In our formative years, we learn so much from our parents, extended family and the culture we’re raised in. Of the many things we learn about, one of the biggest things is money.
In the wake of the recent pandemic, much has been said about the need for greater financial literacy and the idea of creating generational wealth. This piece will examine the reverse – generational poverty (poverty for at least 2 generations). In The Bahamas, this would be referred to as a ‘generational curse’ and we’d say that ‘the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.’ The truth is that poverty, just like genetics, is passed down from parents (and culture) to their children; but unlike genetics, poverty is learned.
And before we continue, let’s get this out of the way – Life happens, it really does. Unexpected emergencies may create financial hardship. Expenses from owning homes, having young children and caring for sick parents will arise. Geographic, geopolitical and systemic factors do exist that create income, class and gender inequalities. These things are seemingly inevitable. This piece will, however, speak to the things that persons can largely control for themselves; things like their habits, their thinking, their learning and unlearning. With that said, the following are just a few things to consider about generational poverty:
YOU LEARNED TO BE POOR FROM YOUR FAMILY
As said above, the truth about the generational poverty is that the behavior that causes poverty was taught to you by your family. Many persons watched their parents live paycheck to paycheck and grew up subconsciously believing that’s how life is supposed to work. If your parents were financially illiterate, chances are, you grew up with the same lack of knowledge and poor financial habits to match.
You also learned the wrong things about money. You learned to spend money quickly on depreciable purchases; whether you had the money in hand or not. You were taught to splurge whenever you got a ‘windfall’, because having money was a rarity. You learned to dress in pricey clothes and to ‘keep up with the Jones’ even if your finances were in shambles. You weren’t taught about building a valuable network. You weren’t taught about saving and budgeting. Maybe you were taught that investing was only for a certain class of people, so you hoarded your pennies, played it safe and never invested. You learned to stay on an unfulfilling job for the sake of security and tenure. You learned to complain about that job; but not acquire the skills to get a better job. Simply, you were conditioned to be poor.
Then there’s the issue of the “black tax” where even if you succeeded to avoid poverty, you have the added expense of constantly providing financial support to family and friends. These persons rely on you and others financially; even when they themselves are capable of doing better. And because you felt guilty for your success, became a people-pleaser and didn’t learn to say no; you are now financially stressed from the obligatory giving and lending. There is so much to unpack here; and we will, in another post.
YOU LEARNED TO BE A SLAVE TO DEBT
The Bible says that ‘The rich rules over the poor, And the borrower is servant to the lender.’ You were not taught that the government, banks and companies own you through your debt; neither were you taught how to leverage debt to accumulate assets. You were not taught that ignorance and poverty are both actually very expensive. You learned to take out massive loans for things that only depreciated over time. You learned to wait to be rescued by discounts and handouts.
What likely happened also is that you probably learned these things the hard way as an adult after they happened. And blame here isn’t just for parents but also schools. These things are not taught in school; but should be. As an adult, you probably realized that for all the time spent in school (and for all the debt you have from paying for school); there were so many necessary real-life skills that still had to be learned outside the classroom. You likely didn’t learn to properly manage your money until well into your working life. And you probably learned after many failures.
YOU LEARNED TO BE POOR AS A CHRISTIAN
If you grew up in church (like me), you constantly heard Bible quotes like “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God” and “For the love of money is the root of all evil.”
The issue here isn’t the Bible, but rather how these verses were used to convince people that there was nobility in poverty; that being poor was the only acceptable way for Christians to be. Further, you probably did not see or hear about many wealthy Christians, and the wealthy Christians you did know about were talked about poorly. On the flipside, you probably saw struggling family and friends who were ‘good and virtuous’ and loved going to church and singing hymns. This, in many ways, also influenced many persons’ relationship with money as people did not see how their faith could co-exist with financial abundance.
But here’s the thing: saving your money, avoiding debt and investing are all also taught in the Bible. In fact, there are numerous lessons about how to manage your finances throughout the Bible. The real conflict between your faith and your finances occurs when you prioritize money above all else make it your god and master – which is the true context of the Bible quotes above. But faith and finance can co-exist as long you seek first the kingdom of God.
THE GREAT UNLEARNING – YOU ARE NOW RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
For better or worse, what you learned in your formative years was largely controlled by others. You now, however, have the power and the freedom to unlearn much of the bad lessons and habits that you may have developed. It is now your responsibility to educate yourself, not just on finances, but on everything under your control in your own life.
You must ask what mindset about money and life generally did you inherit from your family and close friends, and how much of that should you unlearn. Think about it and understand that it is now your responsibility to do and be better. You may have been taught to be poor, but if you stay there, the fault is yours.