What Financial Responsibility Means at 21

So, my dad’s a financial advisor…but what did that really teach me? I mean, it would look pretty bad if I were a terrible saver and extravagant spender, right? How much of his work life was ingrained into my upbringing? Although our conversations may not look as formal as his interactions with clients, I think I’ve picked up on many of his financial values.

My dad is an excellent teacher. He encouraged me to accompany him to the bank from a young age. I was allowed to view our family’s safety deposit box and had a savings account in my name from before I can remember. When I was old enough, I immediately applied for a credit card in order to build credit and make my own timely payments. Even at twenty-one, I know that budgeting is important. It may look a lot different for a young adult than for someone twice my age, but I think the underlying principles are the same.

I have always been mindful of my spending and I recognize the difference between needs and wants. Before purchasing a product, I challenge myself to question my decision: Do I really need the newest iPhone? Is this an “impulse purchase” or is this new swimsuit actually necessary? I also follow simple rules like saving more than I spend and slowly putting away money for retirement. I believe being smart about money is an attitude—and a choice.

According to T. Rowe Price’s 2017 Parents Kids & Money Survey, 59% of parents worry that they spoil their kids, and 55% of them believe they spend too much money on things their kids don’t really need. Yet I remember being introduced to the concept of “needs” versus “wants” from a very young age. There were clear times in which I remember receiving hard “no’s” as a child. In preschool, my brother Troy and I really wanted one of those kid-sized plastic cars from Toys “R” Us. When we asked if we could bring one home, we were told, “Why would you need that when you can ride in our actual car!?” I remember another specific instance of learning the distinction between needs and wants during a family staycation in Waikiki. I saw these shiny black slippers in the window of a store, tried them on and decided that I “needed” to get them! At under ten years old, I was not financially independent, so again, all of my decisions had to go through my parents. I remember futilely pestering my mom and again being returned with a firm “no; the slippers you are wearing right now are still new.” At the time, I outwardly pouted, but in reality, it made sense.

One of my first “jobs”––washing the car in order to buy something small of my own!

In college, I try my best to proactively manage my spending habits to hold myself accountable. I keep a log of items I purchase so that I know how much I’m spending each month. During my last winter break, I worked at Nordstrom Gelato. One of my goals from the job was to only spend my tip money and save the rest! Yes, those one-dollar bills add up!

In these ways, I was brought up to see the value of practicality over mindless purchasing. More importantly, my parents’ advice has always aligned with their own actions. I have never witnessed my mom hoarding designer bags or my dad buying new models of cars. I have also carefully observed the work ethic of my grandparents and great-grandmothers. Hearing my great-grandmother talk about her stories of World War II and of food rationing during the bombing of Pearl Harbor has allowed me to understand why she was such an extreme saver. Growing up, my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents’ values were imprinted onto me, and I’m mindful of my spending. Like them, I tend to cherish intangible memories like picnicking at our favorite spot at Kailua beach—or enjoying the best homemade vanilla milkshakes made by my Aunty—over any superficial purchase.

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