Learning By Example…Or Lack Thereof

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I’m a firm believer in the motto:

Learn from the mistakes of others-you can’t live long enough to make them all yourself

When I think back on my upbringing, I had strong parental role models. My folks weren’t violent, they weren’t neglectful, they weren’t uninterested in the lives of their kids. This was my primary and frequent example of what a responsible parent does and who a respectful adult is. Easy as that.

But, as I said on my Father’s Day post: I’m the fortunate minority. So many people grow up in an existence which is neglectful or abusive or controlling, pick your negative trait. I’d imagine those people looked around at the adults who mistreated them and swore up and down they’d never, EVER act that way when they grew up.

So who do you learn from? The good example you want to emulate? Or the bad example which makes you want to do the exact opposite? This is a great question and tells you a lot about your learning style.

I was recently listening to a podcast of one of my fav radio shows, The Dave Glover Show. Dave grew up with parents who were strict, solid, stoic and responsible. In his words, they never bought on credit, never missed any sort of payment, never bounced a check-exactly the kind of folks all Americans should financially emulate.

However, Dave said when he became an adult, he was fiscally stupid. Bounced checks, didn’t balance his checkbook, owed tons of fees on credit cards, the typical picture of the 21st century American when it comes to money. Why would someone with such a great example then screw things up so royally? In his opinion, it was because he never saw the repurcussions of bad financial choices. The family never had the power turned off, never had the car repossessed, never had to worry about being able to get to the store because there was not food for gas (or groceries, for that matter.)

Again, when you’ve been shown and immersed in fiscal responsibility, why then would you be so terrible financially?

I don’t get it, myself. I had parents much like Glover’s. To me, living withh, oh, heat, electricity, food, gas, working automobiles-those were how responsible adults did life. You didn’t blow money on gambling, lottery tickets, booze, cigarettes. Why? Because they weren’t affordable? No! But who knew what was coming around the bend? If all the extra money got spent on entertainment, then there was gonna be problems when the old Plymouth broke down.To me, how I was taught from childhood on was wrapped up this way:

Save, save, save. When you’ve saved up a pot of money, then spend what you want-responsibly. But always, ALWAYS prepare for the unexpected.

Folks, had my parents not planned for the unexpected when I was hurt in that horrible crash, we may have been swimming in debt until, um, we were all dead and buried. It doesn’t seem hard to me-just the simple idea of living within one’s means.

Anyway, that was kinda a tangent about money, but let’s get back to developing one’s ways. Why did Dave see the same thing as me, but ended up being unable to make smart choices with money? I don’t know-I can only say why I did NOT make bad choices.

Now that I’m a parent, I think about the lessons I want my stepkids to learn. Whether it’s by my example (which I hope is good) or the examples by the parents of their friends (which may not be so good), I can only hope they observe, learn and put into practice the tools to make a successful life.

Am I speaking strictly financially? Not at all! One of my kids recently had a run in with an adult who, to put it mildly, has all the maturity of a spoiled 10 year old. Yet, this person has been an adult for decades. This “adult” acted in such a ridiculous way that I hope my kid observed-and in a way he/she will not copy.

Whether your examples have been good or bad, I hope we all have the sense and foresight to shun the bad, mimic the good and those (hopefully) will lead to the best life possible.

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