Like every kid, I learned a lot about money just by being part of my family. Some of those lessons were taught to me directly, and some things I learned by watching, indirectly. Since Mother’s Day is coming up, I thought it’d be fun to reflect on what I learned about money from my mom, whether that was simply by watching her or by listening to what she told me.
Get the value deal
When I was a kid, my mom often brought me along when she was shopping for groceries or clothes (we’re a family of six and someone was always outgrowing something!). I’d often hear her say a phrase in Chinese, “媽媽買便宜”, which literally translates to “Mom buys cheap” but really means something more like, “Mom always gets a deal.” I learned fairly young to look for unit prices at the grocery store, and to always check the produce to make sure we’d be bringing home something nice and tasty. All of this was to make sure Mom was getting the best value. My mom would also bring me along to the farmer’s market, where we’d get to taste the deliciously fresh fruit before buying a ton of it. I think shopping at the open air market reminded her of her own childhood, when she was the kid in the family who was responsible for doing all the grocery shopping, and where she learned from an early age how to make money stretch to feed a family of nine when things were tight.
Use what you have
My mom is an expert at reusing things. (Actually, both my parents are great at this!) Rather than buy new items, she’d look around the house to see if we already had something that could serve the same purpose. When I was younger, it never occurred to me that we might buy new toys, since I mostly played with the ones she’d saved from when my brothers were little. My own kids now play with some of the vintage toys she saved from back then! Some of my favorite reuse hacks also come from watching how my mom gardens. Recently, when she wanted to start a new container garden, she asked me for the plastic nursery cans left over from new plants that I had purchased instead of buying brand new terracotta pots. And every time I go to her kitchen or garden, she always has some kind of grocery store produce that she’s re-growing, whether it’s an avocado seed or the stem of a head of lettuce.
Spend on what’s important to you
But before you get the wrong idea that my mom is punishingly frugal, I should tell you about how she spends on what’s important to her. My mom loves to give gifts, and I would often watch her spend a long time picking out just the right gift for a loved one for special occasions big and small. In fact, our family had lots of conversations about gift giving, and my mom’s approach reminds us that this is a significant way we can express our love for each other. Even now that I’m an adult, my mom still teaches me to spend on what’s important to me. When my husband and I bought a home and were considering making changes to the kitchen to make it work better for us, she was a big supporter. I hadn’t been sure about spending that much money so soon after making a big down payment, but she and my dad helped us see that if we had the money available and thought we’d spend it on the kitchen eventually anyway, we’d get a lot more use out of the big expense if we did it sooner rather than later. Ten years later, I can attest to the truth of that!
Earn money and put it in the bank
After spending 18 years as a full-time stay-at-home parent, my mom went back to school to earn her real estate license when I started kindergarten. She worked from home for the most part, and she’d occasionally bring me along to visit open houses, so I got to see up close what it was like for her to work and earn money. I sensed the empowerment she experienced as she contributed to our family’s earnings, and I remember her clearly telling me how important it is as a woman to have your own bank account. In fact, she was the one who brought me to the bank when I was in elementary school to open my first savings account and learn how to use a paper check register. She probably could never have guessed that I’d grow up and be part of building a much cooler way to track money and accounts. (Hey, Goodbudget!)
Talk about money
One of the side benefits of having a work-from-home real estate agent for a mom was that I got to hear her talk about the financial aspect of her work. Since many of her clients were first-time home buyers, she’d often give them advice about how to work with their budgets and decide on a price they’d be willing to pay for a house. Simply as a matter of course, they’d talk numbers — really big numbers. During dinner conversations or walks in the neighborhood, she’d rattle off the prices of various homes and what factored into those numbers. I certainly learned specifics about real estate in these conversations, but the more important lesson was to talk about money. Even big numbers are just numbers, and it’s okay and important to think and talk about them.
Thanks for all the lessons, Mom! I’ve got my work cut out for me as I try to pass your wisdom onto my own kids.
And I’m sure I’m not the only one who learned a ton about money from their mom or from another influential and wise person. Whether it was from listening to their advice or just watching how they lived their life, what did you learn about money from them?