Do you ever wonder about the impact that your childhood reading material had on your financial choices as an adult? Nope? Just me? Oh. Okay, no problem. But stay with me anyway, because I think this could be an important topic and I definitely want to know what you think.
As someone who has only recently started to become financially conscious (we’re talking less than a year), I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about the financial choices I’ve made as an adult and trying to understand what factors might have influenced those choices. Not so I can make excuses for myself, mind you, but just so I can understand myself a little better. And since books had a huge impact on me growing up, I thought they could be an interesting possible factor to investigate.
So let’s rewind about 20 years.
I was rather shy as an adolescent and teenager, and wasn’t allowed to watch much TV (a parentally enforced rule that I super appreciate in retrospect), and as a result, I was a big reader. A Big Reader. Perhaps you can relate. And when I loved a book, I read it over and over AND OVER. I loved a lot of books over the years, but I’m going to zero in on the age 12-17 window for now, because I think that’s a pretty formative period.
So, let’s take a look at a few of the books I was most obsessed with during that time. I’m including a ridiculously brief summary for each in case you’re not familiar with them (warning: tons of spoilers throughout the rest of this post!):
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Four sisters grow up during the Civil War in Massachusetts and later try to find their way in the world as adults. Sad stuff, happy stuff, the whole gamut.
- The Baby-Sitters Club books by Ann M. Martin. A series of books about a group of friends in middle school, all girls. Aimed at readers ages 8-12 I believe, but I definitely loved them through age 14 at least.
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. An orphan girl grows up to be a governess and eventually ends up marrying her employer. Lots of fire and mystery and lonely moors throughout.
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Five sisters try to figure out who to marry, since they’re not going to inherit any money if they stay single, due to highly sexist British laws of the early 1800s.
So here is the part where I reevaluate these books based on…you guessed it: personal finance! That’s right, it’s a lit-crit kind of Thursday.
Before delving into this though, let’s just recognize that all these books have exclusively female protagonists. This post isn’t meant to be 100% about gender, but it’s worth noting that people of different genders often get different messages about money type stuff, and one pretty common narrative in literature/movies/etc. is the one where the woman ends up marrying some rich guy who saves her from ever having to work or worry about money (think Pretty Woman, in which Richard Gere and his money swoop in and save Julia Roberts from her financial dependence on prostitution gigs). So that’s where some of the questions in the table are coming from.
All right, ready to find out which of these books had the best message about personal finance for young girls?
And the winner is….The Baby-Sitters Club books!!!!!! Followed closely by Little Women. (Pride and Prejudice, I do love you, but you come in dead last here.)
Honestly, the Baby-Sitters Club books are very, very cool. Every single book is devoted to exploring a specific topic (e.g. autism, divorce, diabetes, racism, just to name a few off the top of my head), all in the context of an overarching story about a group of 13-year-old female entrepreneurs! Nice work, Ann M. Martin. You are officially awesome.
So what does all this teach me about the influence that my reading material as a teenager may have had on my financial choices as an adult? I’m honestly not sure, since my financial trajectory doesn’t really mirror that of any of these women. I do sometimes wonder if that marriage/money narrative in Pretty Woman and Pride and Prejudice might have encouraged me to be less proactive about establishing a career early on than I could have been. It’s certainly a possibility, but I can’t say definitively one way or the other. And it turns out that I had lots of other good role models, like Jo March, and Kristy and Claudia and friends, sending positive messages about money and career.
But either way, boy, was that a fun post to write!
By the way, Amanda at Dream Beyond Debt has a recent awesome post about money and career and gender—I definitely recommend checking it out.
Do you agree with my assessment of these books? Want to add some more to the list?
Leave a comment below – I’d love to hear your take!