 7, 2014

    Erin. Loved your post. I recently heard you on Marketplace Money; Nice to see you working multiple channels. Also great to hear a millennial speak about taking financial responsibility rather than blaming everything and everyone else for life’s struggles. Question: Why do you call yourself “brokemillenial?” “Broke” comes across as down and out, or even hopeless. You definitely have a bright future ahead of you!

    • BrokeMillennial April 7, 2014

      Wow, such kind words! Thank you, Brent and so great to hear you heard the Marketplace Money segment.

      Per your question, I find that the name is sometimes off putting to Boomers or Gen Xers (but perhaps you’re a fellow millennial!) while my peers seem to feel a sense of camaraderie. I wanted my blog to be a place millennials felt they could turn without being judged or be found wanting. And to be completely honest, I picked the name because it sounded catchy and an accurate description of so many in Generation Y. Once it started getting some traction, it felt too late to change!

      • Brent Applegate April 8, 2014

        Gen X. Guilty as charged. GRIN! Thanks for the reply…

  • Shannon April 7, 2014

    I got tough love from my dad growing up too, and even though it made me question his real love for me, I know now, like you do, that he was just trying to teach me valuable lessons, and I in turn am giving that same tough love to my son.

    • BrokeMillennial April 7, 2014

      And you turned out awesome (just like me :P), so clearly tough love works!

  • Prudence Debtfree April 7, 2014

    Wow! This post is a gift : )
    One of our daughters is hitting a wall financially. I was very close to caving earlier this evening – very close to giving more money than we had always agreed upon to help her through her post-secondary education. Unlike your parents, we haven’t been “tough” from the beginning, and we haven’t always been a united front – so it’s difficult to abide that line in the sand (especially for me). I did not end up caving though, and now, a few hours later, I’m reading your post and feeling encouraged that I did the right thing! I’m glad you have started out your adult life with financial independence. I believe I’ll be able to say the same thing about my own daughter when the time comes. Thanks : )

    • BrokeMillennial April 8, 2014

      Thank you, that really means a lot. It’s beautiful to hear that my words really resonated with you in that way and I’m sure your daughter is heading down a great path.

  • DEBt DEBs April 8, 2014

    I’m having a hard time remembering how we handled finance with our kids. We didn’t spoil them, but I don’t know that we took opportunities to teach good money lessons when we could. I think we were just too busy to be more deliberate. Now that I’m sitting on a mountain of debt, I worry that I have not done a good job teaching them the things I should have. They’re not too bad with their money – well 1 is excellent, 1 is good, 1 is a work in progress and 1 is impulsive. I’m thinking it is a maturity thing because the younger ones are the the WIP’s.

    • BrokeMillennial April 8, 2014

      A lot of kids learn by example which can trigger them to be one extreme or another when it comes to handling finances. If the younger ones are more impulsive but their older siblings set good examples then they’ll likely mature into that behavior once they see it works out well in the longer run.

  • Student Debt Survivor April 9, 2014

    Learning those important financial lessons early is really key to building a strong financial future. If I had to pay for my Sea Monkeys I might think twice 😉 When I have kids I definitely plan on starting them young and making sure they know the value of money. My parents did a great job teaching me to be responsible and I hope I’ll be able to do the same with my kids.

    • BrokeMillennial April 9, 2014

      They learn by example and I’m sure you’ll set some strong ones! I’m actually debating getting Sea Monkeys again or perhaps a Chia Pet. Probably the biggest commitment I could make at the moment!

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