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Your First Money Memories May Dictate Your Entire Financial Future

Your First Money Memories May Dictate Your Entire Financial Future
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Your first money memories may hold the keys to your relationship with money. Perhaps your first money memories may dictate your entire financial future.

My first money memory was getting admonished by my father for ordering lemonade at a restaurant. I was in the sixth grade in Kuala Lumpur. He said that instead of paying for sugar water, I should order water with a lemon slice for free. Not only was it free, it was healthier.



My second money memory was hearing my mother trying to encourage my father to spend more money. Although she was also frugal, I remember her saying he should spend more money to save time. I was in the seventh grade.

My third money memory was getting picked up in a black Mercedes SEL with fuzzy rear seats. It was owned by my father’s friend who was throwing a Chinese New Year’s party at his house. My father was already there, which was why I got picked up alone. I was in the eighth grade and thought this was the coolest thing ever. In contrast, we had a 15+-year-old paintless Datsun with missing hubcaps.

The Importance Of First Money Memories

What I realized from these three money memories is that they all started when I was in middle school. Further, they have all shaped the way I approach money today.



Therefore, as parents, it is best we teach our children about money as early as possible. Key lessons include:

  • Saving
  • Investing
  • Spending
  • Giving
  • Living

Further, we should lead by example. Our children are always observing what we are doing, even if we think they aren’t paying attention. We should not only teach, but do.

Here are the lessons learned from my first three money memories.

1) Appreciate Value

The lemonade money memory taught me to seek value. Before buying anything, I always ask myself whether the marginal cost is worth it. Examples include comparing:

  • Public school versus private school
  • Buying a pair of Levi’s versus a pair of designer jeans
  • Flying economy or flying first class
  • Doing push-ups and sit-ups at home versus paying for a trainer
  • Watching Netflix or going out to the movies
  • An economy car versus a luxury car
  • Paying for a room with a view or an inner courtyard room and just spending most of the time outside


If I was incredibly rich, the one luxury I would spend money on is flying private. If we could fly private, we’d pack up our car and easily load up the GulfStream G700 and fly to Hawaii and back tomorrow.

Alas, I can’t even get myself to pony up for business class or first class because the marginal cost far outweighs the marginal benefit. Paying 3-5X for a flight just seems too much. I start to think every hour I can “endure” flying economy is like making a nice hourly wage doing nothing!

The lemonade money memory also taught me to appreciate the basics, which provide so much value. As a result, I’ve been able to minimize debt and maximize returns.

2) Use Money To Save Time

Although I was frugal when it came to paying for nicer things, the argument my parents had has always reminded me to use money to save time. Classic examples include:

  • Being OK to pay more for gasoline at a closer station instead of driving farther away for a lower price
  • Going to business school part-time instead of full-time
  • Saving more money in order to retire earlier
  • Paying up for a direct flight instead of a cheaper indirect flight
  • Buying a new electronic device for faster processing power


Without overhearing my parent’s argument, I’m not sure I would have been as motivated to focus on financial freedom. During my roughest days at work, I kept thinking what a shame it would be to die of a heart attack by 60 and not experience my best life. As a result, I kept saving as much a possible to win back as much time as possible on the back end.

Now that I’m middle-age, the importance of spending money to save time or buy back time is my #1 priority. When you start hearing more people your age pass away you’re reminded not to take any moment for granted.

If I was still working my day job in finance today, I know I’d be extremely frustrated and pissed off about my inability to spend time with my children. Children make time go by faster because they change so quickly.

3) Learn What’s Possible

Finally, getting picked up in a luxury car and arriving at a mansion in the hills opened my eyes to what was possible. The owner made his fortune selling beverages in Malaysia. His wealth was particularly noticeable because there was a lot of poverty in Kuala Lumpur at the time as well.

The mansion party embedded in me the desire to become an entrepreneur. Although I didn’t end up going the entrepreneurial route after college, I do have something entrepreneurial with ONIG Financial Blog.



During my time studying various businesses during business school and at work, I realized I didn’t want to have employees because that would create too much headache. Instead, I just wanted something simple that would also provide maximum freedom.

The “sacrifice” would be the inability to scale up to make mega-millions. But that was OK because I’m always reminded by my second money memory: use money to save time.

Once you develop a strong money mindset, you will undoubtedly earn more and build a greater fortune. The importance of developing a strong money mindset is one reason why I continuously share examples of great wins.

There are janitors making multiple six-figures a year. There are CEOs who run their companies into the ground and still walk away with a nine-figure severance package. Then there are gurus getting rich selling things without much credibility e.g. Dr Phil’s best-selling weight loss book.

Yet, I still get pushback all the time from readers who feel they don’t deserve to be rich for whatever reason. And despite publishing the first edition of my severance negotiation book in 2012, I’m still seeing people quit their jobs instead of negotiate a severance because they are too afraid to ask.

You can get mad at the people making fortunes or you can accept that there’s enough fortune to be made for all. The choice is yours!

Teach By Example



Given your first money memories may determine your financial future, it’s important as parents to teach and lead by example. No matter our financial situation, we must demonstrate to our children our work ethic and our appreciation of money.

Saying one thing and doing another is definitely not the way to go. For your children’s sake, you can’t afford to be weak and demonstrate a scarcity mindset.

I used to think early retirement might pose a problem for teaching our kids about money and work ethic. After all, how will they develop a work ethic if they can’t see their parents working? However, for young children, we’ve discovered that it’s very easy to classify any time not spent playing with them as work.

For example, they can see us typing an e-mail on a laptop, cleaning the house, pulling weeds, sweeping the driveway, and applying touchup paint to the walls as work.

As they get older and realize their parents don’t have traditional day jobs, we will explain to our children the various passive income ways we make money, e.g. rental properties, dividend stocks, municipal bonds, real estate syndication, private equity, venture debt, online, and so forth.

Making Progress

So far, our plan is working. Every time my three-year-old wants to come upstairs to play, I can hear him first ask his mommy, “Is daddy working?” He checks to see if all is clear because he understands daddy needs quiet time in order to write a post.



We then explain to our son that mommy and daddy work in order to make money to pay for his food and toys. We then try to emphasize not to take money for granted. This means finishing all the food on his plate because we worked hard to make money to buy the food. This also means sharing toys with his baby sister instead of having a meltdown because some families can’t afford toys.

One of my biggest fears is not only raising spoiled children, but also children with a scarcity mindset. If we keep on being mindful of the lessons we teach our children, perhaps one day, they will form helpful money memories to guide their financial journey.

Readers, what are some of your earliest money memories? How have they shaped your financial future?

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