What Made You Care About Money?

I've discovered the secret to becoming financially responsible: Go into serious debt. Or get married, divorced, or pregnant. And reading a good book helps.

At least, that's what you told me. A few weeks ago, I asked you — the intergalactic Get Rich Slowly audience — for the stories behind your desire to get your financial acts together. We aren't born wanting to be frugal, I argued, so for most people, something has to happen to inspire monetary responsibility.

There were approximately 80 responses, and I have summarized the results in the table below in a very non-scientific, arbitrary way. (What do you expect from someone who grew up in Florida?) You non-Floridians will notice that the percentages add up to more than 100% because some responses cited more than one reason for financial rectitude.

So here they are, ranked according to most common responses — the reasons you gave for your money maturity:

Debt forced me to get better with money22.5%
I got engaged, married, and/or I reproduced15.0%
I got divorced, dumped, or widowed12.5%
I read a great book12.5%
I craved financial independence or a better life11.3%
I was making more money but had nothing to show for it11.3%
Someone taught me well8.8%
Calculators/spreadsheets showed me the benefits of saving7.5%
I saw my parents or others struggle7.5%
I had a healthcare-related awakening7.5%
I suddenly had more money and wanted to be smart with it5.0%
I realized I was on my own3.8%
I wanted a tattoo1.3%

Clearly, there are many roads to financial responsibility — including, it seems, financial irresponsibility, since getting into overwhelming debt was the number one reason. I suppose it's the proverbial hitting the bottom of the barrel, the wake-up call many of us need to really take money seriously.

But while there were many different kinds of “aha!” moments, the next steps were very similar — and likely familiar to you longtime readers. Stuff like:

  • spend less
  • eliminate debt
  • save for retirement
  • downsize if necessary
  • become educated
  • seek out support

For that last one, if you need encouragement, read the comments following my original article. You'll read plenty of inspiring stories about people digging themselves out of some very deep financial holes.

As a financial writer, I was heartened to read that books and websites played a prominent part in people's money motivation. Two books that were mentioned a few times were The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey and Your Money and Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. I, too, think these are very helpful, eye-opening books.

I particularly find Dominguez's story interesting. He retired in 1969 at the age of 31 on $100,000. He invested his money in Treasuries and lived on the interest. By the time he died in 1997, he was living on $7,000 to $13,000 a year (depending on what article you read). To manage, he reportedly lived in a group home with 30 people and did a lot of recycling, at least according to one source. From what I could tell, he was perfectly happy with this lifestyle.

I bring this up because there are lots of reasons to get your financial act together. In this article, we've discussed what's happened in the past. But there's also the question of what will keep you going. Some people, like Dominguez, can live very simply on very little money. He gave up a lot of consumerism in order to spend most of his life not working. Others have other plans — travel, RVs, vacation homes, eating out, whatever. It seems to me that having those goals always in mind is key to keeping your financial plan on track.

And to having enough money for a tattoo.

J.D.'s note: One of my key tenets is that the road to wealth is paved with goals. It's difficult to get your financial house in order until you know why you're doing so. I'm not convinced about the tattoo, though!

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Sam
Sam
10 years ago

For me, after I graduated from college I took a personal finance class through the local adult ed which was the first time I started caring about and managing my money. #2 after I graduated from professional school and bought my first house. This is when I started tracking my spending, living off a spending plan, and investing for retirement and other goals. #3 after I got married to Mr. Sam and we combined finances, that is when I read Total Money Makeover, we paid off $55,500 in debt (most of which ‘belonged’ to Mr. Sam), stopped using credit cards,… Read more »

Gordie Rogers
Gordie Rogers
10 years ago

For me it was coming across a website and reading ‘Think and Grow Rich’ and ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’. they totally made want to change from being a working stiff.

Rob Bennett
Rob Bennett
10 years ago

No one cares about money. No one cares about green pieces of paper. What we need to do to get people to care about money is to get people to care about how having money can change their lives. All personal finance planning should be thought of as Life Goal Pursuit Planning. Those who care about money handle their money well. Most do not care. But all can be made to care. The key is making a different pitch to each person. What works for each person is to show how handling money well can help that particular person achieve… Read more »

jessieimproved
jessieimproved
10 years ago

For me, I definitely fall into the category of “suddenly getting more money”. I grew up in a household that didn’t have much money, so after landing a successful career, I suddenly was making more money than my parents combined. I was faced with a choice – whether to continue to work 40+ hours a week and live a life where I buy whatever I want, possibly having to work until I’m 70, or being smarter with my money and getting out of the rat race early. Now I’m 28 years old and carrying my first child, and looking at… Read more »

Alexandra
Alexandra
10 years ago

It’s weird that you find Domiguez’s story interesting, because it scares the hell out of me! “He retired in 1969 at the age of 31 on $100,000. He invested his money in Treasuries and lived on the interest. By the time he died in 1997, he was living on $7,000 to $13,000 a year (depending on what article you read). To manage, he reportedly lived in a group home with 30 people and did a lot of recycling, at least according to one source.” It is very sad that he never lived to see his 60’s, but in a way… Read more »

Ira
Ira
10 years ago

What about the financially responsible people that are not reading self help blogs? I think that a proper survey is needed here. Any statisticians in the audience?

Brenda
Brenda
10 years ago

Since I missed the post where you asked people to give their stories, I guess I’ll throw in my two cents here. For me, getting my financial act together wasn’t really due to any of the reasons cited in today’s post. I had to start caring a lot about money in the past 4 years or so because of a number of reasons: poor career choice, dwindling jobs, plummeting wages. This meant I suddenly made a lot LESS money, and had to learn real fast how to live on around $12,000-$15,000 a year. When you have such a small window… Read more »

Adam Baker
10 years ago

I almost spit out my coffee at “I want a tattoo…”

Little House
Little House
10 years ago

Hmmm…I never would have guessed that someone would become interested in saving money and become financially savvy over wanting a tattoo. That’s a very unique reason.

For me, it was #1, my husband and I found ourselves in debt and freaked out that we would never own a home. We are now working on paying off all of our debt and saving for a down payment.

thanks again for the stats you’ve collected!
-Little House

J.D.
J.D.
10 years ago

Baker, I thought the tattoo thing was funny, too. You can find Caryn’s story in comment #57 on Brokamp’s original post. She really was motivated by getting an expensive tattoo. I think that’s great. But it is funny when stated like that.

Ann
Ann
10 years ago

A really big, really intricate tattoo can cost in the thousands in North America. That’s why my buddy got his full back tattoo done in Thailand.

Tyler Tervooren
Tyler Tervooren
10 years ago

It all started at the age of 10 when, looking through the glass window, I realized that I had no idea how many weeks of allowance it would cost to get a pet turtle.

Rob Bennett
Rob Bennett
10 years ago

I realized that I had no idea how many weeks of allowance it would cost to get a pet turtle.

For me, it was the “More of the Monkees” album. I counted how many Mallo Cups I would have to give up to be able to listen to “I’m a Believer” whenever I wanted and not just when the people at the radio station felt like playing it.

Rob

Amy
Amy
10 years ago

Better to be motivated to improve your finances by a future goal (tattoo) than by what you’ve already done (debt). At least it seems less painful (I am one of those motivated by debt people).
The tattoo comment surprised me, but then I realized, this person did what we should all be doing: ordering and using our finances to support and do that which we value in life.
I want to see a pic of this ‘life changing’ tattoo! 🙂

Frugal Frolic
Frugal Frolic
10 years ago

It all started at the age of 10 as well when I noticed that an expensive toy has different prices in different parts of town. So I kept riding my bike from one shop to another, in a voyage of discovery.

Frequently desires dissapeared with the introduction of new toys. Or wait.. , I can ask that for my birthday which is in a month and I can keep the pocketmoney for something else ! It’s enough to teach you self-discipline without realizing it.

Tristan Lee
Tristan Lee
10 years ago

Interesting post. I think the tattoo part falls in the category of being able to buy something that you really want (might be expensive) but not having to worry about the cost of it. It kind of falls in the materialism section; that’s why the percentage was so low.

The other categories seem to be deeper “must” reasons to why people want more money – I’m on my own, saw parents struggle, debt, etc. I also think the tattoo part was to add a little humor to the post too. Thanks for sharing this.

Amy@MD
10 years ago

I made myself care about money because of what my mother had gone through to raise us up (me and my brother) without helps from my father, and because my mother had taught me well about how to live with little money in our hands. I remembered we were very poor. My mother was a nurse and her salary was very small. My mother used her’s tiny stipend to pay for our school, clothes and rice. We grew water spinach and some other vegetables in the garden, raised chickens, ducks, rabbits and pigs for eggs and meat. Sometimes when we… Read more »

No Mortgage No Rent
No Mortgage No Rent
10 years ago

I took a Personal Finance class as part of my MBA-Finance curriculum. I was suddenly making more money and didn’t know what to do with it. So I went for my MBA. Believe it or not, I was thousands of dollars in debt and it didn’t even occur to me that what I should do with the extra money was to pay off the debt. It didn’t occur to me until I fully understood compound interest. That class turned my life around.

Mike Piper
Mike Piper
10 years ago

I was taught by my mom that money can be fun.

I remember around age 7 or 8 playing a board game called “Stocks and Bonds.” I loved it, and I’ve been reading about investing and personal finance ever since.

tg
tg
10 years ago

We aren’t born wanting to be frugal,

Really? I remember my very first diary entry at age 6 started with ‘I have $22.98 saved.’ My father likes to say that I’ve always been able to make the buffalo burp. (i.e. squeeze a buffalo nickel so hard…)

FinanceAnswers
FinanceAnswers
10 years ago

What drives me to being financially responsible is always reminding myself of my goals and dreams. I realize that in order be able to attain those things I want I must, systematically, do x,y and z… just as so many before me have done. It’s not money people care about it’s the ability and freedom to do the things they want and realize their lifetime dreams. Money is simply an enabler, its a medium which allows people to do the things they enjoy. For me its always cost/benefit analysis, if I don’t do x I can save this which allows… Read more »

Vas
Vas
10 years ago

FinanceAnswers well said. You took the words straight out of my mouth.
What drives me financially is where I want to be in 5 to 10 years and what kind of life I want then.
I know that if I am not responsible now, I will not have the life I have always dreamed of. FREEDOM.

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
10 years ago

I’ve always been inspired by money’s powers because I grew up in many third world countries overseas due to my parents occupation. The dichotomy between the rich and poor in countries such as Malaysia and The Philippines is so egregious that I knew growing up I had to find a way out, even though I was never trapped to begin with.

It’s the brevity of life, and the people who disappear over time that provides every a-ha moment in my life. I don’t plan on messing it up!

ebyt
ebyt
10 years ago

After I finished university, I had a whole whack of debt – some of it for student loans, and some stupid consumer debt also. I moved out of my parents’ house really fast after I landed a job pretty quickly, and all my furniture went on a credit card. The job I got straight out of school just wasn’t for me… it was very crappy pay for work that did not suit my degree at all (it was being an executive assistant to a furniture company’s VP and doing a lot of high level customer service). I just wasn’t happy,… Read more »

David@DINKS Finance
10 years ago

For me, it was both seeing my parent’s “struggle” (I put in quotes because it was more the # of arguments they had about money than really struggling, as my dad is a chemist) as well as a craving for financial independence. I am a senior in college so I have only been in the real world a few years, and many would say I haven’t yet stepped in the real world. I have become extremely concerned about money the past two years. I realized that money (really, purchasing power in a literal form) would give me more choices as… Read more »

Jesse
Jesse
10 years ago

Necessity is the father of invention.

MichiganPete
MichiganPete
10 years ago

Loved the attitude and message of this post! Thanks, J.D., for having this guest contributor – keep up the good work.

jeffeb3
jeffeb3
10 years ago

I would theorize that there might be more behind this survey. Specifically, many of the motivations are life changing events. I would guess that these aren’t the triggers for focusing on savings. They are simply the stained glass through which thoughts of savings are seen through. After months, years, decades of going from paycheck to paycheck, using credit, and the stress of thinking of money all the time, some people will discover a better way. When this happens, you naturally connect it with what is happening in your life. If you get a new dog, then finding money for it’s… Read more »

TosaJen
TosaJen
10 years ago

Re: Alexandra’s [email protected]

Joe Dominguez story isn’t scary or sad to me. I find it inspiring to read about a person who spent nearly half his life living according to his values, and donating his labor to causes he believed in:

http://www.nytimes.com/1997/01/27/us/joe-dominguez-58-championed-a-simple-and-frugal-life-style.html

He could easily have made a ton of money, as Dave Ramsay has, by not donating his royalties to the Simple Living Network and by accepting speaking fees. He chose not to.

Was he extreme? Yup — but if we don’t have people doing extreme things, how do we learn what’s truly possible?

Shara
Shara
10 years ago

I disagree with the “no one is born frugal”. Some people pretty much are. It’s like those disgusting girls who are born to be thin and eat dessert in front of the rest of us until we all gang up and kick her butt. I like money. Sure I learned skills and watched others struggle and it made an impression, but even if I didn’t I bet I would still be frugal because I like and respect money. People who abuse their money by tossing it away frustrate me. I don’t mean I’m greedly. I love other people’s money, too.… Read more »

kenyantykoon
kenyantykoon
10 years ago

the reasons that made me care about money is that i was brought up by struggling parents and around financially struggling people. then i read a book that made me realize that i could choose the life that i wanted and it all depended on how i handled the little money(cannot emphasize the infinitesimal quantities involved) to build great wealth. ever since i have made it my goal to be free and this means having wealth surpassing the wealth of all the people that i know….put together!!! oh and i want a lamborghini 🙂

SweetSedona
SweetSedona
10 years ago

For me, it was since my childhood where my parents emphasized the importance of money. We werent deprived but did not spend lavishly on anything. We were allowed to indulge, eat out but not at the expense of debt. My parents would emphasize the importance of education for which they saved, depriving themselves of many things. I received numerous awards in Undergraduate and I majorly studied on scholarships. Even got into a Grad school with full funding. I saved up atleast 10,000$ while in Grad school, bought a used car with a downpayment too. I got married and later on… Read more »

Foxie@CarsxGirl
10 years ago

“And to having enough money for a tattoo.” Duh! 😛 Just found this rather funny…. I’m hoping to go and get my next tattoo today! (They’re not cheap… Or, well, not something you want to skimp on for sure.) Totally something I would say, but I didn’t, sadly. I want so many tattoos that I can’t afford at all, and some that I want to do things to earn them and then get them since it’d be weird otherwise. @31 — For me, it’s Ferrari all the way. 😉 It’s why I have my “Saving for my Ferrari” Sharebuilder account.… Read more »

Branden @ FaithFitnessFinance
Branden @ FaithFitnessFinance
10 years ago

Two things led to my desire to care about money:

1: My parents have always been horrible with it. I have seen my dad, especially, make really good money all of my life, and yet he has very little to show for it.

2: Dave Ramsey. I was fortunate enough to pick up his book while I was still in college and it got me on the road to educating myself about finances.

Thanks for the post, it’s always interesting to see how others view the same subjects I think about all the time!

Kevin@OutOfYourRut
10 years ago

What made me care about money? Easy. Not having any!

And I’m not being glib here either. We tend to pay most attention to what we don’t have.

Jack @ Master Your Card
Jack @ Master Your Card
10 years ago

Very interesting survey. It seems like too many people learn from irresponsibility – but then again, I guess what can you expect from a demographic polled from self help PF blogs?

Josten
Josten
10 years ago

Seems debt is the biggest one that helps people care and become better with money. I agree because it does help bring some relaxing to your current situation money wise.

Marie
Marie
10 years ago

Two of my perpetually-broke friends consider tattoos an integral part of their money lifestyle. As one said “Let the ba$tards try to repo this!”

TonyM
TonyM
10 years ago

Friends’ obsession with it!

Lord
Lord
10 years ago

Mine was realizing I would end up on the street a month after I lost my first permanent job, if I ever did. That clarifies the mind.

Manisha Thakor
Manisha Thakor
10 years ago

Robert – LOVE this post. Love it. Two things in particular… (1) So thrilled to see YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE & THE TOTAL MONEY MAKEOVER impacted so many people. I recommend those two books constantly. (2) Think you nailed it with your last statement: “It seems to me that having those goals always in mind is key to keeping your financial plan on track.” As someone who speaks often to women about personal finance I find this to be particularly true – having that clear vision of what your life will be like when you are living in financial… Read more »

Free Your Mind
Free Your Mind
10 years ago

I think that it is sad that most of the reasons listed are reactive rather than proactive. But being concerned about money (which answerith all things)is very important.

And hopefully those that do care will teach there children so that “someone taught me well” can become the #1 reason.

Peter Luke
Peter Luke
10 years ago

Personally, my motivation for caring about money stemmed during my youth. I saw how rich people lived their life, handled their business. I had always been inspired by these people. I thought I could learn a thing or two about how they managed to accumulate wealth and even more about how they spend it wisely. I thought there must be some secret as to how they did it. If they could do it, why can’t I. My Well Of wealth

yourfinances101
yourfinances101
10 years ago

It started with me because I had to. Had to get out of debt that is. Then, I kind of tread water financially for a few years. Then I realized that I could take it to further and further levels, and I have just kept going. I think it also stems from the desire to live a better life with less money. Meaning, not to be so stressed to the gills about climbing the corporate ladder to make more money. If I can get more out of what I do make, to me, that is a raise in and of… Read more »

AZJoe
AZJoe
10 years ago

I became serious about money after I realized that I was not doing great because I was ignorant and that there were ways to correct my ignorance. I started reading books, including Joe Dominguez’ “Your Money or Your Life” I have also read some Dave Ramsey and many others. Joe gave great advise, which I used. I retired 10 years later at 55.

Jennifer Lissette
Jennifer Lissette
10 years ago

For me, the money maturity came when I became pregnant with my son. We wanted to go from two people living on two salaries to three people on one. We made good money but our net worth was disastrously in the negatives. I remember the night when we finally sat down and created a spreadsheet of our monthly spending… we knew something had to change. From paying off debt and returning to a frugal lifestyle, we’ve managed to free up $1200/mo. Now when people ask me when I’m going back to work, I can say, “I’m not.” I get to… Read more »

Jane
Jane
10 years ago

I’m with Kevin at 35. I’m surprised this wasn’t on the original list.

I started saving compulsively when I’d just moved to another country and was a bit broke (eating lentils and rice and nothing much else) because I found out I wasn’t getting paid as soon as I thought. And I started getting panic attacks.

Victoria
Victoria
10 years ago

Spam and macaroni cheese.

Alexandria
Alexandria
10 years ago

My awakening hit me like a ton of bricks. I married into the active duty military lifestyle. After being a native Floridian for my entire life, we departed at the end of 2007 for the west coast. We have since moved one other time, still on the west coast. We had a home in FL, which like everything else had it’s value fall through the floor. We were unable to sell it. Meanwhile, the remote area we were moved to, I was unemployeed with a PhD in chemistry, $160k in student loans between myself and my PhD husband, and a… Read more »

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