When I was a teenager being raised by parents on a disability pension, there wasn't much money to go around. I only received clothes twice a year, meat was tough because we bought the cheapest cuts, and if I wanted pocket money, I had to earn it. So I did. Because I was under the legal age for official employment, I worked a series of questionable jobs. At 13, I sold lollies door to door for charity earning 50 cents a bag, then went on to work at a market as a sales assistant for $25 a day, until I was 15 and was old enough to get a job at Hungry Jack's.
My school of hard knocks employment history made me appreciate the value of money - until I became a mother. Suddenly, there was someone else whose needs and wants I could fulfill. As an only child, my daughter soon became the sole beneficiary of my over-compensation. An itch, I knew, that rose from my own childhood lack. For a time, I bought her whatever she wanted. As each new fad circulated her primary school, I bought it all for her: the fidget spinner, Shopkins, Nerf Guns. The more she received, the less they lasted.
Eventually, I realised it wasn't just a matter of waste. The bigger issue was, my indiscriminate 'yes' meant that I wasn't giving her the opportunity to develop an appreciation for money. So I stopped the egregious purchases. Instead, I opened her a savings account and arranged $20 a week to be transferred from my pay. I chose not to tie this money to any chores or rewards - her only responsibility was to be diligent with her homework and classwork. I bought her clothes and necessities, but if she wanted toys and other treats, then she would have to to pay for them herself.
The bigger issue was, my indiscriminate 'yes' meant that I wasn't giving her the opportunity to develop an appreciation for money
I learnt that having my own money meant having power. I didn't have to rely on others to achieve what I wanted - I just had to work hard for it. I wanted my daughter to have the same opportunity to develop her own agency, without the hard knocks that I had to go through. She needed to know that her choices mattered, that she had value, and to learn to apply this to her life.
It was fascinating watching her first forays into shopping when she had to use her own money. Before she goes out, she would check her bank balance using the mobile app and then carefully checked the price tag for each item she wanted to purchase. She used the calculator app on her phone to add up how much she was spending. And then she knew when to walk away if she couldn't make a decision, confident enough to not give into buying anything impulsively.
Women are often the butt of jokes about money. We succumb to 'retail therapy', 'impulse buying' and then have to hide these purchases from parents and partners, or lie about the prices of things. It is in these small insults that women learn to minimise their choices and needs, to put others first and their own desires last. This is not the lesson I wanted my daughter to grow up with. I want her to know that she deserves to buy whatever she wants and doesn't need to justify herself to anyone but herself.
Women are often the butt of jokes about money. We succumb to 'retail therapy', 'impulse buying' and then have to hide these purchases from parents and partners, or lie about the prices of things
It took me a long time to develop these skills myself. Money was sporadic as I undertook piecemeal jobs and when I did have money I either agonised over spending it or bought things I regretted - like the three month belly dancing lessons that I paid for upfront and never used. It was only when I began to work regularly that I was able to practice making good financial decisions and develop my confidence.
Watching my daughter's confidence and assertive skills grow with each milestone fills me with pride. It is in these small milestones that she is learning to be a young woman who has agency and financial independence - skills that she will take into adulthood. And, there have been perks for me too. While my goal was to teach her financial responsibility, the best perk has been her new decisiveness, which makes our shopping excursions brisk.
Amra Pajalic is a high school teacher and author of memoir Things Nobody Knows But Me. You can visit her website here.