In my early teens I asked my dad for an allowance. I had heard about my friends receiving a weekly allowance from their parents. I thought my dad would not have any objections giving it to me.
He did. My dad has six kids, ran a farm and worked as a veterinarian. A hard worker and a wonderful dad with an amazing talent for music. He had the love and respect of everyone in our small village. Since I had never gone without anything, I did not think money was an issue in our family. How could it be an issue when we lived on the most idyllic farm, and had plenty of food on the table?
He suggested that, instead of an allowance, I should ask him for money when I needed it. I thought that sounded fantastic. He didn’t mention a limit, nor specify how often I could ask, so I went away thinking I had the easiest setup of all my friends.
I immediately realised that asking for money was difficult. Each time I would ask for money I had to tell him what it was for, which was fair enough, and he would give me the amount he thought was appropriate. I had to make sure my reasons were good.
During that time I began to realise that all families weren’t well off financially. Some of my friends had say not to school trips, couldn’t afford to host birthday parties or even to buy new clothes. Sometimes I’d visit their houses for dinner and I’d notice that, for some of them, feeding an extra kid was a struggle.
In my thirteen-year-old mind, this was worrying. Going without food, not being able to buy new clothes or pay the bills. What if that ever happened to my family?
As a result I began to pay extra attention. When I asked my dad for money, he’d sometimes give me the last cash he had, while muttering ‘That’s all I have’. He might have have meant ‘that’s all the cash I have’, but to me, that was a sign of financial struggle. Like my friend’s mom saying ‘There is no more food’ when one of her children asked for seconds.
He’d sometimes complain about how time consuming it was to pay the bills. That meant there were a lot of them. A lot of bills meant a lot of money. When something broke on the farm, he’d spend hours trying to fix it while complaining about how expensive the replacement parts were. He never mentioned amounts. Never mentioned how it affected our family financially.
For all I knew, we could be living on the edge of bankruptcy or we could have hundreds of thousands in savings.
So I began to save all the money left over from events or shopping trips so I wouldn’t have to ask as often. My dad did not mention it or ask why.
As I grew older, I managed to get jobs during my summer break. I worked as a tour guide, a swimming instructor, I picked berries and worked at a day care centre. When I received my pay-check I would show my dad, who would nod, and say ‘Good’. He never told me to save it or to spend it. He never said anything other than ‘Good’.
I saved all of it, and it felt good. If my dad struggled, at least I wasn’t making it worse.
Those savings lasted me all throughout the following school year. I only asked my dad for money once or twice until I started my first full time job in Stockholm.
I kept saving the money I earned, only going on trips abroad when I had saved enough and then some. I never wanted to be in a position where I had to ask for money. I never wanted to be in a position where I could not pay bills or buy food.
I began to read about budgeting, saving and investing. The more I learnt the more I began to worry about others. No one spoke about money unless I asked them. If they told me they were struggling, I would help them make budgets. I would encourage them to save rather than spend it all and end up having to ask their parents for help. I assumed that since I didn’t know about my own family’s financial situation, how could they know?
I became known as the girl who’s good with money. The person to ask about budgeting, about being frugal. The girl who puts any windfall into savings rather than spends it on vacations or things.
I still don’t know what my dad’s financial situation is. He wont tell me. And even though I sometimes wonder if my relationship with money would have been different had he told me, I’m also grateful he didn’t. It forced me to learn fast. To care about others and be careful with the demands I put on them since I can never guess what situation they are in.
I am not rich but I am safe. I still budget every month, I create templates that I give away for free in hope of helping others, and I donate my time and money to food banks.
My dad, like so many other people in the world, never talk about money, but I do.