How Peanut Butter and Jelly Taught Me about Financial Responsibility

When I was about six years old, my parents took all of us kids on our very first ski vacation. A vacation from which I took home several valuable lessons: the importance of a realistic budget, the discipline required to sticking to it and the necessity of accepting the consequences when said budget is not stuck to. In addition, I also learned that I hated skiing.

We all remember, I think, what it’s like to be six years old and bundled against the cold in the world’s puffiest ski suit, unable to bend your knees, put down your arms or see peripherally. Now imagine someone strapping long, super slippery skis to your feet while you are fully trussed up in such fluff. The result? When on flat ground, you struggle to move like an awkward penguin until you finally get to a downward slope, at which point you begin to accelerate uncontrollably until the inevitable moment that you crash-land out of desperation just to stop yourself. Then you flop around like a turtle as you struggle against your ski suit to right yourself, only to being the process anew. But I digress from the financial lessons of our trip…

About two days into our ski vacation, my parents realized that they’d grossly miscalculated the expense of a family of five dining out each night for dinner and dining mountainside – the home of the million dollar cheeseburger – each day for lunch. They’d all but exhausted their budget for the trip and we still had five more days to go. So that night, they put their heads together and executed a plan. In just one trip to the grocery store they solved our problem.

The Peanut Butter Principal of Finance: In order to make ends meet, sometimes you must make the best of what you have.
The Peanut Butter Principal of Finance: In order to make ends meet, sometimes you must make the best of what you have.

For the next five lunches and four dinners we feasted on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. PB&J after PB&J until, on the very last day of our trip, while Dad was packing up the car, he discovered a half-frozen pizza that we’d forgotten we stuck in the trunk on the night before we left for our trip. Gross, I know. But at that point, I think we would have eaten just about anything that wasn’t a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We brought the pizza inside and propped it on top of the bathroom door under the heat lamp to warm it. Imagine three little sets of eyes all looking up at that teetering pizza box waiting patiently to finally eat something warm!

For all of you parents out there – and I know there are some of you – thinking, “Well, I’d NEVER let my children go without like that!” I say to you, that is nonsense! I am so proud of my parents for making the choice they did. It wasn’t easy. My Mom was terrified that we were going to be scarred by the experience. But that was not the case at all. My memories of the trip (barring hating skiing, of course) were and still are very fond. It never fails to make me smile when I think about that pizza box.

On the other hand, if my parents chose to spend money they didn’t have, I believe THAT would’ve genuinely caused injury. If not directly, than indirectly by the lesson that it is OK to spend without regard to how you will pay your debts back later.

So that’s how I learned the Peanut Butter Principle: in order to make ends meet, sometimes you must be creative and make the best of what you have. I also learned that yes, you CAN warm a pizza with a bathroom heat lamp, though you must possess the patience of a saint to do so.

How did your parents teach you about managing your finances? And, more importantly, what do you want to pass on to YOUR kids?

P.S. I eventually did learn to love to ski. But that’s a whole other story