Let’s look at payday

Your income comes from somewhere. For most of us, that means a paycheck — or did, back before retirement. For some, it will also include profits, dividends, rental income, or the like.

For now, let’s look at this from a perspective back before we had direct deposit. You know, a time when we had that precious slip of paper in our own hands — the one we’d endorse with a signature on the back.

Have you ever taken your paycheck in cash?

If you have children, taking your paycheck home this way can present an unforgettable lesson as they watch you divide the pile of greenbacks according to your family’s expenses; watch their reactions go from “Wow! We’re rich!” to a disappointed “That’s all that’s left?” They’ll soon see that money has limits.

By the way, would you feel comfortable having that much money in your hands?

The frequency is another assumption to consider.

How often are you paid — weekly, every two weeks, monthly, or every harvest? How does that timing affect your feelings about your money or its use?

Having been on all of them but the annual harvest, I want to hear more about your experiences. How would you feel, for example, having your current frequency changed to another? Do you do something to celebrate payday — like going out to dinner or a movie? If you’re a farmer or a commercial fisherman, I want to hear more about dealing with the uncertainty of an unpredictable source of income. Me? I’d be nervous.

Have you ever calculated your lifetime earnings to date? How long did it take you to earn the first half of that total?

This one was an eye-opener for me. Let’s just say the union membership made a huge difference.

By the way, wrestling with these queries within a discussion circle will probably have you amazed by the range of experiences voiced.

I remember hearing Depression-era memories of one father who brought his entire paycheck home each week and handed it over to his wife, who then gave him pocket change for the week. Or the Merchant Marine husband who would be placed ashore in places like Hoboken, New Jersey, at midnight — with six months’ pay, in cash, in his pocket. Or how being paid once a month can lead to a “welfare-cycle” feeling, a minor splurge before nursing the remainder along to the next payday. Being paid weekly has an entirely different rhythm. Farmers, of course, may have to stretch one year’s harvest payment clear into the next year’s autumn.

Which income rhythms have you experienced?

Which of your own childhood lessons in money are you now passing down to your children and grandchildren?


Rocking the cradle, as it were

Maybe you’ve already guessed but many of your deepest feelings about money stem from childhood.

Just consider these queries adapted from Joseph R. Dominguez’ Transforming Your Relationship With Money and Achieving Financial Independence.

  • Can you remember when or how you first discovered money?
  • Did you have an allowance as you grew up? Did it grow as you grew? Was it consistent? Did anyone borrow it back from you? What were you encouraged to do with it?
  • Did you receive it for chores you performed? Or was it unconditional, as part of the family?
  • Did you have a savings account as a child? Or savings bonds? What did you learn about saving?
  • What was your first job? For many in my youth, it was delivering newspapers. My, how times change!
  • When did you have a sense of how much money your parents made each year? When did they let you in on the details of their financial life?
  • When did you open your first checking account? Who taught you and what were you taught about check writing and managing the account?
  • How did you learn about money management, personal budgeting, and investing?
  • How do you think others learn these life skills?

From these, you can gain a sense of how many of your financial values were learned from your parents and other family members. Very few of us received systematic training in monetary affairs. Of course, neither did your parents, and when there were differences between the ways they handled their finances — one flashy, for instance, the other self-effacing — you absorbed both styles, without resolution. This clash can continue within you, long after they’re gone, and paralyze you in your adult dealings.

Similarly, when your own financial perceptions run up against those of a spouse, the marriage itself can be endangered — to say nothing of yet another round of children receiving conflicting impressions. (Who first insisted that opposites attract?) The fact remains that money issues, and not sexual discord, is the leading cause of divorce in America. It’s safe to say that each of us carries unresolved internal squabbles over money, some going back to early childhood, some to playground chatter, most of it picked up in bits here and there, and none of it systematic.

Where do your views of money arise? And how do they continue?

What, you expect a toddler to be rational?

It’s OK if what you find makes you want to cry. Now, back to those bulleted questions!