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Passing Money Wisdom To Your Children

A few weeks ago, there was a New York Times article, The Money Letter Every Parent Should Write, suggesting parents should write a Money Letter to their children, as a way of passing on wisdom—in a lasting fashion—to the next generation.

They said a good letter, “should include at least one story about a large financial challenge and another one about a big money triumph. Then, include a list of crucial habits and the tangible things they have helped the family achieve.”

I love this idea and I want to read everyone’s letters, so I asked the YNAB team to write (and share) money letters to their own children. First up, is Jannelle Worrell, a new customer service rep from the Bay Area. Jannelle is now my favorite because she sent this without me having to nag even once, (which is far more than I can say for the rest of the team. Hint. Hint.).

Jannelle writes to her adorable daughters Willow and Winnie, and I’m already in love with this blog series (get it together, YNAB team—don’t let me down!):

To Willow and Winnie,

The day your father and I got married, we said our vows and we took them seriously. “For richer or for poorer” we repeated, after which your father chimed in “mostly poorer.”

It was a joke that got a good laugh from the crowd, but it turned out to be more prophetic than funny, because it stuck with us for the next eight years.

I can’t tell you that we are in perfect financial condition or that we just bought a house in cash or have already saved for your weddings or college tuition. But I can tell you that we are not in debt, that we have money saved for known expenses (currently working on the unknowns), and that we can see the financial path that we are on and it’s brighter and straighter than it ever has been.

We’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, and I try not to think about where we could be if we would’ve made the right decisions when we first started our life together. But if I take a step back and realize that we are only eight years into this thing (and you girls can’t even read yet, so who know’s where we will be when you do read this?), I think we are doing pretty well.

Consider this a foundation and I reserve the right to add and subtract as the years go on. But for now, there’s this:


Give sacrificially. Give when it costs you. Give with joy. Make more money, so you can give more money. Take someone out to dinner, or go buy food so you can have them to your house for dinner. Give with your home and give with your time. We’ve been on the receiving end of this kind of generosity and it floored us, time and again. We are now practicing being on the giving end, and it’s even better. It’s pretty dang good to receive, yes, but it truly is better to give. Generosity never yields a poor return.

Build Community Around You

We learned this one the hard way while living in Ireland. We had never felt so alone and distant than we did when we moved away from the only people we knew on that island. So we started over, and built another community. We didn’t realize this when it was happening, but looking back we realized that in doing so, we met so many different kinds of people, with different skills and different talents. So we shared ours, and in return our community shared theirs. Whether it be someone fixing our car, or helping us fit out a coffee shop, or even as simple as helping us move house, a community sharing skills like that means money saved.

Quantity Does Not Equal Quality

(This applies to your time, your things, your friends, etc. But I guess we’re talking money here, so I digress…) If you learn to make good use of anything, and really use it up fully, that immediately makes it quality. I’m not talking “the value of a dollar” cause really, the dollar isn’t worth much anymore, I’m saying, think of those dollars that you earn as a trade of your time, your energy, your LIFE. And hopefully that will help gain some perspective on how you should spend them. Then, even if you ever have huge quantities of dollars, you will never have lost sight of the potential quality held within them.

Don’t Be Afraid Of Broke

You probably already know this, but Your father and I (separately, when I was a kid, and your dad, as an adult) spent some years homeless. We got our food from a dumpsters or from fishing in the river, or even once from an ice cream truck broken down on the side of the road! Always from the unlikeliest of sources, but we learned to be resourceful. It’s not something we are ashamed of, in fact, quite the contrary! Although I thank God that we can give you a life where that doesn’t have to be your reality, I hope and pray that we can teach you the value of small things, to find resources where they aren’t likely (be scrappy!), and to ALWAYS see what you do have, and not what you don’t.

Never Lend Anything You Aren’t Willing To Give Away

We’ve learned this one over and over again, and really it’s only just starting to take effect. We’ve lent cars, houses (house sitting), personal items, things that cost a lot of money, things that cost little money, and money itself! And a good bit of the time, we either never see it again, or it’s returned in a poorer state. Let this sink in now, if you lend it, you give it. Learning this will save you money, frustrations, and friendships.

Learn When To Say Yes And When To Say No

For your dad, this is a hard one (well, the no part is anyway. As you likely know, he doesn’t have a problem saying yes!). But he’s taught me a lot of things in our life so far. Like, buying something quality once, is way better (and cheaper in the long run!) than buying the same cheaper version a few times over, plus the performance in the meantime will be superior. However, even though it will save you money in the long run, it will still hurt your pocket in the moment. So decide if it’s a need or if it’s a want. Is it a want and you don’t have money set aside for it? Say “No” until you do. Is it a need (or want) and you DO have money set aside for it? Say “Yes!” (emphatically!).

Find A Budgeting Method That Works For You

You will grow up hearing about YNAB, over and over, and over again. YNAB will be like your annoying little brother, always there, always bossing you around, and mom always praising every little thing he does. But as you get older, you’ll realize that he’s your best friend. Finding YNAB was truly the beginning of our financial stability. We’ve learned a lot of basics, but we never really learned how to put them to good use. We tried budget folders and spreadsheets and envelopes and calendars. Nothing ever clicked or stuck until YNAB. You will probably have a good working knowledge of this app by now, so I don’t need to tell you how it works, or how the resources that come along with it are invaluable, but I will say that you need a budget. And YNAB is it.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I can’t wait to see where you are by the time you are reading this. I can’t wait to see where we are by the time you are reading this. We just love you girls so much, and we want the absolute best start for you when it comes to your money. I mean, we all need money to survive. It’s a necessity. But it doesn’t have to be a necessary evil. I hope that you can learn to make money not the most important thing. That you will learn that money can work for you, instead of you working for money. That you will have total control over it. That you will make wise decisions. And I think you will.

With all our love,

Your father and I


Jannelle Worrell is currently setting up home in the Bay Area with her studly husband Clay, two lovely daughters, Willow and Winnie, and their hairless cat, Lilith. When she isn’t chatting with the awesome YNABers of the world, you can find her explaining detailed insect anatomy to her two tiny humans or vacuuming the house for the third time that day.

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Passing Money Wisdom To Your Children