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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Money

Tales of the Irresponsible Younger Sibling

This article is from our friends at LearnVest, a leading site for women and their money.

I was 10 years old and in Walgreen’s at the Arsenal Mall in Watertown, MA. My mom and her big envelope of coupons were scanning the aisles looking for the 30-oz. dish soap, which she would not only get for $0.75 off, but was also on sale.

As she muttered Italian swear words at the regular-priced 20-oz. dish soap, I approached.

“Mommy, I lost the $1 you gave me.”

“What? How?”

“I don’t know. I went to Dream Machine to play Skeeball and now I can’t find it.”

“Oh Giulia, you never careful with money.”

And so it was, the “bad with money” label was bestowed upon me.

I went on to live up to my title by immediately spending the cash I made babysitting in junior high on cassette tapes; I spent the paychecks from my first “real” job at a pastry shop on my Contempo Casuals addiction; the money my parents gave me for college supplies was cleverly put toward cheaper used textbooks so I could use the leftover funds on bottles of peach schnapps and Diet 7UP.

Is This Early ‘Branding’ the Reason for My Irresponsibility?

I’m not blaming my mom’s words during the great Walgreen’s tragedy of 1991 for my apparent persona as the “irresponsible one,” but somehow, as the wild baby of the family, it was almost expected that I would be less responsible than my big sister, Elena.

Elena, who was fours years older, also worked at Royal Pastry Shop (she got me the gig, as any older, more responsible sister would) but used her income to open a savings account. Unlike my first savings account, which I think at its peak, had a whopping $130 in it, hers actually grew.

My Sister Was Destined for Financial Responsibility From the Start

As the first-born, she was immediately in a leadership role. Not only did she have that natural older sibling caretaker thing going on, but as the first child of immigrant parents, she was also supposed to help my broken English-speaking parents understand new technology like the Tandy Computer, the huge VHS video camera and the answering machine. My dad would buy something (after we told him we needed it), then hand the instructions to Elena, saying, “Here, you’re the smart one.”

So there you have it, “the irresponsible one” and “the smart one.” And while my role was fun for a while, it eventually started to suck.

After college, Elena went on to grad school and became a therapist, a job she successfully still maintains. Meanwhile, after college I moved to LA, where I mistook my credit card for a paycheck. I worked —but after covering my rent and bills, where was I going to get money for my trainer, colon hydrotherapist, and weed dealer? Luckily they all took plastic (except the weed dealer—I’d put my gas and cell phone bill on my credit card so I could have actual cash for drugs).

I’m an actress/writer/comedian and figured once I booked that really big part I would pay off all my debt in one swoop. A swoop that came in the form of me borrowing money from my parents because my APR was rising and I was crumbling. They agreed to help me out so long as I cut up my card. So I did. And then, mere months later, I applied for a new card. (What? They said cut up that card.)

Chalk It Up to Birth Order?

Studies have shown that older sibs tend to have more prestigious careers and earn more than their younger peers, whereas younger siblings are likelier to go into the arts. There may even be evidence that younger siblings are less responsible and worse with money.

So it goes: My stable and dependable sister would clean up my toys, treat me to pedicures and loan me money in a pinch. She is married, and an amazing, reliable and organized mom. Meanwhile, sloppy Giulia is the artsy nontraditional one, with the family always worried about her career stability.

But screw science! While we may be assigned roles in life early on, it’s up to us whether or not we stay in them. I don’t want to stay in mine. I don’t want to rely on anyone for money. I don’t want to panic every month when it’s time to pay my bills. I don’t want to have to mentally debate whether I can afford to get my eyebrows threaded this month (and I don’t want to torture anyone into seeing my unmanicured face).

So about a year and a half ago, I took charge.

I called my credit card company and set up a payment program to get my debt cleared. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you simply ask, “What can I do to fix this?”

In getting on their program, I had my credit shut off and so I’ve been paying for everything with cash. If I don’t have the cash, I can’t make the purchase. I stopped asking for loans, and even when my family offered to help, I said no. Not that there is anything wrong with taking a loan, but I wanted to feel what it was like to resolve a money issue on my own. While I don’t yet have the savings account I want, I have begun to put a minimum amount away each week. It may seem insignificant to most, but to me it’s exciting.

Meanwhile, my sister has learned to be a little more fun with her money. She treats herself more and doesn’t freak out like she used to about coupons.

If she needs dish soap and they’re out of the on-sale 30-oz. bottle, she’ll even get the 20-oz. one without cursing.

More from LearnVest:

  • 10 Things You're Embarrassed to Ask About Banking
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  • Photo of girl shopping courtesy of Shutterstock.