Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Money Lessons from my Mother

I don't think it's too unreasonable to suggest that most children first learn about money at home, from their parents. Certainly that was the case for me. I knew money was something that parents had, and sometimes gave me (yay allowance!), and exchanged for things.

When my parents divorced, I learned how the division of assets (money, and things that were valuable in a monetary sense) played into the whole process. I learned about a lot of the financial decisions my parents had made before the divorce, and I learned that a lot of those decisions did not reflect my mom's values.

Around that time I also learned that spending money feels like happiness. My mom dealt with her pain about the divorce process through a few things and one of them was spending money. Buying crystal balls and collectible swarozski figurines. New clothes and computers and televisions. Doubling the Christmas budget (because spending for other people is as satisfying as spending for yourself). The same holds true for me, a little bit. When I'm sad, buying things gives me a pick me up. I like things. I like spending money. In the moment, it can even feel like buying happiness.

But you can't buy that.

When I headed to university and money wasn't there, I learned that creating plans for how I would reach my goals was a pretty good idea. Talking with my mom, I discovered that I really had no idea how much my mom struggled with money and how much time she spent stressing about cashflow.

My mother is not exactly great with her money. I had no clue about that, though. There was always food in the fridge, and all of our needs (and many of our wants) were taken care of. There were no harrassing collections calls, and my mom handled her own taxes. I'd always assumed that my mom was a money whiz. Why? Because she always had money, and we were in no way deprived. My mom appeared to be in control of her money. What I didn't know about then were the piles of credit card debt, the credit score that couldn't carry a car loan, the retirement funds that weren't quite so funded, the nights spent worrying about if the money was going to be there when she needed it.

My mom was not a financial beacon of hope.

As an adult she's taught me more about money and money management than almost anyone I can think of. She's sat me down and gone through her budget line by line, so I can see what's going on, what expenses I might one day need to expect. We've discussed savings and strategies and smart purchases. My mom is a coupon queen and a bargain shopper extraordinaire. We've talked about smart money decisions, and why to make them.

The other week, my dog got hurt very badly and we had to make the decision to put her down. That was a million and one discussions with the vet, decisions to make that would have a huge impact, for Cheyenne's well-being and quality of life, for our own emotional states, and financially. Neither of us had budgeted for emergency surgery or a thousand tests. (Although I kind of had, that's the whole purpose of my emergency fund.)

Sitting there, at one point while my mom was looking at quotes for various treatment options and tests and trying to decide where do we go from here, I could see she was so overwhelmed. Between being how sudden everything was, being emotionally devastated and looking at big numbers for things that probably wouldn't even fix things, we were both in shock a little bit. After a few minutes I looked at my mom.

"Mom, let's put the quotes away. The money shouldn't be part of our decision. It's just money. It comes and goes, sometimes you have it and sometimes you don't. It doesn't matter right now."

We put the quotes away and decided with our hearts. That's the only way you can make a decision like that, or at least for me it was.

Money doesn't buy happiness. It takes a lot of work to manage money well, and sometimes a lot of sacrifice of our desires. Money can buy things, and plane tickets and trips - but it doesn't give you love, or experiences, or emotion.

When it coems to a lot of things, I'm a scrimper and a saver. But when it comes to life, death and taking care of the people I love? In those moemnts, money is just a tool. It's numbers in a bank account, and even when I don't have it I won't let it stand in the way of the things that are important. Money isn't one of them.

That is what my mother taught me about money.

How about you? What did your family teach you about money?

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