Lilly, over at The Frugal Gene, did a post about the Cast of Characters that formed the foundation of her approach to personal finance and influenced her growing up. I’ll wait here while you check it out, because it is a really great read! …
All done? Perfect! Then you’re sort-of warmed up for what I’m about to do.
We all have this cast of characters that’ve formed our pre-inclinations and mentalities, and I wanted to delve not only into my own, but the memories I have that shape my outlook. While I do believe that there’s a bit of genetics that goes into the formation of you as a person, I do also think there’s a lot of environmental influences that shape who you are, establish your ethos, and frame your observations and conclusions.
Obviously, my parents are hugely influential on my life. I talk about them a lot on this blog, and they’re genuinely the most amazing, hard-working, self-sufficient, kind, and family-oriented people I know. Together they’ve taught me a multitude of skills, attitudes, and habits that others aren’t so lucky to receive. One of them is:
Kindness and Sympathy for Others
Spattered throughout my childhood are these memories of my Mum being kind and compassionate. She never expressly told me or lectured me on the virtues of being kind to others and giving back, but there were numerous times she went out of her way to extend a helping hand.
I remember when I was young there was a man in the grocery story checkout ahead of us. He’d gotten a bunch of different things, but only had a handful of whatever the paper equivalent of gift cards were (they might’ve been food stamps, I’m not sure). There were a few dozen things that he set aside that he couldn’t afford, and I remember that it took forever because he couldn’t make up his mind about what he wanted to keep. After he paid and started packing up, my Mum asked the cashier to ring through all the food items he’d left behind on our bill before starting our order. There was a bit of confusion until he realized she’d covered the cost of the items, so he could take them, and he was incredibly thankful for the gesture.
Give Gratitude where Gratitude is Due
I don’t know why, but my Dad is especially sensitive to making sure that he shows his gratitude. It might be a cultural thing, but if someone does something good for you, you show them that you appreciate it. There’s nothing more emblematic to me of a above and beyond gesture than my Dad going: “Oh, that’s Nice. Very Nice.” with a nod and that rare, caught-off-guard smile.
Everyone’s out for themselves. And when someone goes out of their way to make your life better, or extend a kindness, that means something. That’s not to say you don’t have to gauge your audience – if they brush the gesture off and say it’s nothing, do something small and meaningful to thank them. It might be as simple as a hug or a word of appreciatio
n. Or it might be a small gift, or a recieretory offer. Or it might even just be that unsaid understanding that ‘I’ve got your back and you’ve got mine’.
Funnily enough, he always seems surprised when someone goes out of their way to express gratitude to him. The last time he did a bit of work for my bro’s friend, he got a bonus bottle of alcohol as a thank you. Never underestimate the power of a ‘thank you’, or a token of your appreciation.
Pay Your Debts, Especially to Friends
I was friends with a girl in elementary school who was a wolf-in-sheep’s-skin-bully. She wielded control of our little social circle with subtle cruelty. I realize in retrospect that it was classic lashing out, likely due to her home life and the medical issues with her Dad. Our social group was the one thing she could control and dictate, during a time in her life that was probably pretty hectic, traumatic, and frightening for her. I recently (last year), saw her in my joe-job store, and she was either extremely interested in our ceramic figurines, or she recognized me and couldn’t meet my eye. The only grudge I really still hold against her is that in Grade 2, she borrowed $2, and has yet to pay it back.
A couple years after the incident, I was explaining it to my Mum, who sighed and offered to pay me back the money so I could finally let it go. But it wasn’t about the money – it was abo
ut the gall with which she would mooch off anyone and everyone, and the entitlement that she carried, as if the money and the toys of others were her right.
This girls sense of entitlement might be one of the reasons I find that quality so distasteful and infuriating in people now. It certainly didn’t help. Paying back my debts, especially to my
friends and family – whether that’s getting the next pizza, or physically repaying them money – is essential to my identity. I’m loathed to take advantage of anyone’s good grace and generosity.
Be Rich, Don’t Act Rich
People who are rich get a bad reputation. I don’t know many of them, though my friend pile is firmly in the middle-class. The wealthiest family I know are also the nicest, sweetest, most generous people I know. The wealthiest couple I know go out of their way to value ‘good people’ over any other metric of standard. I don’t know how rich people are supposed to act, but the ones I know don’t act like they’re rich. They’re down to earth, they’re generous, they’re compassionate, and they don’t lord their possessions, position, or net worth over anyone. If anything, they see
m to want to share their good fortune with those they consider friends.
Even the people in the personal finance community who are clearly wealthy aren’t assholes with Ferraris, lording their riches over people. They’re humble, earnest folks (or at least they appear that way), who have a passion for money and saving.
You don’t have to rub your finances in anyone’s face. If money is the only thing you have, I’m sorry to say, but you’re not actually rich.