3/27/2013 4:45 PM ET|
Money lessons from my single mom
After my father died, I watched my mother make some tough financial decisions, and I learned.
I wasn’t born into a single-parent household. Life took a few turns along the way, and I ended up in one.
My mother and father were model post-divorce parents -- they remained in constant contact, we continued to share holidays as a family and my father faithfully paid child support until the day he died. Since he was a retired Navy senior chief, we received financial support from the military following his death.
Still, money was tight.
As the new head of our family, my mother had to make several tough financial decisions. By watching her, I learned five key money lessons that have greatly affected how I view (and spend!) money as an adult.
1. Live within your means
My mother always told me that she moved to Florida with $2,500 and a prayer in her pocket, so she ran our household in a way that it wouldn’t fall apart if her prayer went unanswered. Once a week, she picked up ingredients for modest, yet filling homemade meals that we shared as a family. Now that I’m older, I appreciate the practicality of staying in with chicken and rice, rather than going out to eat.
When she could afford to purchase a few back-to-school threads for me and my brother, they were often pulled from the clearance racks at department stores. And since we didn’t have cable, our nights consisted of board games and novels, which we would take turns reading aloud.
After I landed my current job, I succumbed to the temptation to buck all those years of frugality. Within a year, I racked up four digits’ worth of new work clothes, vacations and other unnecessary expenditures. I’ve since transferred that balance to a low-interest account, and I hope to be credit card debt-free by 2014. Sometimes you pay for the lesson -- if I had been a little smarter, I could have learned it for free just by heeding Mom’s avice. (Yes, Mom, I’m admitting it. You were right.)
2. Earn your own money
On the day that I turned 16, my mother made a deal with me: pay for my share of her car insurance policy, and I could use the family wheels. It took four months of saving my paychecks from the local Domino’s Pizza to fulfill my end of the deal, but to this day, I can still feel that pride of laying those hundred dollar bills on her dresser. It was almost as exhilarating as cruising to school on my own for the first time. She could have paid for my insurance, but she instead taught me how to budget, save and meet a financial goal.
After college, I found myself jobless and living at home again. Mom gave me the occasional $20 to spend out with friends, but I was well aware of the fact that I had to find a job. Within a month, I was waiting tables to earn a few dollars each week. It wasn’t exactly a dream situation, but borrowing money was certainly something that I was happy to end.
3. Make it work
I’ll always remember the day my mother sat my brother and me down to slowly explain, in a very serious tone, that she only had $50 to keep our family afloat until payday. When you’re 9 years old, $50 seems like a small fortune. My mother, of course, knew just how quickly that money could vanish into the gas tank and grocery store cart, especially while raising two kids.
There are weeks when I find myself in the same financial predicament. During those times, I remind myself that, if my mother could take care of a family of three for five days on half a Benjamin, I can certainly bring my lunch to work, skip happy hour and find free ways to occupy my time.
4. Stop complaining and just handle it
“You want new clothes? Get a job, and buy them yourself” was a phrase that my mother kept ready in a holster. It had several variations: “You want to join a sorority? I’m not paying your dues.” “You’re going on spring break with your friends? Hope you have money to cover the gas.” My mother is by no means stingy. It’s actually the opposite -- she’s one of the most generous people I know. She always made sure that her children had what they needed, but she made it clear that special extras were on us.
Throughout high school and college, I worked at least one job at all times; during one very stressful semester, I took on three paid positions on campus. Even now that I have a full-time job, I still seek out freelance projects to smooth over tight months. Working the occasional late night or weekend beats complaining any day.
5. Be grateful if you can afford to pay your bills
My brother was diagnosed with a serious illness when he was in high school. Health insurance picked up some of the bills, but the long list of prescriptions and doctor’s visits took a toll on our family’s finances. On more than one occasion, I overheard my mother negotiate new payment schedules with banks and agencies so that she wouldn’t fall behind.
Today, I’m grateful every single time that I’m able to make a payment on time. Sometimes the number left over after my bills are paid is small, but I’m proud of the fact that I’ve never been late on my rent, student loan or credit card payments. And if that has to change due to an unforeseen circumstance, I hope that I’ll handle it as gracefully and practically as my mother did.
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As a single mom of three daughters, this article reminds me of the financial struggles I faced. I said no more than I said yes. They had to watch their two parent friends get just about any latest and greatest thing and clothes, while they had to wait or do without. However, when the economy tanked, many of their friends parents lost their homes, filed for bankruptcy and/or divorced. My daughters still have their "home" to come home to.
They have all graduated college and have had some job struggles, but have never been without work. They are all now in jobs that they went to school for and are doing well. They thank me for teaching them how to manage money, save money and be frugal. It has carried them through some tough times. I cannot tell you how proud I am that they have become responsible adults and contributing members of society.
I will do just about anything for them, except give them money or let them move back home. It is now my turn to live my life. I am working at catching up so that I can retire and help them with their children (if and when that happens).
Parents have to remember to be teachers and mentors, not friends and financial instituions.
I think her mother was a very brave and intelligent woman. I also praise both the mother and father for working so well together after the divorce. Many men today can learn a lot for him. Remain active in the family. Together for holidays and family events. Never late with child support.
Although they were divorced he never forgot the commitment he made to her on their wedding day. He is the forgotten hero in this story. God Bless both mom and dad.
Lesson my mother taught me....
Youre rich because of what you HAVE not because of what you SPEND.
Taught me to save since I was a little girl and now that she's passed, her wisdom still shapes my decisions as an adult.
I am a single Mother not by Choice. My husband died of Cancer and I am raising 2 children. After leaving a great job to take care of him the struggle began. Luckily there was life insurance to pay off the house and car so I don't have bills except your normal lights, water and gas etc. The job I have barely pays for the health insurance. You won't find me complaining, we make it work and my kids are better people because of it. Just a side not there is not a government check coming in each month either so the three of us have managed to live on $13,000.00 a year. We have managed to have healthy meals on the table and we even get out at least once a month to do something fun. My daughter works at her dance studio to pay for her lessons which she received a full scholarship for college next year. It takes a little work and a lot of tears but we did it. The good news is that just a few days ago I finally got a job offer That offered me 5 times more than what I am bringing in now. Soon I will be back to making what I did 2 years ago. I don't see my story as a sad one if you put your mind to it you can make things work without living off of government aid.
For the woman that say the article was BS they where lucky is all I can say I know how it is do without and lots of fathers never pay a dime. Only in last few years has it been that Fathers had to pay child support many a dead beat dad out there. Probably woman don't think it is also there job to help raise their children but when they are forced to they will respond and take care of the kids. There is just as many woman that are dead beats too.
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