What Working at a Bank Taught Me About Money

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working at a bank

I spent 15 of my working years working at a bank on some level. I started out as a teller, then moved up to teller supervisor, then over to personal banker. Then I began work as a personal loan officer, and spent my last five years in banking as a sales assistant to a mortgage branch manager. You would think that with all of that financial training I would’ve learned earlier to stay out of debt, but denial can be a comfy place to live. 😉

Today I’m using the wisdom I gleaned from my years in banking, and looking back, I see three crucial lessons I learned from working at a bank. It was only after I’d started educating myself through the world of personal finance blogs that I truly learned about money. But that wasn’t because working at a bank wasn’t offering me education, it was because I was, at that time, largely unteachable, even with my observant nature. Here are three things that, looking back, I can see that working at a bank taught me about money and money management.

#1 – Appearances mean nothing


Because I worked in a variety of positions at the bank, I got to serve every type of customer, from the seriously impoverished and uneducated, to the uber-wealthy. Serving such a wide variety of customers in different aspects, and being by nature an observant person, I always watched and listened to what people said, wondering what drove their different financial mindsets and behaviors. For many years, I assumed that wealth accumulation was simply luck of the draw. After all, that’s what I’d been taught growing up. Either you were “lucky” to have wealth, or you were “unlucky” to not have wealth.

When we lived in our house in the fancy suburb, Rick would often wonder as we went on our long walks through the neighborhood what these people must be earning if they could afford a big house and every other toy known to mankind. The boats, ATVs, sportscars and Mercedes, and other high-end items left him assuming that high-income earners simply had to live in those homes. However, working at a bank taught me differently.

I saw many families with long asset sheets, filled with luxuries and toys of every kind, who had a liabilities sheet that was even longer. These families didn’t always have an exorbitant amount of income. In fact, many times, they made less than $100,000 a year. However, their appearance said otherwise, and no one knew what was behind the curtain of their financial lives.

On the other hand, I saw many families with moderate income amounts and little to no toys.  They lived in modest houses and drove older cars, but their balance sheets looked like something out of a Forbes Most Wealthy Americans list. They were the quintessential Millionaire Next Door. They were rich, but no one knew it. Lesson learned? When it comes to money and stuff, appearances mean nothing.

#2 – Income Doesn’t Equal Wealth


It doesn’t really matter what you make; it matters what you keep. Nowhere did I learn this fact more than in personal banking. We had the old lady who lived through the Depression with her milkman husband who’d socked away hundreds of thousands of dollars, and we had the $200,000 and more income earner with absolutely nothing to show for it. It’s all about value-based spending, my friends, and not wasting your money on things that hold no real value for you.

#3 – Money is Just Money


At the end of the day, money is just money. Although a good balance sheet can bring peace and some level of happiness, all of the money in the world won’t bring true meaning to your life. True meaning and happiness in life can never be found in the accumulation of money or of the things it buys. It can only be found by discovering who you are and what you want out of life.

Even if you’ll never have a job working at a bank, by being observant, there are money lessons to be learned all around you. Increase your money knowledge by observing those you know in real life, or by following the large list of awesome personal financial bloggers learning their own way through the ins and outs of money management.


Who in your life has taught you the most important thing you know about money? What job have you held that’s been the most valuable to you, and why? When have you experienced looks being deceiving when it comes to money?



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Laurie is a wife, mother to 4, and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom, and to a simpler, more peaceful life.

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  • What an interesting job! I think I’d enjoy that–although I’d have to keep my frugal opinions to myself :). I really like this: “It doesn’t really matter what you make; it matters what you keep.” That’s absolutely how I feel. If you have nothing to show for it at the end of every month, it’s like you never had it to begin with.

  • Mike says:

    #2 is so true. Just because you have a skill or profession that earns you a great salary doesnt mean you know how to manage that money effectively. All of us should take some time each month to educate ourselves on budgeting, investing, saving, getting better values, living within our means, etc.

  • Robin says:

    I used to work in mortgages for seven years until this past June when I quit. I saw a ton of credit reports and bank statements and wow! It’s amazing what some people spend their money on. I remember in some instances thinking, “this is a foreclosure waiting to happen!” But guess what, you can’t say that out loud… It was hard to keep my mouth shut sometimes!

    • Laurie says:

      Ugh, we had a guy one time who just moved into a new house, and we had to deny him for a large furniture loan. He was PO’d. “But, I have this new house!! I HAVE to have new furniture for it. What am I going to do now?”

  • Kathy says:

    Dr. Thomas Stanley discusses this in “The Millionaire Next Door”. He interviewed a truly wealthy Texan who called it the Big Hat No Cattle syndrome. Some people have all the appearance of wealth and none of the foundation that should exist to support the lifestyle they live. When I worked in a doctor’s office, it was interesting to see different types of people. You’d be surprised about who didn’t pay their bills and who did.

    • Laurie says:

      The Big Hat No Cattle Syndrome is one of my favorite sayings, and SO true. And I’m not surprised about the doc bills. People often have the appearance of having lots, but in reality, all they have is a lot of stuff.

  • I would imagine in a bank you’d see all types and all financial situations! So true that appearances don’t necessarily tell you the whole picture!

  • Gia says:

    Glad to see a post like this, but you only learned 3 lessons?? I have worked in the credit union industry for several years working as a teller, call center specialist, member service rep, financial counselor and marketing/pr. I have learned probably more than I ever wanted to know about people and how they handle money. Haha.

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, I learned much more than that, but didn’t want to overload John’s blog with all of the nitty gritty details. If we’re ever all at FINCON together, I’ll give ya’ll the REAL scoop. 🙂

  • Laurie says:

    Ugh, I’ve seen that and can totally identify, Kay. I’ve learned now to admire those who have only a little stuff and big savings accounts.

  • Interesting post Laurie! I currently work as a credit analyist at an Ag lending institution and you are so right, appearances mean nothing! We too have a lot of customers with long asset lists and a long liabilities list to go right along with it. Just think, those are the Joneses we are trying to keep up with – no thank you!

  • Kim says:

    I used to think superficial things equaled wealth but likely, it just means in debt. It must be fascinating to be behind the scenes and know who is wealthy and who is just flashy.

  • The Phroogal Jason says:

    I’ve worked in the financial services industry for close to 10 years. I too had the opportunity to work with all types of people from rich to poor. It’s never about how much someone makes. I used to be surprised when someone drove up in a beater car and had $500,000 sitting in various certificates. Oh and that wasn’t all the money they had.

    • Laurie says:

      Exactly, Jason! Happened all of the time where I worked too. People would turn up their noses at that beater car guy or gal, not having a clue that beater car guy was ten times wealthier than they were.

  • Wonderful lessons. #3 is especially important I think. Money is simply a means to an end. It’s only a tool to be used to accomplish some goal. When we make money the end-all, we’ll be sure to end up with an unfulfilled life.

  • Great post, Laurie! I see everything under the sun too. And it’s always fascinating. We put a lot of meaning behind our appearances and most don’t hold up under scrutiny. I’ve worked with millionaires who had a ton a money but were very unhappy because they lacked purpose or didn’t make value-based decisions with how they used their money. And those others would consider almost impoverished who were so happy because they were so clear on what they wanted their money to do for them. Great lessons we all need to take to heart.

  • Sarah says:

    My mom and brother both work at a bank and I’m always asking them random questions about money and the types of people that have it, haha! Both my mom and brother (mom is personal banker and brother is teller) said that it surprises them how LITTLE so many people. My brother said almost everyone he sees has less than $100 in the bank, and for my mom she normally sees people with thousands of dollars, not hundreds of thousands of dollars (though she sees that too of course). It’s scary that so few people put away money!! Great post – thanks!!

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, I’m not surprised. Back in my day, there was a higher number of people who saved, I think, but now, it seems that nearly everyone spends everything that comes through their hands, sadly.

  • Syed says:

    Great insights. I especially agree with income not being the whole story. In my field of optometry there are people that are living happy comfortable lives and people that are super stressed and struggling to get by, yet incomes are in about the same range. It’s all about how you spend and invest. Thanks for the great post.

  • Jayleen says:

    You are so right about appearances. My brother is a farmer (and dresses like one too). When he showed up to a car dealership to pay cash for a new car, no one wanted to help him. How enlightening it would be to work in a bank and really ‘know’!

  • I’m sure you saw all kinds of crazy things in banking! And of course, the people who look like they have money don’t always at all.

    • Laurie says:

      Exactly, Holly! My old boss too had a rule: never pay over $250 for a car. We always teased him about those beaters, but he retired early and wealthy. 🙂

  • Jessica says:

    #2 is accurate. I see people all the time who have a hefty salary yet fall victim to lifestyle inflation and have little left at the end of the month. Never judge a book by its cover.

  • Reminds me when I was younger and my family walked into a Lexus dealership. My dad is a casual guy who makes a decent amount of money, but because of the way he dresses (cargo shorts, sneakers, tshirt, baseball cap) and carries himself you wouldn’t assume he could afford a nice car. They basically ignored us so we went next door and bought a BMW instead. It’s so silly for people to judge you based on what they THINK you make.

  • Agree with #1. I see a lot of these people, going out nightly to eat at expensive restaurants and buying the latest gadgets. But if you ask them if they having any savings, they’ll tell you that there’s nothing left of their income!

  • jack mabry says:

    The problem with possessions, is that in the end they will possess you. The happiest life is the one that has few possessions. When I was worked in programming we used the KISS method, “Keep it simple, stupid”. It makes life so much easier.

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