What I am taking from my parents’ 5 financial habits

The topic of money was never a taboo in my childhood home which usually is a good thing – in my personal case it was a great thing but it also was a thing which kept me up at night at times because my parents financial situation was often far from stable.

My parents have for a very long time run a family farm – a fantastic and a very rewarding business, but financially not an easy one. For a person unfamiliar with the turmoil a small farm in a post-soviet Eastern Europe would be a subject to, let’s just say that sometimes you have money and most times you don’t. Regardless, they always managed. While doing so they inadvertently passed their own financial habits onto my older brother and me. I have internalised most of them and only in the recent months it became obvious which ones are good for me and which ones need to be broken.

Habit 1: Side-hustling

If there is no money, you go and make some to meet the budget. No work around? Sell something. Nothing to sell? Look harder. Really nothing? Go foraging, see what’s growing on your fields and what you have in excess.

If you think this sounds crazy, both my mother and father are well versed in finding wild blueberries and porcini mushrooms, both of which are somewhat impossible to farm. Poland, where I grew up is the Europe’s hotspot for delivering large quantities of both the wild blueberry fruit and the expensive wild mushrooms to the European market. With public forests abound, foraging was and still is a thing and it can be surprisingly profitable during late summer and early autumn. I’m a decent mushroom picker too. But it’s not about foraging itself, it’s about finding a side income until your main income stream is stable again.

As much as I love this ability my parents have to get by, I absolutely hate the idea of side-hustling. Partly, because it detracts from focusing on your main financial goal and partly because it means that your main streams of income are insufficient.

If you are starting a side hustle with an intention of building it into a full-time business, amazing. But otherwise…I’d not do something just because it brings me few pennies, I’d rather focus on the one thing which is supposed to sustain me over a long period of time and which enables me to generate assets capable of providing multiple income streams.

Side-hustling is a habit I am trying to do away with.

Habit 2: Seeing how things go

Seriously, just seeing what happens instead of financially preparing for leaner times. My parents never had an emergency fund, savings for when the times were likely to be leaner or a defined disaster plan. We had a couple of major disasters and a whole bunch of minor issues – this is something you come to expect when living and working a farm and it took me a while to realise that I was not comfortable with that attitude. To be perfectly fair my parents have way more life behind them than I do in terms of crazy, unexpected and downright bizarre experiences of being business owners during communism and in crawling capitalism. And their life experiences easily explain why they’re pretty laid back about things now. But I’m a capitalist and a financial pessimist to the bone, and as such, I have a desire to hold capital in case my life falls to pieces.

So unlike my parents, I have an emergency fund. Unlike my parents, I have retirement savings. And unlike my parents, I don’t have a large community of cousins, siblings and extended family who share their life experiences and are willing to lend a penny (if they have one) if a need arises.

Unlike my parents, I have a plan and I am sticking to it.

Habit 3: Keeping things frugal

Although this was more of a necessity than a desired lifestyle, I left home with a whole roaster of skills that enabled me to keep my own household frugal without feeling deprived. My mum is an amazing baker and crafter and my dad loves the outdoors. I picked up traits from both sides and in the long run whether I am spending cash or not, I’m content. ‘Going shopping’ is very low on my entertainment list. Instead cultivating skills like bread and complex cakes home baking, crafting decorations and garments from scratch or just spending the day hiking are right at the top. They also happen to be inexpensive and have the added bonus of being sociable, environmentally unimpactful and always offering the feel-good factor. Avoiding waste in terms of what I bring into my home from homewares to food also falls into this category. Fun fact is that my parents only got a trash can in 2003 (I was 17 at the time), up until then everything was in some way or another utilised in the household or on the farm.

Habit 4: Lending and borrowing within the family

Both my parents come from large families and happen to have many a sibling and a cousin. The old value in those traditional families was to lend a hand (and cash) to your relatives as needed. It turns out that despite the blood bond, irresponsible people are just that. Through the lens of my parents talking over the dinner table I have learnt of many family feuds arising from somebody borrowing and not returning, downright sponging off their siblings and sometimes even stealing from their own family.

My parents instilled one hard rule – money offered to family should be considered a gift and not a loan. If the person chooses to pay you the money back, great. If they don’t, no harm done either. They also taught me to be selective – if somebody has a track record of being poor with money, spending recklessly or just stupidly, don’t feed their habit out of your own pocket.

I like their view on things and am sticking with it.

Habit 5: Tracking the pounds, not pennies

Running a business of any kind is financially messy. My parents don’t really mind that mess and are used to rounding figures up, approximate forecasting and overall a level of uncertainty around figures. And for the most part I never minded it. Even in my professional life where I work with sometimes large budgets, there is always a level of ambiguity underpinned by financial contingency.

But recently, after being gifted a piece of property from them it turned out that it was mortgaged. The mortgage amount was around £5 but it had not been settled when the mortgage was originally paid off and just hung around for 20 years. In the meantime the bank which initially issued the mortgage shut down, the loan was sold to another bank which also shut down and it took me close to a week to figure out how to pay that thing off. My parents were not at all concerned that a random bit of mortgage is hanging over their property, so they never bothered to clean that mess up after the first bank shut down.

This particular event made me realise that I hate messy paperwork and I’ve since developed an eye for spotting unfinished financial business. And I don’t leave it unfinished.

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