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Why do some children from low income families take finances to heart?

As usual, I was reading the New York Sunday Times this weekend and read the interview about Ms. Hobson, the finance executive at Ariel Investments. She talked about how she learned about saving, investing, and overall financial literacy when she was a kid. She learned all about money and the value of it even though she came from a single mother run, low income household.

It made me think again about why do only some kids from struggling households learn about (and actually implement the lessons) of saving, investing, money, and finances while most kids from low income households don’t? Not only that, why do only some kids from that background appreciate the value of money, and once they have jobs/income or funds of their own they value that and do not blow their money? As most people, as soon as they get a few dollars, spend it.

Why do some kids (probably way to few) who come from low income backgrounds want to learn everything about living within means? On the other hand, I suspect probably way too many kids from all backgrounds (not just low income families) turn to materialism and “keeping up with the Jones” as they get older and gain an income of their own. What accounts for this contradictions?

Ms. Hobson talked about being raised by a single mother run household with 6 kids. The mother apparently struggled to keep up with the bills, and they were evicted, had electricity turned off and faced other financial challenges. It sounds like it was very challenging for that family to say the least. But her mother also seemed to stress the importance/value of money. She apparently drilled that concept into the head of Ms. Hobson, who then implemented those lessons into her lifestyle. What caused Hobson to live that way as she grew older?

Why do some kids learn and live that way?

It seems as if Ms. Hobson saw the financial struggles her family was going through and tried to learn from them. She got a job at the young age of 15. She wanted to learn about finances, understand what it took to pay the bills, and she gained financial literacy. What caused her to do that but so many other kids don’t do this?

I can relate to some aspects of that story. Growing up with multiple siblings, a mom struggling to pay the bills (and who knows what would have happened without my grandmother), working at a young age, etc. But the main thing that stood out was the mom stressing money. As my mom talked about money all the time as well. But even my mom talking about it, or Ms. Hobson’s mother discussing finances, does not it itself account for why some kids “learn” the lesson and importance of money and most children don’t.

So what causes some kids to be more mindful of money when they grow up vs. those that don’t learn these lessons? For example, I engrossed myself in everything financial. I started investing, learned about compounding interest, debt, interest rates and everything I could.

I am honestly not sure why I did that…but I think maybe fear of going without as a kid had a part of that motivation. It seems as if Ms. Hobson also took the initiative to learn about finances…heck it is now even her career!

However I know of other people from struggling backgrounds in which money was an issue growing up and it was also talked about some when they were kids. But now that they have some income/money of their own they don’t save. Or they know almost nothing about even the basics of financial literacy. Or they pursue materialism at the expense of everything else. So in other words, even though they came from struggling families, as soon as they get a little money on their own as adults they spend it and in effect “forget” where they came from.

Why did those kids, who also came from struggling backgrounds in which money was discussed, go down the path of spending and financial “ignorance” like so many other Americans?

I am a big believer in if kids learn the importance of money at an early age, and learn about investing, etc. that can be a huge advantage to them. I think it can help kids move up the “income ladder” if they do this and acquire some financial literacy. Maybe it would be a great study to try to determine what causes some kids to learn, and live that lifestyle, and others not. While no one knows the exact ways to reduce (end?) the cycle of poverty, I am a strong believer in financial literacy being one of the tools in the toolbox to help break the cycle.

There are studies that show kids with some financial literacy or more likely to get an education or technical skill. The data even holds true from children from lower income households. But then again, even just being mindful of money, and having this knowledge, is only “half the battle”. Like most things in like, knowing something is only 50% of the battle…people need to “execute” on it. So kids, even if they are taught it, need to live it.

Anyway, if there is a way to understand why some kids learn and live a certain fashion, and some kids don’t, understanding those reasons I think would be very effective to overall financial success.


Jon McNamara is the CEO of needhelppayingbills.com, a company that he started in 2008 and that specializes in helping low income families as well as those who are in a financial hardship. He also found NHPB LLC, a company committed to helping the less fortunate. Jon and his team also provide free financial advice to help people learn about as well as manage their money. Every piece of content on this website has been reviewed by him before publishing and many of the articles he has personally written. Jon is the leading author for needhelppayingbils.

One thought on “Why do some children from low income families take finances to heart?

  • July 28, 2019 at 11:20 pm

    In most cases, kids from struggling household don’t have anyone to encourage or teach them about money, investing or saving.

    If their parents are financially struggling- it is clear that they do not know how to manage their own finances.

    Some kids from struggling household choose to pursue a different from their parents as adults.. while some don’t.
    The people who they associate with and environment plays a critical role in determining success.

    Today, it’s very to easy to find a virtual mentor, asking strangers questions on the internet, inspirational stories and so much more.. but at the end of the day, exposure and influence matters. It takes an extremely strong person to break the poverty cycle. And it must be so painful enough that they want to break it.

    Most Americans haven’t experience real poverty.. they’re just caught up in cycles of bad spending habits. Not to mention government fundings and assistance . Life is comfortable.. it’s not painful enough to make them want to change to escape generational poverty.

    Only kids who have experience real pain from struggling households (bullying, immigrant, life in a 3rd world country, hunger, and lack of basic needs growing up) are the ones that actually breaks the poverty cycle.

    And for those that don’t… life is too comfortable.


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