Nancy: “I made $15 a week—I was rich!”

nancy Growing up in 1950’s, household finances were not discussed with children—at least not in my family. There was no allowance. If you wanted your own money, you earned it. Starting at age eleven, I worked in the fields pulling and bunching radishes at two or three cents a dozen bunches.

From there I graduated to babysitting for a working Mom. That summer I made $15 a week taking care of 5 children 8 hours a day—I was rich! I think I saved enough that summer to buy my first bathing suit. I worked as a teenager—babysitter, car-hop, and concession stand at the local drive-in. And I saved. At 18, I took my hard earned savings of $60 and moved into my own studio apartment.

By the time my girls came along, allowances were in vogue. I supported their having a small allowance. We started at around 25 cents when they were ten years old. When they were old enough, they began babysitting and/or working at the local ice cream shop. They were expected to use their allowance and their income for special activities or clothes. And they did.

As a single parent, I was very up front about our financial situation. When college days rolled around, the girls all got jobs—waitressing, retail sales—in addition to their work-study jobs. I gave them a monthly food allowance. One month the oldest daughter spent most of her food allowance at the beginning of the month on a ring she just had to have—and ended up eating hot dogs and soup for a month. It was a hard lesson in managing money.

By the age of seven, my granddaughters had already figured out how to work toward short term goals. When the Parade of Homes showcased new homes in their neighborhood, the girls set up a lemonade stand. In just two weekends, they made enough to pay for a little scooter they had been eyeing. The reward incented them to continue to save toward short term goals which we all hope translates into long term savings as they get older.

While I would like to think I greatly influenced my daughters’ savings and financial acumen, I have to admit that I think having to help pay their way through college had a greater influence. They are much wiser and more financially secure then I was at their age, and they have a better understanding of finances and the need for long term savings goals.

True, I sacrificed saving for retirement so we could all go to college—but I think it was an excellent long term investment. I now have a much better paying job and all three daughters are responsible, successful, and are doing very well in their careers. And they have all three been put on notice that if my retirement saving plan falls short, they should have an extra room available about every four months.

Read Alison, Alicia, Matt and T.J.’s childhood reflections.

  • Alison

    My mother had a cup with one dollar bills in it that was the lunch money cup. She’d give us cash to buy lunch at school everyday. We never, ever took money from that cup without asking because we knew that mom had planned it out to the dollar and we didn’t want to risk it. My father’s money influenced me in one way, my mother’s lack of money affected me in another.

    It sounds like your daughters learned a lot from you and I bet they are really proud of you for going to school, as well. And the grandkids- wow, you sure are lucky to have smart ladies like that in your family. :)

  • Kevin Porter

    What a wonderful, simple story told with honesty and humor. We all should teach our children how to earn and save, not just in these tough times, but all the time. Thanks for this story, Nancy. Kevin Porter.

  • Sue of Allentown, PA

    Nancy, I loved reading your story. I wish everyone had your mentality. How can parents expect their children to appreciate and manage money if it’s always given to them? You created happy productive kids… and the legacy lives on!

  • Susan

    Nancy, I appreciated your story. Too many kids in the younger generation just expect their parent to buy them gifts of at least $100 for ipods or the like. They have no patience for saving. And my husband likes to get things on his payday debit card so he is not one to model patiently saving for what we want. It gets frustrating.