There are many reasons to celebrate the mothers in our lives. Not only can they be our earliest caretakers and providers, they’re usually our earliest teachers, too. So this month, we wanted to share some financial lessons we’re thankful our mothers taught us.
“Austerity is the best means for a better tomorrow…but money isn’t everything!”
My mother played a formative role in developing my views of personal finance. My family immigrated to the United States from Vietnam without a penny to our name. Growing up, I saw my parents live paycheck to paycheck. That’s a pretty humbling reality and one that left a lasting impression with me. My mom stretched every dollar and made every penny count. She cut coupons, only purchased things when they were on sale, and lived knowing that any day, you could lose everything. Nothing was wasted, and if my sister or I wanted anything, we would have to work for it. Being the youngest, I had to deal with hand-me-downs – not the coolest position to be in if your older sibling is the opposite sex! I learned that austerity was the best means for a better tomorrow. Without the frugality, she would not have been able to buy a home and to put me and my sister through college. As I grew older, I spoke with my mom about the hardships they endured early on and it only made me appreciate everything more. The downside is that I felt I no longer had the right to complain to my parents about anything after what they’ve been through!
As I reflect back on my childhood, the one thing that stands out to me is that I never felt poor. Sure, I wanted many of the toys and gadgets that my other friends had, but amazingly, I was a pretty happy camper. So while I learned how important it was that every cent adds up and to save for a rainy day, the ultimate epiphany was that money was crazy important, but not nearly as important as the love and sacrifice that my parents provided. Thanks mom!
VP, Credit Risk Analytics
“Understand the difference between want and need.”
My mom was a kid during The Depression, which means I grew up in house where we reused tea bags, saved the wrapping paper from our gifts, and trimmed the fuzzy bits off otherwise “perfectly good” cheese. I definitely learned early on how to make the most out of what you have. But the most useful financial lesson my mom taught me was how to understand the difference between want and need.
Whenever we were at the mall or at the grocery store (always armed with coupons of course), if I pointed out something I wanted to buy, she would ask me “do you really need that?” Nine times out of ten, the answer was “no” and we’d just saved money. If the answer was “yes”, we knew we weren’t going to feel guilty about the purchase later on.
It’s a simple question, but a really effective exercise. I now ask myself this question regularly, on purchases large and small. I’ve even been known to ask it to my friends when I’m out shopping with them. Taking that moment to stop, step back and mindfully evaluate if something fulfills an actual need has helped me save a lot of money – and a lot of buyer’s remorse!
Director, Marketing Creative
“Evaluate the true cost before you buy.”
My parents grew up in a very small farm town in Ohio, with essentially nothing to their names (they met in 6th grade!). When my parents got married at age 19, my mom worked several jobs to help pay their bills. She sacrificed her own dreams to build a family and make ends meet while my father got his degree at Ohio State. After he graduated, his first job was as a team leader in a Kraft Foods factory.
My mom went on to get her undergrad degree from the University of Illinois, Masters from McGill, PhD and Post-Doc from Northwestern University and then became a successful author, tenured professor and advisor/board member. My dad grew from his entry level role at Kraft to lead, as COO and CEO, Fortune 500 companies and several private equity backed businesses. Both were hugely successful in their respective careers. I learned from their journey the power of hard-work, short-term sacrifice for longer term benefit and mostly that your dreams can come true if you are willing to work. All through their lives, particularly at the end of their careers when they were financially successful, they always instilled in my sister and me that money does not equate to happiness.
From an early age, my mom taught me about budgeting by giving me a small allowance and having me buy all of my own goods with what I earned. She also made me work from as early as I can remember: being a caddy (in my town, caddying was the only job you could get under 15), starting a lawn-care business with my close friend Matt Kreutz, working as a bag-boy, and finally landing the prime gig in my town – scooping ice cream at our local candy store.
I still mentally use a model she instilled in me. Whenever I wanted to buy something, she would ask me to write down the price and how many hours I would work to save up enough money to buy whatever I wanted. Many things fell off the list after the hours added up! Visualizing the sacrifice that was required to pay for something still changes how I value “things” – thanks mom!
Co-Founder & CEO
“Even good planners can fall on hard times.”
My mother, Sherry, worked side-by-side with my father to start and build a small forestry management business in rural Washington State. Among other things, she was responsible for the books, cash flow management, payroll, etc. – in short, she dealt with the money. They ran the business out of an “office” in the back of our house for many years, and as you would expect, as curious kids, my sister and I would wander back there and saw the struggles of a small business first hand.
Over the years, the business had its highs and lows and through it all, my mom was the steady hand on the financial controls. She modeled some great financial habits that have stuck with me: don’t overextend yourself, put some aside for an emergency, and invest your money in assets (like land and education). But for anyone who has been in a family that has a natural resource-based business (forestry, fishing, farming, etc.), you know that living with uncertainty about the future is part of your daily reality and that sometimes things out of your control can create significant financial stress. The list of potential potholes was long including things such as unexpected market price fluctuations, slow paying clients, weather-related shut downs, and the major equipment failures.
Everything was good, until it wasn’t, and no one could see around every corner even when they practiced good financial habits like the ones my mom imposed on our business and family. I think that early experience is one of the key reasons I feel so connected to the Freedom business, which helps consumers who similarly run into unexpected challenges. My mom passed away several years ago, but I know that she’d be proud to know that I’m working in a business that helps people navigate through unexpected hardships and enables them get back on their feet financially. I appreciate her for teaching me some important financial habits and more importantly for instilling in me the humility to know that even the good planners can fall onto hard times and need help on occasion.
Co-President & CRO
“Leverage the sale price.”
There are a lot of amazing things that come to mind when I think of my mom. Mentor, homemaker, leader, but also a financial wizard. While I certainly learned how to balance a checkbook from my mom (yes we had to do that once), one major takeaway I have from my mom is learning about the value of a dollar.
My Sundays usually would be us kids going to the grocery store to lend a hand in picking out the week’s meals. But beneath this seeming mundane errand was a lesson so powerful that it still sticks with me today: how to gauge value based off of a dollar amount and usage.
My mom, with many hungry mouths to feed, would leverage a sale price because she knew what we used regularly. We all saw how to use the low price once to stock up, rather than buying that same item week after week and then having to pay full price as soon as we used it up.
Head of Corporate Communications and Public Relations
“Put 10% of every paycheck into savings.”
My mother shared with me a lesson she heard shortly after my parents were married in 1950 from the wife of my father’s first cousin.
The financial advice was to put 10% of every paycheck into savings. Common wisdom today, perhaps, but it was new to my mom, who already had her master’s degree. She took the advice to heart and made building savings a habit.
Managing Editor, Bills.com