Eileen AJ Connelly

When frugality is a family matter, the lessons may be more apt to be lifelong

By Eileen AJ Connelly
Associated Press / August 21, 2010

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Anne-Marie Faiola remembers resenting working in her mom’s garden as a teenager while her friends were out having a good time. But if she wanted spending money, she had to work for it.

Yet any ill feelings Faiola had about her parents’ lessons in frugality are long gone. These days, when she sees friends burdened with debt, Faiola, 33, is grateful. “It didn’t always feel like that,’’ said the Bellingham, Wash., website entrepreneur. Yet when the economy went south and she had money in the bank, Faiola knew whom to thank.

Frugality has taken on a certain shabby chic. There’s always been a segment of the population that by conviction, or necessity, saved by eating at home, shopping at discount stores, and choosing practical cars over luxury models.

“I did have my time of going wild, but I always paid it off,’’ said Priti Mehta, 28, who works for a nonprofit and is a graduate student in Albuquerque.

Financial pundits insist children absorb the spending habits of their parents. Yet there’s little research, said Tim Kasser, chairman of the psychology department at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. “Thrift hasn’t been of major interest to American culture in the last 60 years or so,’’ he said.

Yet if parents make saving money fun, give children choices, and explain why careful spending is a good way to live, the children will probably get the message, he said.

That’s what Trent Hamm is counting on. The writer and creator of grew up in a poor household. As a young adult, he ran up nearly $50,000 in debt before changing his ways.

Today, when he blogs about the lessons he’s teaching his children, particularly his 4-year-old son, some readers question whether he’s putting too much emphasis on cost at an early age.

“A lot of their habits are being defined now,’’ said Hamm, 31. “You’re setting a model as an adult.’’

Hamm said he explains his choices to his son. They play at the park rather than visit an amusement center that charges admission, for instance. The money saved goes toward vacation.

“Even if he doesn’t fully understand that it’s going to be a long time before vacation, he knows that there’s a good reason for saving,’’ Hamm said. “I don’t mind if he thinks I’m an idiot from age 15 to age 25. As long as he comes out OK on the other end, that’s great.’’

What OK means varies, of course.

Lauren Weber’s father was so tight he once tried to ration toilet paper. “Fortunately he couldn’t find a way to monitor that,’’ she joked.

Now 39, Weber said she found herself growing more like her father over the years. But the author of “In Cheap We Trust: The Story of a Misunderstood American Virtue,’’ also allows herself to spend on occasion. “It’s OK to indulge once in a while,’’ she said. “But my once-in-a-while is once, maybe twice a year.’’

Eileen AJ Connelly writes for the Associated Press.