Are Parents to Blame for Financial Problems?

A fellow writer recently asked, “Who do you blame for your financial problems?” One of the possible answers was “your parents.” I wonder how many people really blame their parents for their financial problems. I do believe parents play an important role in teaching life skills to their children, particularly when the public education system does such a poor job of preparing students for the real world. However, I don’t subscribe to a line of thinking that parents are to blame for poor choices made by willing adults. There is plenty of blame to spread around.

Lack of Financial Education in Public Schools

There has long been a serious void in public education when it comes to “real life” studies. And in no subject is this truer than the area of personal finances. We continue to teach kids to pass exams, to recite from memory, and to conform to so-called “advances” in new teaching methods. Despite noble efforts, educators are for the most part equipping our children with the wrong skills. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you used an algebraic expression to balance your checkbook, or calculus to solve your 1040 tax form? There is a place for those skills, however I believe that place is college, where it is required of students to indicate a path of studies that may require the knowledge of these higher levels of math and sciences (such as medicine, engineering, etc.). For the rest of us, a basic introduction to personal finance topics would be helpful to prepare for the perils of the adult financial world. Upon graduation, and many times before, students will be exposed to credit cards, predatory lenders, car salesman and if they work part time jobs, Uncle Sam’s maze of tax laws. We should push for educational tracts that teach youth how to be responsible citizens, with their money and beyond.

Poor Role Models in the Media

The media is full of poor financial role models. Soap opera stars who live lives of luxury, but never seem to work for it. Entertainers and sports celebrities who earn ridiculous amounts of money and lead lavish lifestyles none of us could ever afford. Trust fund babies who spend entire decades partying and living it up while waiting for their inheritance. Unfortunately, these are the role models kids are attracted to. In their eyes Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and Dave Ramsey are just “some old guys they saw on the news.” As a society, we worship these celebrities and further highlight their irresponsible behavior by portraying their lives as something we should all aspire to – something that is within reach of the average person. Young people chase this ideal by buying cars, clothes, homes, jewelry and other elaborate goodies they see their idols purchasing. Pretty soon they find themselves in a real financial crisis with limited means to undo their mistakes.

Accountability Crisis

For the last several years we have had an “accountability crisis” in this country. People refuse to accept responsibility for their own misgivings, and shortcomings. The fault always belongs to someone else. You can easily detect this line of thinking in the responses made by poor people. Don’t earn enough money? “Poor man just can’t get ahead.” Spending too much money? “Well if the government would bring prices down!” Can’t afford college? “College is only for rich people.” No one ever responds, “I’m broke because I want to be.” Or, “I can’t attend college because I am not willing to work for the money to attend.” Imagine how much better off we would all be if we stopped pointing fingers and took control of our own destiny. If we quit waiting on “the government” to pay for something, or bail us out of everything, or to save us from ourselves.

So maybe your parents weren’t the best example, and you did follow the wrong crowd financially growing up and made a few mistakes. Congratulations. You are human. We have all made mistakes. What separates you from serial failures is that you are willing to learn from those mistakes. You are willing to get smart on personal finance topics by reading magazines, books and blogs. You are willing to work extra to dig out from your own financial hole and change your family tree. Quit waiting on someone else to save you, or someone else to blame it on. Take responsibility for your financial decisions, and start making better ones to provide a brighter future for yourself, and your loved ones.

Repair bad credit to help your financial future


  1. Interesting post! I never learned how to manage money (thank God I married a man who’s great at it and loves to do it!), and there are many reasons for it. One is that my parents don’t have healthy finances. I was raised by parents living paycheck to paycheck and carrying credit card balances and a second mortgage. I think another reason is that our culture/society now values hard work and industry much less than instant gratification and material items. Working hard and saving money just isn’t “hot”, to borrow a term from Paris Hilton…

  2. I can’t agree more with what you’re saying here. I wasn’t taught a thing about managing my finances and throughout my early 20s it always seemed like something I could do later. Well, later is now and thanks to reading a lot of great PF blogs and educating myself, my husband and I are getting our finances in order to become debt free and save for the things that are important to us.

    I still can’t figure out why schools don’t teach financial management. It’s beyond me . It’s such a basic skill that is used each and every single day.

  3. I think it’s important to remember that most parents did what they thought best and tried to manage things as best they could. I learned a long time ago to forgive my parents for not teaching me things they did not know themselves (money management, investing, etc). Hindsight is always 20/20 and they also wish they had been taught those things by THEIR parents…who lived paycheck to paycheck.

    What IS important is that we break the cycle when teaching our own children. I just hope mine listen!

  4. My folks didn’t teach me financial management because they didn’t excercise it themselves. They didn’t know any better. I learned from others mistakes when working as a branch manager of a large bank.

    My siblings are both educators, and they readily admit they teach to the tests. If they don’t, they risk losing state and federal funding. Sad.

  5. I grew up in a family in which ‘saving’ was a dirty word! I remember arguments about money, unpaid tax bills, and sky-high credit bills due to my dad’s business. It was a financial rollercoaster. During the good times, there were trips and BMW’s. During the bad times, there were trips and BMW’s. Catch my drift? Instead of squirreling away some savings when business was good, and cutting down on spending when business was bad, my parents (okay, primarily my dad) continued to attempt to live the high life.

    I followed in their footsteps for the first 20 years of my adult life. Only now have I realized that there’s a better way, that I have a CHOICE! I can make choices about where my money goes, about how many hours a week I work (50, for now), about my investment and savings options. I can read great blogs like this, and PF books to improve my knowledge, and eventually I’ll get to the promised land: financial independence!

  6. My family was not good with money at all. I think I learned what not to do from them, instead of continuing on the same path. My mistake was taking out way too many student loans when I ended up doing a career that I could have skipped college altogether. I did end up marrying my husband, but boy was he an expensive catch 🙂

    I hope to be a good example to my kids so that they will be better with their money than I was.

    Excellent food for thought!

  7. Totally agree. I can’t wait until the “education revolution” happens when it comes to finances. The day kids ask themselves “Can you believe my parents didn’t have to take ‘Personal Finance’ in college?” That will be the day…

  8. Amen!

    When this country learns to stop idolizing the might green George Washington maybe lawmakers will be able to make decisions based upon what is best for this country and not who is going to contribute to their campaign the most.

    Teaching to the tests is a big problem for us in Texas. We don’t even have kids yet and we can see it. Maybe this is part of the reason home schooling is becoming so popular.

  9. I agree! My family did the best they could and taught me some good habits. If anything, I’ll give them credit for the fact that I’m turning things around now. But we live in a sea of bad financial advice these days. If you’re not deliberate about your money, of course you’ll end up in a mess.

  10. I wish someone had taught me personal finance when I was younger, whether it was my parents, school system, or someone else. I am trying to take control of my finances and “change the family tree”.

  11. Well, I sorta started this thing (spurred on by one of my commenters) and I am glad to see so much discussion about it. My parents *still* don’t really know how to manage money – and of course they seriously won’t take *my* advice because they changed my diapers. Not really sure how they could have taught me what they did not/do not know themselves.

    The best we can do is to decide to BREAK THE CYCLE 🙂 as I am trying to do myself. And for the record, the schools, the lenders (especially the predatory type), and probably the media also share some of the blame.

  12. I think most of our behavior is somewhat linked to the way we were raised. However, I can’t seem to find a ‘yes’, ‘no’ answer. It certain depends on the person and the type of financial trouble he/she has.

  13. I have been reading your post for 3 months, this is the first comment I left because I was very angry to see that you sited a math class where students should learn personal finance. What more do you want me to do? Between standards and testing, schools are already to the breaking point. When does school become a catch all for all the problems in the US? They don’t teach personal finance overseas, I know I have taught there, and they don’t have the personal finance debt that we have in the US. It is a cultural and home issue and schools cannot be expected to fix everything.

  14. I grew up watching my parents do pretty well financially. I remember when they paid off their last debt, and took us all out to eat. (a rarity up to then)

    I did really well the first couple years away from home. It was the influence of peers, neighbors, strangers…basically everyone else that looked like they had it all on regular salaries. So I did it too! Now I’m sitting under a pile of debt and trying to teach my kids the same lessons.

    I really don’t think it’s the parents’ fault, but they definitely have some influence opportunity in there to help prevent the disastrous pile of debt.

  15. @Math Teacher: Thank you for taking the time to comment, and for being a loyal reader. I was not admonishing teachers in my post, rather the system in which they are forced to teach. I agree with you that teaching to tests, increased class sizes, under-funding, etc. have all caused great harm to our public education system. What I am advocating is a “back to basics” movement where teachers DO teach things like personal finances, and other basic life skills. If legislators want to come up with tests on those subjects to hold schools accountable, so be it.

    Unfortunately, many parents are not qualified to teach their kids about finances, just as most parents would not be qualified to teach their kids math. That is what our public education was created to do – to create a society of well-rounded, educated youth. I have the utmost respect for teachers and the jobs they do. They are underpaid and underappreciated, and that is something we desperately need to change.

  16. My in-laws taught my husband nothing about money–but it’s the military that he blames more than that.

    He feels that going in as a young enlisted man and receiving no financial education was a real problem. Throwing $200 a week at a kid who’s never earned a dime, provide housing and food and it’s all play money. The BX offers easy credit terms and of course every young guy wants a snazzy car… before you know it you’ve racked up several thousand dollars in debt and only earning $200 a week.

    Add to that the young guy is shipped away from home and family and boom! Next thing you know he’s married with a family to support.

    Of course that’s generalizing a bit, but I was a military wife for a good number of years, and I’m afraid my experience showed that very scenario to be more the rule than the exception (in the case of enlisteds).

  17. I do not blame anything about my financial situation on my parents…but I have to say I wasn’t “taught” a darn thing as I was growing up. Money was not discussed (much like death, sex, or any other topic that would reveal any TRUE emotion or feelings…not that I was unhappy – just extremely sheltered!) When I got to Personal Finance in college I was like WOW! It all sounded so great! Start socking away money and by the time I am 50 I will be set! I would sit in class and dream of my nest egg growing and growing…but did I follow the examples and advice? NO…because I spent 10 years acting/reacting emotionally to all the things around me, married a man that just drug me down even farther and had to come close to hitting rock bottom before I realized that I had all the answers to my problems – I was just refusing to use the information or Just Do it!
    Now I have to dig myself out from under my debt just like I got out of my bad relationship. But I am open with my children about the facts of life, including money. And hopefully they will be so much wiser when they hit the “real world” that they will be ahead of the game.
    I also want to teach them to do what they love, not just settle for a job…and that Money is most definitely not Everything! And the ironic thing is that when you get to THAT point the money seems alot easier to come by!

  18. I don’t feel that parents are to blame for financial problems. However, they certainly influence the attitudes their children have towards money. I have a few friends who have very wealthy parents, but their income doesn’t compare. The parents are pretty nonchalente about money, and this has transferred over. While the parents can get away with it, my friends are in debt. Great post!