Do Kids Inherit Frugality?

February 5, 2010

Our son has been making me proud lately with his unexpected frugal remarks.  The first one came as he browsed the toy aisle in a CVS pharmacy while we waited for a prescription to be filled.  As he played with the trucks he said:

“we won’t get these… they’re too expensive”

Then the next night when I went to take out the garbage I left the door open a crack.  He jumped up from across the room and yelled:

“Dad, close the door you’re letting out all the warm air”

Just last night he was running around the house turning off the lights.  He told me:

“we don’t leave the lights on, they might burn out”

Understanding Scarcity?

Of course, I’m sure he’s heard me say similar things before but I think it’s cool he’s making the connection between the frugal action and the reason behind it.  He knows the reason that we don’t buy randomly buy toys in the store is because they’re too expensive (or a rip-off as I sometimes say). 

He doesn’t really know what expensive means but he knows it’s a good reason NOT to do something.  He doesn’t understand that it costs money to create warm air in the winter or electricity for lights; but he does know that you don’t want to waste the air or the light bulbs.

I can tell he doesn’t get the overall concept of conserving your resources because of little things; like tonight he used 8 sheets of toilet paper to dry up a little spot on the floor.  He also likes to flush the toilet multiple times just so he can watch the water go down.  So far he’s only picked up on specific behaviors, not the idea as a whole.

Frugality Genes

So all this seems behavioral, stuff he’s learned from watching and listening to my wife and I. We learned it from our parents, and they learned those behaviors from theirs. What I wonder is whether any of these tendencies are inherited rather than learned.  Are there genetic characteristics that lend themselves to conserving what you have and not wasting your resources?

I doubt there is a “frugality gene” but what about the cavemen that were hunting and gathering ages ago?  Were there some families that were a little more lavish with their food and belongings or were they all “frugal” with their resources?  We often think of survival of the fittest as the strongest and fastest but maybe it was also the most frugal?  Did the family that could make the woolly mammoth meat last an extra few weeks survive while the others perished?

Maybe nature was too harsh at that point in our history and every person knew to conserve as much as possible or die.  However, as society evolved I can’t help but think frugal tendencies emerged as commerce started to develop.

The Cheap Inherit the Earth

I know there’s a Biblical passage something along the lines of the meek shall inherit the Earth.  Well maybe for the time being it will be the cheap who inherit the Earth. When the foolish spenders fall into foreclosure and bankruptcy and the stock market plunges, those with frugal genes can tap into their long accumulated rainy day funds and buy stock and property at a big discount.  Maybe as they’re bargain shopping they should be thanking their ancestors for passing on frugal genes?

What do you think?


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Ben Edwards, the founder of Money Smart Life, saved up enough to buy a Nintendo back when he was 12 years old. When he used the money to buy shares of Wal-Mart stock instead, he knew he wasn't like the other kids... His addiction to personal finance has paid off for his family and now he's helping you to afford the life that you want. Check him out on the web at Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook.

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13 Responses to Do Kids Inherit Frugality?

  • Oscar At Real Life Money Management

    I don’t know if they inherit it but they sure learn from what they see. What you say to your kids means little compared to what they see you do. They see you being frugal and they will tend to be more frugal.
    I do agree that some people tend to have personalities that lend themselves to being more frugal than others. But frugality is as much about “want to or desire” and “habit” as it is anything else. So if we instill the desire and habits in our children they will tend to be smarter with their spending no matter their personalities.

  • Jerry

    AHHH! I love it! My daughter has made me proud like this a few times. Yes, I think they can inherit the frugal gene. We also take our daughter to orphanages (we don’t live in the US) and she knows first hand how other children can live. It’s pretty sobering and we remind her how blessed and lucky she is to have the warm clothes and food, etc. We remind her when she’s throwing a temper tantrum about which of her many dresses she should where which usually leads her to calm down. Showing by example, I think, is your insurance that your kids will follow in your frugal foot steps.

  • Stephen @ ACE Financial Services

    Yeah, I think so. Most of my friends are being raised by their parents. Their parents are very much keen on money and they seems to have a trace of their parent’s frugality…

  • Dallas Dollars

    I believe thats true to an extent. If the child understands that what parents provide is something that the parent worked for then the child will appreciate. the other side to the coin is if a child wants everything and the parents didn’t give them everything, a bad spending behavior can form one the child grows up and make money for themselves.

  • Forest

    Ha ha,

    You should be proud of your little boy…. As for a gene, I agree it doesn’t exist :).

    However some people are more likely to have wild emotions and things like that due to genes (or so they say, I am no scientist) and this kind of behavior is often associated with people who over spend and shop like crazy…. So maybe there is some genetic play in there!



  • ParisGirl111

    I believe you do inherit it. I don’t have kids, but my sister is constantly telling her children, “is someone in your room? Then, why are the lights on? We are not made of money…wasting electricty.” haha These are the same things my dad used to say to us when we were little. And I think of this every time I go to turn the lights off in a room when I have left them on by accident.

  • Lillie

    I think I agree that frugality is a learned behavior. I recall growing up with grandparents who insisted that all measures be taken to conserve energy: lights off, television off and in bed by 7:30. As a teenager, I promised myself never to have those restrictions in my household. I have gotten a lot better now that I am the major bill payer.

    It’s definitely important to teach children the importance of being frugal in many instances; however, there are always exceptions.

  • Superior Funding Solutions

    Interesting article and something I will personally keep in mind for my youngsters. I definitely think frugality is a learned behavior because I’m all over the place and it’s a product of the adult behaviors I was exposed to. My dad used to impulse buy on occasion (which I do too) and my grandmother, who lived through the depression era, washes and reuses tinfoil. I find myself to be a nice blend of frugality and frivolity.

  • LeanLifeCoach

    If it is genetic I might need to order up a blood test for one of my kids!

    Switched at birth? or….

  • Grandpa, AKA Dad

    The Cheap Shalll Inherit the earth? Well, that makes it sound like we should not invest in our planet if is expensive or difficult. There are many things the earth needs us to do that are costly and difficult that are worth it, in fact necessary to preserve the life of our planet. Of course many of these expenses exist because we have NOT been careful or frugal with the resources the earth brings us. .Another perspective on earth and expense: the less we spend of her natural resources, the longer she will live and the healthier she will be.

  • Daddy Paul

    Great read!
    I agree. Some of my kids spend like my ex wife others watch it as I do. They were raised the same. Must be genetic.


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