Mother, Hood Mentality: Is Your Desire to Stunt Killing Finances?

January 28, 2015  |  

“I can’t afford another kid. Why I gotta pay $75 for sneakers for a 4-year old?”

The words came from a young, brown-skinned lady standing at the bus stop. By looks, she appeared to be in her late 20s. Grabbing her toddler daughter’s hand, she swerved the neck before turning to board the bus. “It’s just too expensive.”

I couldn’t help wincing at the words wreaking of hood driven economics drenched in financial ignorance. “You don’t have to,” I said to myself, answering her $75 sneaker question. “You choose to.”

But her words come from a reality many know. One of coming from nearly nothing. One of likely being raised by boot-strapping single parent led families. One of being pressured by TV, friends, and the begging of kids to “keep up,” by spending more than one can afford to make babies and ourselves happy.

I used to be a begging child. Like my son today, I remembering wanting $100 sneakers as a kid. But my mother, a hardworking single lady who worked both a full-time and part-time job around holidays, took us to Fava.

Those born in the 70s and 80s remember this discount shoe store. The PayLess of my childhood era, hearing we were heading to Fayva made me slouch when I walked through the doors, knowing they didn’t sale Jordans. Looking for the hottest sneaker I could find with a brand name, my brother and I always settled for the only one we could find: British Knights. Rocking the white kicks with a pink outlined design, I wanted to be and look cool. But I didn’t. I wanted the flyest gear. But I couldn’t. The need for this fashionable “acceptance” led to me rushing to get a job as soon as I turned 16.  I spent all my earned pennies on hair salon visits and clothing store trips. That habit continued into college, where at a bourgeois predominantly black university, I felt the daily pressures of having to dress like a fashion show every single day of the week. Name brand, high designer that, I was thankful for the campus vultures that circled my wallet, picking on my insecurity, swallowing up my credit by giving me a credit card.

I could be fly and not have to pay immediately? Wonderful!

No one taught me the importance of financial management.

Credit? What’s that?

Debt, who?

Look good = feel good.

That’s what I learned by watching lessons passed through generations of those who shopped to show, earn, and feel love. I knew if I begged for the most expensive item for my birthday or Christmas, mom or grandma would succumb to my puppy eyes and get it, because they loved me. And of course they had to show it.

Years later, in my early 30s, with loads of debt and a dismal credit score reflecting a fake love of self outfitted in name brand clothes, I finally learned my lesson and began the steep climb of digging myself out of financial hell. But those in the hood, the suburbs, or anywhere with a cash strapped situation, are still stuck, standing on bus stops complaining about $75 sneakers for toddlers that they feel pressured to dress “up.”

“No, I can’t buy you those Jordans,” I said to my 10-year-old boy, salivating at the $150 shoes. “They cost too much and you’ll have them dirty in a week.”

Who knew I’d turn into my mother.

The difference is that now, I talk to my son about money and finances. Still he complains. Still I explain. Still he understands that money doesn’t grow on trees, but from hard work and focused daily effort rooted in talents. He knows the importance of paying people back. We talk about credit in conversations I didn’t have with myself till my 20s.

If those who are not only living in the hood, but also worldwide, were as financially aware and taught their kids the same, perhaps the economy wouldn’t be as dismal as it is. Perhaps there wouldn’t be a hood. Perhaps the novel idea for all of us is to teach our babies proper financial understanding and money habits in a bid to help them, ourselves, and the generations that follow out of the habit of spending to “keep up” or feel good.

Raqiyah Mays is a proud stepmommy, writer, TV/radio personality and advocate. Her debut novel The Man Curse will be released by Simon & Schuster in 2015. Follow her on Twitter @RaqiyahMays.

How are you helping your kids understand the value of money?

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