I got sent to my room when I asked my grandmother for money once, and that childhood rebuke shaped my finances for decades

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  • As a child, my grandmother used to give my sister and me a quarter when she came to visit.
  • Once, she forgot, so I pointed it out. My mother was so mortified she sent me to my room.
  • That rebuke unconsciously taught me I shouldn’t ask for money, and it held me back for years.

I don’t have many memories of my maternal grandmother as she passed away when I was 4 years old. One incident stuck in my mind very clearly, however, and surprisingly, only decades later did I realize that it had shaped the way I’d been managing my finances all my life.

Every time my grandmother dropped by for a visit, she’d give my sister and me a quarter, which we happily added to our piggy bank. One day, she forgot to do so, and when I pointed this out to her, she immediately dug into her purse to rectify the matter.

My mother, utterly mortified, sent me to my room with the stern admonishment that asking for money was not polite. At the time I didn’t see what the big deal was. Why couldn’t I ask for money? After all, I asked for plenty of other stuff all the time, like extra dessert helpings and bedtime stories. What was so wrong about asking for money? My mom never did explain and, although well-intentioned, the rebuke stayed with me, unconsciously affecting my finances.

I felt uncomfortable asking for what I needed

For one thing, it limited my earning potential as it stopped me from asking for more. It was easier for me to quietly accept what was being offered, especially when interviewing for a new job, than to say, “This offer seems a bit low. Can you raise it to X amount instead?”

I only learned this trick much later when I was well into my freelance writing career. It didn’t come easily (it still doesn’t, by the way), but I’ve learned that it is actually expected of me. Not only does it make me look like a professional, but it makes me feel like one, too.

This incident also affected my ability to ask for financial help, whether small sums for minor projects or larger loans for big-time items like a car or a house. In every instance, I kept feeling as if I had to do it all alone.

Although it did slow my progress, it helped me see the value of putting money aside so that I’d eventually be able to reach my goals. Another valuable side effect is that it built my perseverance muscles to Ms. Olympia levels — a truly helpful trait when freelancing.

Accepting money was just as hard

When the moolah did show up, another host of issues arose. I found it was as difficult to accept money as it was to ask for it, especially if it happened to be a gift. After all, I hadn’t worked for it so how could I possibly deserve this bonus? It’s as if the little girl inside me kept looking over her shoulder to see if anyone would send her back to her room pronto for daring to reach out and take what was being offered.

Other strange questions would pop up in my mind: Was I being pitied? Were people feeling sorry for me? No doubt a remnant from flashbacks of my grandmother gazing at me sadly as I peeked out of my bedroom door.

I did learn good money management from my parents, though

Although I may have been hindered by this particular childhood episode, I was lucky in the sense that both of my parents were hard-working people. While we weren’t wealthy, my three siblings and I never lacked for anything. My parents were geniuses at stretching dollars and making the best of any situation.

This allowed them to pursue their passion for road trips, first by stuffing all six of us, our luggage, and as much food as would fit in the Thunderbird (I always ended up squeezed between my two older brothers with my mom’s makeup case jammed under my feet), then later on in the comparative luxury of a small camper van. Whether a weekend outing or a two-week expedition, these trips hold some of my best memories.

Fortunately, following my parents’ money management skills helped offset my hang-ups about money. And becoming aware of what had been holding me back allowed me to finally set myself free so that I could fully come out of my metaphorical bedroom.