Money Lessons Learned from My Mother
We all like to joke that mothers are “always right,” and as much as I may hate to admit it, the sentiment rings true. My own mom seems to have the supernatural ability to read my mind as well as offer excellent advice (even when I don’t take it!), which has proven priceless in nearly all life categories—relationships, staying out after midnight, eating enough vegetables, the importance of sleep, and financial skills.
Parents in general sometimes gloss over talking about money, but luckily, mine always reinforced the importance of a strong, stable financial foundation. I grew up understanding the value of a dollar, when to indulge and the difference between “want” and “need.” I also witnessed the stress of debt, the importance of investing in education and the consequences of an empty savings account. Here are the 15 times my mom was spot-on about money, and what I learned from her as a result.
Invest in Experiences
When I married my husband, I was shocked to learn his family didn’t go on annual vacations. I’m not even talking about big trips, like Disney or Europe, but even the smaller staycations around the bend. He explained his parents didn’t really love to travel, so even though they did have vacations here and there, it was not the norm. By contrast, my mother is vocal about the importance of investing in experiences above anything else, which is something I’ve now taken to heart. Experiences create memories, expose you to new cultures and people and invite you to garner a different perspective. Whether it involves seeing a Broadway play, checking out a new coffee shop or buying a book, your money is best spent investing in moments, not things.
Always Ask for a Bargain
I can still feel the rush of embarrassment upon listening to my mom ask for a manager in a store. She never failed to request a bargain: an extra 10% off, an expired coupon, a price match with a competing store. When my sisters and I would beg her to stop (“just buy it or not, who cares!” we’d exclaim), she would explain that the worst someone can say is no. I still think about this with every purchase. It’s not like I’m trying to scam a business or company by any means, but usually, there’s some sort of deal to be had. And like she said, if they say no, you’re right back where you started anyway, paying full-price.
Prioritize your Purchases
In a given week, I can easily spend upwards of $50 on fresh fruit. Why? Because my mom did. She bought healthy vegetables and ripe berries on the regular, despite the high cost at times. Sometimes people look at me (or her, in the check-out line at Costco) with eyebrows raised, but we were never a family to have the latest tech or coolest gear. We had good food, and that translated to a value still with me today. I’ve taught my toddler son to inhale blueberries, even though they’re $4 a pint, because I’d rather buy his clothes at the resale shop to afford produce than get him expensive t-shirts and feed him animal crackers.
The choice is different for everyone, but it’s useful to know what types of purchases affect your health, happiness and contentment.
My mother, without a doubt, is the most generous person I know. Her love language is gift-giving, and even though sometimes I think, “Why did you buy this random trinket for me?” I also know that she spends generously to showcase her appreciation and affection. She forever had a dollar for the church collection plate; she never said no to a kid on the corner selling lemonade. It’s a great reminder to give back, financially, and to give generously, even when times are tight.
Name Brand Doesn’t Reflect Quality
I may purchase the Hidden Valley brand of ranch dressing, but for other items, I’ve learned the cheaper version is just as good. My mom did a nice job of vetting her options whenever spending money, so she knew where to rely on name brand (i.e, the good toilet paper) and where to save some pennies (i.e., canned beans). We shopped at consignment stores for clothes and toys, not because my parents couldn’t afford anything better, but because they knew those things with three kids would get stained, broken and quickly outdated. Determining quality, such as the cost-per-wear of a solid winter coat, matters more than who’s name is on the label or tag.
Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees
Raise your hand if you remember your parents shouting this to you as a teenager. “Money doesn’t grow on trees, Julia!” I can still hear my mom saying after I reluctantly asked for gas money the second time in two weeks despite having a part-time job. Annoying at the time? Yes. Correct? Also, yes.
Money is not a disposable resource, so respect it by saving, spending and investing shrewdly.
Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
It is human nature to compare, but I recall my mother reinforcing self-love and acceptance 24/7.
From a financial sense, that means not tying your worth as a human being to how much money you make, or the house you live in, or the car you drive. Besides, you never know the backstory of how someone’s life looks on the outside; a person with an outwardly lavish lifestyle could be struggling with tens of thousands of dollars in debt, while your humble neighbor down the street with a beat-up could be set for retirement. Keep your financial behavior healthy, and don’t worry about what other people choose to do.
Save Eating Out for Special Occasions
A couple times a year, my family went to a nice restaurant for a holiday dinner. We'd also get pizza on Friday nights now and then during the school year, or go to dinner for a birthday celebration. Aside from those moments, we really didn’t eat out much, due to the cost, which makes sense. Dining out is expensive! Additionally, we brought brown-bag lunches to school and work. Those dollars saved add up to money in the bank.
I’d much rather reserve eating out for special occasions than doing it all the time. It’s better for my health and my finances.
Check Your Paperwork
My mother is the queen of reviewing receipts immediately after making a purchase, or following up on returns stuck in the mail, or detailing a credit card balance. In other words, she pays attention to the details. As an adult, I understand why: mistakes happen. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sent something back via Amazon, only to not get my credit, or walked out of the home improvement store with a charge for two light bulbs instead of one.
Check your paperwork so you don’t get dinged for errors.
Sell Stuff You Don't Use
How many of you have stuff in your closet right now that you haven’t thought about in a year? If so, sell it—pronto. Get rid of the sweaters you don’t wear, the ill-fitting jeans, the extra Tupperware hidden beneath the kitchen sink. You can make a little money while Marie Kondo-ing your life as well.
Another tip: if you’re not using something because it is broken or needs a repair (like a button or a screw), don’t just throw it out. Fix it!
Have an Emergency Fund
Unexpected life events that cost a lot of money I didn’t have: paying to get out of a lease after a bad breakup, hail damage to my car during a huge storm, the time my laptop got stolen out of my apartment. All bad, all stressful, and all perfect examples of when to utilize an emergency fund. I survived those experiences thanks to the generosity of family members in addition to my own savings, but I quickly learned to put aside money for emergency situations every single paycheck. You never know when an expense will knock you off-track, so it’s crucial to prepare by saving money specifically set aside to protect you in such circumstances.
Don't Hide Purchases
Do not lie about money—just don’t. Obviously, this is less applicable to single people, but if you’re in a partnership, it’s a bad idea to hide purchases.
I very clearly remember going shopping with my mom as a kid, and having seen something on a tv show, made a joke about her hiding the bags from my dad. She laughed, but said, “He knows we’re shopping, it’s fine.” The message being sent? When you’re in charge of your finances, and purchases are intentional, there’s no reason to be secretive or weird about money-spending habits.
Nowadays, I forget to carry cash nearly every day. Then I think about my mother wagging her finger at me, reminding me to stop by the ATM at the beginning of each week to get cash.
The reason is two-fold: with cash in your pocket, you’re less likely to buy a random coffee or overspend at Target, and you’re more aware of the value of each dollar. It’s also convenient, especially when you find yourself in a situation where it’s cash-only. (Such as the last time I was at the airport trying to buy snacks and the credit machine went down. Sigh).
Wait Before Making an Impulse Buy
When I wanted to buy something, my mom usually suggested waiting to see if it went on sale (her go-to), and then putting it on a Christmas or birthday list. She knew that instant gratification can be the devil, and waiting for a period of time before making a purchase is a great way to save money in the long run. You may be dying for a new phone, only to wait a month and realize your current device is just fine, thank you very much.
Rich is a State of Mind
Wealth equals economy, but being rich is a state of mine. You might experience poverty, but not feel “poor,” in the same way that you could be a millionaire and feel completely depressed. My mom believes in the power of family, love, laughter and community, and those each bring a sense of richness to my life, no matter how much money I earn.