Did you ever read Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books? (Watching the goofy 70s TV show show does NOT count.) I loved all these books as a kid and read all of them repeatedly. A year or two ago, I re-read some of them when I was home for a visit and still found them fascinating, and I became newly aware of the thread of money-consciousness that runs through the entire series.
The books go into an enormous amount of detail on what life was like for a pioneer family in the late 1800s. The first book introduces us to 5 year old Laura when the family lives in the woods in Wisconsin. Later volumes trace the family's move westward to the Dakota territory. We learn how Pa makes his own bullets, builds his own cabin and has some of his hair chewed off by a mouse. We learn how Ma makes all the family's clothes, makes the broom they sweep with and cooks meals with the most basic ingredients. As a kid, it just rocked my world that white sugar was something special they only used for company, that an orange in your Christmas stocking was an unheard-of treat, and that anything bought in a store, as opposed to made at home, was a great luxury, a touch of class that made you feel a little less rough-edged, a little more civilized, like the people back East. The idea of living this way will inspire today's DIY-ers.
As for other personal finance themes, Pa's money management consists of keeping family's life savings in a box and maybe on some momentous occasion, doling out a penny or a dime for some little treat. But throughout the book, Laura's anxieties about money are a major theme. When Laura is only a teenager, she starts taking small jobs-- she is acutely conscious of the family's need to scrape together enough money to send her blind sister Mary to college, and then to buy an organ for Mary to play when she's home. Laura is not even 16 years old when she quits school to become a teacher-- although she deeply yearns to graduate from high school, she tells herself that making money comes first. Laura denies herself any little pleasures-- it's not that she doesn't yearn for the nice things that other girls have, but she believes that they are luxuries the family can't afford. But Pa, knowing he's got a budding young lady on his hands, kindly gives her ten cents to buy calling cards engraved with her name when that becomes all the rage among Laura's peers, who are starting to go a-courting.
And of course, Laura's courting goes spectacularly well: she marries the glamorous Almanzo Wilder, an ambitious young homesteader who has the best horses in town. After their very simple wedding, they suddenly seem to be living the life of pioneer yuppies: he builds her a charming little house full of snazzy touches like customized kitchen drawers. He plants trees outside. Meanwhile, he's trying to grow profitable crops on their farm, using some new-fangled machines. And all of it is paid for on credit. Laura seems to worry about this, but Almanzo is the eternal optimist, always certain that the crops he'll sell tomorrow will pay for all he's buying today. Unfortunately, they don't.
Whether or not you read the Little House books as a child, I highly recommend reading them today as an adult, or sharing them with your children. There are many things in the books that were not written for today's sensibilities and will be offensive to many readers, but I think they can inspire discussion and awareness in a way that is ultimately constructive, and a good history lesson. And the rest of the content is fascinating and inspiring-- a reminder of how easy our lives are compared to those of our ancestors, and a lesson in true frugality and sacrifice.