For the past quarter-century, when the first weekend of August rolls around, my dad’s side of the family drops whatever they’re doing and travels to Pennsylvania to hold a weekend-long reunion.
It’s a time when we make new memories while revisiting old memories – or what I like to call “the family folklore.” You know, those stories and worn-out jokes that we keep telling over and over again. Like the story about how my dad sneaked out of the hospital to avoid having his tonsils removed. Or the one about how I knocked out my younger sister’s front tooth.
As we sat together after dinner Saturday night and the conversation began drifting into folklore territory, it struck me that most of our family tales relate to one of two topics: food and money. It started me thinking about how much of my attitude toward saving, spending and money in general is shaped by my family background.
I am the granddaughter of immigrants who struggled to raise seven children in the midst of the Great Depression. While my grandfather labored in the coal mines, my grandmother rented out the attic of the house to boarders to earn some extra cash.
My parents and their generation took the “depression mentality” with them when they left home and started their own families. Those in my generation remember the pride our parents took in their backyard vegetable gardens. We also remember how they were frugal in so many small ways – reusing bags, mending and repairing objects around the home instead of buying new ones, or packing a picnic lunch to eat along the road instead of stopping in a restaurant on a family trip.
But there were times when they were generous with their money as well. When it was time to make a big purchase (a car, furniture, carpeting or appliances), our parents were willing to spend the money to buy something that would last a long time. We took vacations every summer, even if we did eat those picnic lunches instead of splurging in restaurants. Our families celebrated the holidays in style and our parents sent us to college.
“There’s a time to spend money and a time to save money” was the motto my parents drilled into me from a young age. They encouraged me to save as much as possible from my paycheck. They yelled at me to turn off the lights and turn down the heat.
I still subscribe to the “time to spend and time to save” philosophy. I think Mom and Dad would be proud of how I handle my own family’s finances, although I’m sure they would be dismayed by my Starbucks habit and my ever-expanding shoe wardrobe.
When you talk with your clients about their own financial hopes and fears, how much of their attitude toward money is shaped by their family background? Ask them to tell you a story about a time their family either had to spend money or turn off the financial faucet. It will provide you with another opportunity to serve their needs and ease their financial anxieties.
And – who knows? – the work you do for your clients might provide their children with the basis of a good story to add to their family’s folklore.
Susan Rupe is managing editor for InsuranceNewsNet. She formerly served as communications director for an insurance agents' association and was an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor. Contact her at [email protected].
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