A Money-Savvy Daughter Looks Back on the Finance Lessons That Stuck With Her

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Children selling lemonade in front of their home
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When I was growing up, no one ever called me a princess. My parents told me I was smart, funny, powerful and kind, but never "princess." Mom handed me a Nerf gun and dad taught me how to shoot a layup. I'd wander into my parent's room to see my father ironing his suit pants for work while my mother sat at her desk paying the bills. There were no bedtime stories about helpless girls who needed to be rescued.

Instead, there were lessons about how I could rescue myself through education and financial literacy.

The first lesson came in the summer of 1996, when my father took money right out of my 7-year-old hands. My jaw dropped in indignation and my Pocahontas sneakers stamped the ground. I demanded he hand over my fairly earned cash. After all, I had been the one who woke up at 6 a.m. to set up my Fisher-Price table to sell Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

Embracing the entrepreneurial spirit young, I had seized upon my mother's yard sale as the perfect opportunity to venture into the business world and hone my sales technique. My 4-year-old sister and I sold doughnuts at the marked-up price of 50 cents apiece to the bargain hunters while my mom peddled our old goods. I felt I'd earned my $18.

With a chuckle over my childish rage, my dad told me I owed my sister $2 in wages for helping me sell those doughnuts. Then, he took his cut. As he counted out the quarters I owed him, he explained that he had staked me the money to buy the doughnuts. Because he made the initial investment, I owed him his money back, but I could keep the rest. This, he explained, was my "net profit."

That simple lesson become the cornerstone of my relationship with money -- though it was hardly the last. My father continued my fiscal education with various "sneak attacks," notably requiring me to pay for 50 percent of my college education, which cultivated in me a deep appreciation of the value of money.

But it worked: When I graduated college, I felt empowered instead of intimidated at the prospect of handling my own financial affairs. At no point did I feel I needed to get married in order to stay afloat financially. Never did I wish for a Prince Charming to ride up on horseback to my little New York City apartment and whisk me away. (OK, so maybe that would be nice -- but I don't need Prince Charming.)

Unfortunately, my story is far from the norm. Around the world, young women (and men) are being raised without much financial education, and only realizing how badly they need it after they've accumulated crushing debt, taken out too many loans, misused credit cards or missed paying bills. And even in our modern, egalitarian era, some young women are still being raised with the idea that they should rely on a husband to provide them with a financially sound future.

According to Plan's International's "Because I am a Girl" campaign, each extra year a girl spends in secondary education increases her salary by between 15 percent and 25 percent. But encouraging girls to finish high school, go to college, and find good jobs is not enough. It's equally important that they gain a level of fiscal understanding. These young women need to feel confident handling their paychecks, saving for their futures, and stepping into the role of breadwinner for their families.

It's time parents and educators placed the same level of importance on financial literacy as we do an understanding of literature, math and science. Both boys and girls should be raised to feel comfortable asking questions about money, beyond "how much is allowance?" Just as we're now coming around to teaching young men that the tasks of raising children aren't "women's work," we need to be sure we're not teaching girls to, one day, just rely on their husbands to handle the money.

Just imagine: We could live in a society where teens made informed decisions about student loans, young adults used their credit cards for responsible purchases they could pay off, and the awful cycle of unnecessary debt was just a parable told to children at bedtime.

Erin Lowry writes for DailyFinance on issues relating to Millennials, money and personal finance. She also writes her own blog, Broke Millennial. Visit her there, or follow her on Twitter, @BrokeMillennial.

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