Do You Have The “Debt” Gene?

Do You Have The “Debt” Gene?


We learn a lot from our parents. Life lessons and skills but also their mannerisms and habits; both good and bad. If your parents have poor spending habits, is it more likely that you will?

Watch and Learn

As a child, I learned how to avoid creditors. In fact, I normalized the fact that creditors called the house at all. I was not the only child to have learned this behavior. My mother’s spending habits have been passed down to my brother. He is in his mid-40’s, yet his credit score is still suffering from the years he spent paying the minimum balance; something he learned from our mother.

Keep Digging

Having parents with money troubles is difficult for three major reasons:

You are without support. I am not referring to financial assistance, but simply asking my mother how to negotiate an interest rate is not an option. Asking her to help me set up a budget is futile. This makes it very difficult to learn new habits.

They can drag you down with them. It is a very odd emotion I feel when my father asks me for money. I know it is slightly embarrassing for him so part of me feels obligated. However, I am not in a position of having a ton of disposable income and have to make sure that I do not get too far under while trying to help my father out. I know his goal is not to put me in the same situation as him but if I am not careful, it could happen.

You have less access to money. The temptation of credit is greater because you cannot simply ask your parents for money/to buy you something. To keep up with peers whose family’s are in better financial situations, you will be tempted to use credit to keep up the appearance. This is likely how your parents got into debt in the first place.

How To Overcome Family Debt Problems

1. Educate. If you are reading this, that is a step in the right direction! You need to be pro-active by educating yourself about personal finance, interest rates, savings accounts and balancing a budget. Use personal finance blogs, books or any other informative guide you can to best assess the direction you should take.

2. Resources. If you cannot use family as a resource, take advantage of the other resources you can use. This includes emailing blogger’s for advice or more general information and chatting with close friends about how they learned about investments. Try to gather as much information as you can from the sources you trust.

3. Support. Have a friend remind you weekly to check your budget. Find a positive person you trust talking about your money issues with, to help support you emotionally as you get started. While being in debt is a financial problem, it has a huge emotional affect on one’s life. Having someone to talk to about it will be very helpful.

4. Confidence. You will not always be in debt, if you do not want to be. It is possible for you to pay it off. Don’t believe me? Take a look at several of the personal finance blogger’s who have dug their way out of hundreds of thousands of dollars of credit card debt! With a plan it is possible. You also need confidence to negotiate payment plans, interest rates and contracts. The more you learn about those topics, the more confidence you will have in knowing when company’s are taking advantage of you.

5. Patience. Although it might have taken you less than a day to spend all that money, it will definitely take you a while to pay it all off. It will be difficult at first because the improvement is a slow one. However, when you pay off your first high-interest bill, you will feel great, I promise! Having support is key for you to continue being patient instead of losing all hope.

6. Think Long-Term. Credit Cards have always been about the “now”; that is the entire idea of credit. So while you may be very happy right now, in a few years you will become miserable. If your parents were in credit card debt, it should not be too difficult for you to see how unhappy they were buried under bills, even if it made for a comfortable lifestyle. Always remind yourself of that and keep thinking of your long-term goals. Sacrificing to pay more than the minimum payment may not be fun now, but it will lead to many more years of less-stress and better investments.

Readers: Have you been influenced by your parents’ spending habits?


9 Replies to “Do You Have The “Debt” Gene?”

  1. My parents were absolutely reckless with finances and as a result I spent my late teens and very early 20s getting myself into debt. At 22 I realized I did not want to end up like my parents (financially that is!)so I’ve started to straighten myself out, slowly and surely. My parents served as a warning to me – I’d rather work at becoming debt free at 23 than 50 like my parents!

  2. I completely understand the not having access to money thing. I feel very resentful about that. I’ve had to work so hard for everything, from school to a car and I see my friends have so much help. I’d even love for my dad to put 20 bucks in gas in my car. I’m trying not to be resentful and I keep telling myself life isin’t fair but sometimes it’s hard when your friends are bragging about the car payment their parents can afford and your barely making yours. :/

  3. It is great to hear that others know what it feels like!

    @Serendipity: It is very common in this area for people my age and older to receive a lot of financial assistance from their parents and, like you, I try my hardest to not be envious of that. I just have to remind myself that I know I can handle the tough stuff and I like knowing that where I am today is because of no one else but myself.

    @Meg: Are you and your parents helping each other at getting the finances back on track?

  4. I definitely got the shopping gene from my Mom. But I don’t buy things that I don’t have the money for; never have. So there is that.
    But when I look at my closet and see rows of shoes or stacks of jeans, I see where my money is!
    I consider myself to be good with money, but I would have more money in savings if I didn’t see weekends as shopping time, which is what we did when I was growing up.

  5. What a great post. Financially, BF and I come from polar opposite families. But although his side may not have a lot of money, everyone pitches in to help everyone else however they can, and are generous with what they have (for example, we’ve had his sister’s barbecue for a few months and they haven’t asked for it back yet.)

    But like you say the downside is you can be dragged down by them. It isn’t easy to save and build up your own solid foundation when your family members can barely pay for rent or food sometimes.

  6. Coming from a large family its funny that we all spend money differently. I have some brothers who live paycheck to paycheck and others who do a good job of savings. The crazy part is the ones who are living paycheck to paycheck make MORE the me who is trying to save what i can!!!!

  7. This really hits home. My parents are terrible with money and I’m constantly weighed down with the concept that I am their retirement plan.

  8. I had always been under the impression that my parents were great savers, and we didn’t really do anything extravagant, though we usually did go on some kind of vacation each year, even if it was camping, not staying at a hotel. I feel like after I moved away after graduating from college, their situation changed (or they started complaining). When hubby and I got married, they suddenly didn’t have much to contribute financially (but boy did they have quite a contribution to the guest list!) I never asked for financial support after my junior year of college, with the exception of our wedding, and since then I haven’t asked for anything. It is awkward on the once a year occasion that they come visit and we go out to dinner and are not sure whose responsibility it is to pay (do they buy dinner? do we split? we’re not stable enough to pay for the whole thing yet!)

    Hubby’s parents are quite different. When they visit, they pay for everything without a hesitation. I have learned that they paid off their mortgage on hubby’s childhood home in 5 years (interest rates were also super high in the early 80s). They have since moved (5 years ago) and their new home is paid off, despite it costing more than the house they sold. They are by no means “Wealthy” and are not showy in any way, but they have made references to leaving things behind for my hubby in their will (not a conversation i like!)

    Meanwhile I am concerned my parents will come to us for money when they are older, based on all the comments I have been hearing from them for the past couple years. I can’t tell if these comments are the truth, or if they are exaggerating.

    Regardless, I try to avoid all money conversation with them when possible. It is stressful to me. I am making every effort to be wise with my money. Hubby and I do not carry balances on our CC (though we do use them for reward points!), both of our cars are paid in full, we have a Roth IRA, and an emergency savings fund/house down payment fund. I have paid off 2/3 of my grad loans since finishing grad school last year. Hubs is still in grad school. I think we are doing well at paying down our debt, and saving for the future despite living in a high-cost of living area (NJ) on only one full time (educator) salary.

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