In 1998, the year my parents got divorced, my mom made just over $2,500. The poverty line for a family of 4 that year was $15,329. So we’re talking food stamps, hand-me-downs, and me trying to hide the fact from my friends that I was getting free school lunches poor.
We never went hungry or anything like that, however those transition years had to be difficult for my mom trying to provide for us on a single income.
But my mom was an absolute Type A go-getter and did not stop until she dotted every i and crossed every t (literally, because she was self-employed typing documents for people around town since most folks didn’t have home computers or typewriters in the early 90s).
She taught my siblings and I how to make and manage money better than any formal education ever could.
She went on to become a real estate executive and is where I get a lot of my inspiration from. “Awww what a great son! I should send him some food and money.” -my mom reading this, hopefully.
Without the lessons my mom taught me about money and work, I can just imagine the terrible fate that might have befallen me. I might be a degenerate gambler, a drug addict, or even worse, a social media influencer.
Since this weekend is Mother’s day, I thought I’d share a few of those lessons:
“Show up on time.”
Managing money is important, but earning money so that you have any to manage has to come first.
Showing up on time to work or appointments signals to any employer or potential business partner that you value their time and you have your shit together enough to get out the door dressed and prepared for the day on time.
“They just make these things so difficult!”
That’s a sentence I’ll never forget. I heard my mom jokingly utter it to a cashier one day at the grocery store as she tried to tear out the different colored food stamps from a book they sent us each month. This was before they sent you the preloaded credit cards that hide the fact you’re on government assistance.
And in a crowded grocery store, with people watching you from behind in line, the last thing you wanted to do was fuss with a brightly colored book full of money coupons. It was embarrassing.
But she held her head high and was never too proud to give her kids a safe and healthy home. I will always try to have a sense of humor about misfortune and share successes because you never know when life will throw you the next curveball.
“There’s food at home.“
Whenever we asked for a pizza or cheeseburgers as we drove past the fast food section of town, my mom wouldn’t say no, she’d simply state there was food at home. As a 13 year old, I just could not relate. As a 30 year old, I completely understand. Not only has this mentality helped me save money from packing lunches and only eating out once in awhile, the food we cook at home is far healthier.
“Turn off the lights.”
If we weren’t in a room and my mom saw we left a light on in it, she wouldn’t turn it off. She’d tell us to pause our video game and go turn it off ourselves. A light being on for an extra 30 minutes isn’t that big of a deal… once. But if this turned into a habit, that extra 30 minutes turns into an extra 30 hours and is multiplied across all the different rooms in the house all year. Making a habit out of turning off lights is serious money you can save on your energy bill and it’s better for the environment too.
“Just this once.”
There were a few moments that stick in my memory from when I was growing up where my mom did something so selfless and kind that even as a child, I knew it was the definition of generosity and I wanted to be like her.
I remember learning about this skate camp in Pennsylvania called Woodward where kids could go camp for a week in log cabins, with acres and acres of indoor and outdoor skateparks. Big halfpipes, concrete bowls, stairs and handrails, you name it. Growing up skateboarding, it sounded like the promised land.
Unfortunately, it was also over a thousand dollars for the week, not to mention traveling there and back (I was only 10 so I wasn’t able to drive or fly). But my mom found out that they had these random special event weekends where you could go from Friday to Sunday for a fraction of the cost, but you couldn’t camp.
She booked us a hotel and drove me out there for the weekend. It was still really expensive but she made it work because she knew how much it meant to me. “Just this once.”
It was everything I thought it would be and more.
The lesson stuck. When it comes to spending on loved ones, money can actually buy happiness.
“Did you finish the chores?”
We didn’t get a free allowance growing up. But there were often opportunities around the house to earn some extra money to spend on candy or going to the movies. I used to clean the house each weekend and we had a short list of tasks with $1 or $2 written next to them.
The more tasks I did, the more money I got, but only if I didn’t cut corners. I very quickly realized it was in my best interest to do all the tasks well the first time. This link between hard work and a payoff was etched into my young mind and stays with me today. “What a great employee! I should send him a bonus or a Peloton.” -the CEO of my company reading this, hopefully.
Anyways, I could go on and on about how grateful I am that my mom raised us the way she did, or how appreciative I am that she always looked out for us even when she was working late as a single parent, or how the countless lessons she gave us growing up were worth more than anything in a bank account, but I won’t.
I’ll just say that I love you, Mom. Thanks for everything you taught us.
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