ON EARLY MONEY LESSONS: My parents are Iranian immigrants who came to the U.S. in the late ‘70s, during the Iranian revolution. Money was never a taboo topic in our household when I was growing up; my parents were very open about how much things cost, what we could afford, or when there were layoffs at my father’s workplace. Even when I wasn’t mature enough to understand, conversations around money were never hidden.
The values in our household were loud and clear, and sometimes those values were not shared by others in the community. My parents were very big on us all being together, and having us home every night. I wasn’t allowed to sleep at friends’ houses like our neighbors did. My parents were also very social, and we had family over all the time. Weekends were usually spent going over to another family’s house nearby and having an all-day backyard event and staying until 1:00 a.m. We didn’t go on vacations or spend extravagantly on other things, because my parents knew how they wanted to spend their time. It was hard, though, to see my friends doing things that my parents didn’t agree with, like going away to camp overnight or going to every birthday party. I had to be selective, socially, which wasn’t always fun for me. But now, looking back, that’s a real lesson for anybody: If you really want to steer your money in a certain direction, it’s important to create core values and be strict with them. Sometimes that means saying no and making hard tradeoffs.
My mother worked on and off, but my dad was always the primary breadwinner. Although we always talked about money in our family, I don’t think they had the best communication about it themselves. Eventually, it started to bother my mom. I remember coming home from college one day and she was in tears. She said, “I want to know what’s going on with our finances and your dad isn’t telling me. I don’t know where our money is or even how to write the mortgage check.” She had this financial vulnerability, and I saw how it impacted her. I didn’t want to be in that situation, ever. I still see this even with modern couples—the person who makes less may feel insecure about spending. I had a female colleague, a journalist, and her husband made significantly more money than she did. He had no problem coming home with a new car, but she’d be shaking in her boots buying a purse on discount, and would feel guilty afterwards.