Why being a Navy brat inspired me to write a book about allowances

by | Kids, Money and Responsibility, Money attitudes and habits

Being a Navy brat in Norfolk, VA with my father, George E. Lehto, mother Lillie, brother George Lee.Being a Navy brat born in post-WWII and growing up as Baby Boomer influenced my money habits because of the financial attitudes of my parents who were members of the Greatest Generation. Generations are defined as a group of people growing up in similar historical, social and economic times who share common experiences. 

My father left college in 1933 because of the Great Depression. My parents married in 1939 and he re-enlisted and served until 1957. 

My older brother was born one year after Pearl Harbor. We were cash-only, traveling lightly, never accumulating many possessions. Our family moved 10 times among six military locations before I was 10 years old. 

When most people think of the word “brat,” they think of spoiled children. However, for over 200 years, people who’ve been raised in Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine, and Coast Guard families have been called “military brats.” But the term “brat” is not offensive to military kids raised in military families. Instead, it is an expression that unites us as proud members of a unique military community of modern nomads.

When I researched generational money habits, I learned more about why I manage money the way I do. Know the important generational money attitudes in your family.

So, how did my formative years lead this mother to write a book for parents to teach their kids to manage money as number. The book is based on our family’s experience creating The No-Cash Allowance.

My research started with discovering how different generations managed money. Because I emphasize that kids track their money as a number, I was looking to see that aspect of money management over time. I compared hand-written records of my Finnish immigrant grandparents to the digital records of today. Both methods, a century apart, record money as a number.

Being a Navy brat

My parents (Greatest Generation 1901-1927) grew up after WWI, experienced the Great Depression, and started a family during WWII. They were thrifty, careful with finances, saving as much as they could, and fixing things before buying new.

My father retired after a 22-year career to complete his college degree. We managed as a family of four on my father’s military pension and GI Bill for two years until he graduated to start his second career as a teacher. 

I can still picture my father at the kitchen table writing numbers on paper as he paid the bills. After my marriage he gave me a document where he recorded all the expenses of our wedding, just a fraction of what my daughters’ weddings cost. (I made their wedding dresses to save money, having learned to sew from my mother, who sewed my wedding dress.)

My husband is of the (Silent Generation 1928-1945) that was known to be cash-reliant, as credit was not common early in the 20th century, and bank failures ruined many. This group does not like going into debt, preferring to pay for items in full with cash they already have. His parents were self-employed and kept all the money in a jar in the cupboard, but maintained written ledgers for their business. 

My generation (Baby Boomers 1946-1964) is said to be more financially secure than previous ones. We are the first to use “retirement” to mean enjoying life after the children have left. We remember the energy crisis and runaway inflation of the 1970s. 

After I graduated from high school, I got my first checkbook to manage my student loan money for college. When we married in 1968, we had one checkbook and one credit card for a gas station. We had moderate paying jobs, but a scary pile of bills. 

That’s when we started keeping our written ledger to keep track of our “must pay” expenses. We lived paycheck to paycheck. Fortunately, we couldn’t reach for a credit card because applications required documented proof of six months of employment, so we learned to manage with what we had.

Later, as a mom, I wanted my kids to own their money, make their own decisions, and learn that money wasn’t all for fun. By then I managed our finances with checkbook and credit cards, so to be a reliable in-home banker, I wrote their allowances as a number.

My kids got allowances as preschoolers, a weekly amount based on age. They earned money from doing certain chores and other incentives. Every transaction—money in and money out—was written in their accounts.

I added kid-size obligations. Buying their own school supplies was a start. By the time they were in high school they managed hundreds of dollars each semester for many of their day-to-day expenses.

Where did all this money come from? It was money we would spend on them anyway. We simply transferred control to them. I was not managing their money. They were completely in charge of keeping track of their funds.

Being a Navy brat with an allowance account

As a Navy brat this would have been the best allowance ever. I’d be totally in charge of my money and could take my account anywhere. My parents wouldn’t  “control” my money except as an in-home banker. This system can work for all kids, and especially those 1.6 million military brats out there. Visit Month of the Military Child to learn more.

My daughters are (Gen X 1965-1980) comfortable using new technologies to manage their finances as numbers. They decided to use the allowance method for their kids that they grew up with.

My grandchildren, (Gen Z !997-2009) and (Gen Alpha 2010-2025), all had no-cash allowance written accounts before they started school. Three are teenage Gen Zers, who easily adapted to using digital money transfer services, and are transitioning to having accounts in financial institutions. 

My youngest is Gen Alpha growing up in a fully digital world. When it comes to spending, his is likely to be the first cashless generation, with only 10% of 6-18 year-olds spending with cash today. 

When I send my grandson a card with old-fashioned cash in it, he hands the bill to his mom and adds the number to his allowance account. “Easier to manage,“ he tells me.

Wise Advice. When I was a teenager, my father gave this Navy brat the advice that has guided me all these years. He said, “Always pay your bills on time. Always. If you don’t do that, you’ll never be in charge of your money.”

Money, in a military family was a precious commodity, one to be managed carefully. My parents financial challenges shaped their thrift habits filtered throughout my formative years.

I’ve disciplined myself to follow the money as numbers, first writing on paper, now with computers. I created a successful allowance system for my kids and wrote a book to share it with other parents. We managed to save for a comfortable retirement because we’ve always been careful with our spending decisions. 

Throughout generations, money has been managed as a number. With today’s increasing use of digital technology, it’s important for our kids to learn that skill while they are growing up at home. That’s what The No-Cash Allowance is all about.

When your kids track all their money as a number, they become better money managers.

Read more: Important differences in family generations and money

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