Three Lessons Learned Being Broke

by Travis Pizel · 6 comments

being broke
I noticed my son’s checking account was hovering dangerously close to zero. He has a teen account which means I have access to his information through our bank’s online portal, so I took a peek at what he had been spending his money on. After having a conversation with him to make sure something fraudulent wasn’t going on, and that he was aware he would be broke for an entire week until he got paid again, I started thinking about what that meant for him.

I had mixed emotions about the situation. On one hand, he wouldn’t be able to do anything socially with his friends like go to the movies, bowling, or to the high school football game. On the other hand, it’s a great opportunity for him to learn some valuable lessons.

Appreciate What You Have

Not having any discretionary funds may not be the ideal situation for a social high school student, but it will give him some time to reflect upon his situation. He still has a roof over his head, clothes on his back and a kitchen full of food. Being broke would give him the opportunity to think about how much worse it really could be, and think about how good he has it.

I spent a lot of time doing this exact kind of reflection when my wife and I were paying off $109,000 of credit card debt. For several years there was very little money left over in our budget after paying our bills, including a massive monthly payment to our debt management program. It taught me humility, and it caused me to be grateful. Each payday I would exhale in relief, and whisper words of thankfulness when I could meet all my financial obligations and take care of my family.

Learn How To Have Fun Without Spending Money

For a week he’ll have to decline any invitations from his friends to go to his school’s football game, movies, bowling, or any of the usual social functions that require money. But that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have any fun. He still has the computer that he worked hard to earn the money to purchase. He has a game console, Netflix streaming service, and is on our family membership to a health club where he could play basketball, racquetball, and go swimming. He has numerous choices to get together and have fun with his friends.

During our debt repayment time, my wife and I had to dig deep to find ways to have fun together without spending a lot of money. We learned to sit outside and look at the stars, and to cuddle up on the couch together to a favorite movie on television. We talked about our dreams, laughed together, and rediscovered why we fell in love.

Learn the Value Of An Emergency Fund

I took this opportunity to have another discussion with my son about the concept of an emergency fund. He may have spent all his money on purpose this time, but there are times when unexpected expenses come up. Maybe something would go wrong with his car, or his computer that would need to be fixed. Having some money set aside (other than his savings account that we do not allow him to touch) for unexpected expenses, or opportunities that may cost a little extra, is a smart thing to do.

The concept of the emergency fund really hit home for me when deep into our debt management plan our van required new tires and brakes at the same time. The vehicle was essentially unsafe to drive, and we didn’t have the cash to do the needed repairs. We had to borrow money from an in-law in order to get our family vehicle road worthy.

My son successfully made it through the week being broke. I could have helped him out by either giving him some auxiliary cash, or by allowing him to withdraw some money from his savings account. I decided against that, because I didn’t want him to get the impression that he could spend every penny he had, and Dad would make everything OK if a desire to spend money presented itself. I wanted him to experience being broke, and learn the lessons that go along with it. He learned valuable lessons by being deprived of the things he is accustomed to doing whenever he wants, while still in the safe confines of being assured the necessities of life. Hopefully he’ll remember the feeling of being broke, and work hard to ensure he doesn’t purposely put himself in that position again.

Have you ever been broke? What important lessons did it teach you?

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  • Bill says:

    My kids were in the same situation and had to learn to do without too. This has proven to be good experience as they’re now both living independently (in early 20’s) and the lessons are being applied.

    It’s always tough to watch your kids go without. They always seems to have friends with everything. However, I think you’re doing the right thing.

  • This is so cool. I don’t have kids yet, so I haven’t really thought that much about the most effective way to teach them money habits. But I think this teen account idea is brilliant. It is like a real life simulation.

    Also, way to hold out on not giving him the money to go out. He spent it, he must pay the price!

    • Travis Pizel says:

      This whole raising kids thing is one big “shoot from the hip” activity. My son turned 16, and I just think, that’s when I got my first job. So he got a job, we got him a bank account. These thoughts of “Hey, this is a learning opportunity” just pop in my head…totally unplanned. I wish kids came with a

  • Ramona says:

    I really love the idea of giving your teenager such an opportunity to manage money and experience all these problems, when he’s still safe under your ‘umbrella’. Too many adults haven’t gotten such an education and experienced being broke when daddy was no longer around to help. I plan on teaching our daughter similar lessons as well, it should really help her be responsible with her money.

    • Travis Pizel says:

      I really enjoy seeing him learning financial lessons – it’s literally like watching light bulbs go on in his head. Hopefully he remembers them when he starts life on his own!

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