What My Mom Taught Me About Personal Finance
A while back, I wrote a post on my site, detailing some of the accounts of my impoverished childhood with my mom and two younger brothers. We were quite poor growing up, compared to many in the U.S. My parents divorced when we were young (both admit responsibility for the derailing of their marriage), and us kids stayed with mom, which was the norm back then. Our income at the time was LOW. Dad paid faithfully his $300 a month child support. That was our income, as mom had been a stay-at-home mom for years, and our parents had no savings to speak of, only debt, debt and more debt. Personal finance was the last thing my mom was thinking about in those days, but the lessons she’d learn, and teach us kids, about personal finance, were indeed profound.
As you can imagine, supporting a family of four wasn’t too feasible on $300 a month, especially when our house payment alone was $250. Those first months and years were quite hellish financially, to be blunt, and they are forever ingrained in my memory. There were days when food was beyond scarce, and days when we were threatened by the power company that they would shut off our heat/electricity.
Whereas in my first 40 years, I viewed those years as a reason to always make sure I got the “stuff” I needed and wanted, my mindset has now changed, and I’m working (with my husband who had a similar background) to make sure our family has financial security instead. I never thought those growing up years could ever be counted as a lesson in personal finance, but now I’m seeing things differently.
Mom didn’t manage our family finances perfectly, by any stretch of the imagination (a fact she’ll freely admit), but she was quite persistent in her quest to keep us afloat financially, and I’m quite proud and grateful that she pulled us through it all. My dad, of course, did what he could too, always paying his child support and seeing us kids regularly, but mom bore the brunt of the financial responsibility in those days as she had custody of us.
Here are some of the personal finance lessons I learned as I watched my mom raise our family and work to balance her meager means.
When it Comes to Personal Finance, Do What’s Right, Even if It’s Not Fun
One of my mom’s biggest regrets during those beyond lean years is that she continued to spend money on her two-pack-a-day smoking habit. Now that she’s been a non-smoker for over 20 years, she can see what a waste the addiction was and how her denial of that waste and addiction hurt us financially (as in counting cigarettes as a necessity along with food and utilities). She can’t go back now and change that, but if she could, she would’ve done the right thing and given up smoking (her words, not mine). Doing what’s right isn’t always the most fun option, or the easiest option, but it is the right option.
There’s Always a Way Out
Or, ‘where there’s a will there’s a way,’ as the old saying goes. My mom had been a stay-at-home wife and mother for 14 years until the divorce. In fact, she didn’t even have her driver’s license at the time of the divorce. She knew that if we were going to survive as a family, she had to find a way to bring more income in, and she did it. She learned firsthand that there’s always a way out of a bad financial situation if you are willing to look for it.
Don’t Give Up, Even At Your Lowest Point
Those first couple of years following the separation and divorce were super tough on all of us emotionally, my parents included. The last thing mom wanted to do in her depressed state was to move forward, but she did. Mom learned how to drive, got her driver’s license, and taught herself to type so she would have more marketable job hunting skills.
Many days she had to force herself to keep moving on, but she did it anyway. It wasn’t easy, by any stretch of the imagination, but she kept plugging forward. When you are working to change your personal finance situation, success will only come if you choose to not give up.
No Matter How Bad You’ve Got it, Somebody’s Got it Worse
It helped us in some way to remember that somebody always had it worse than us. Not that we were happy that others had it worse, but seeing commercials on TV of children and people who are lucky to eat once a week gives you some serious “stop your whining” medicine.
Seeing that others had it worse than us helped mom to remember and remind us that, in spite of our struggles, we had a lot to be grateful for. When you’re working to change your financial situation, it’s important to concentrate on what you have accomplished, not what you haven’t. Yes, you may have LOTS more debt to pay off, but you’re always making that move toward debt freedom. Many other people are not. Give yourself a pat on the back for that.
Just Do What Needs to Be Done
After two years on welfare, all the while teaching herself valuable skills like driving and office skills, mom was ready to head out into the work force. This was another hugely scary step for her after being at home for 15 years with little to no focus on herself whatsoever. Mom was terrified to jump into this world of independence after so long at home, but she did it because she knew it needed to be done for the survival of her family. Was it easy? Of course not. But sometimes you need to just do what needs to be done and take that first step. If you do, the second step will be much easier.
How does this apply to personal finance? It means that you take that big first step of making a budget and tracking your spending. Will you screw up? Probably, but so what? Then you just get back on track and keep moving.