My Mother, My Money Guru

As a girl, I watched my mother, Anna, pay bills at our kitchen table. The vinyl tablecloth, a neat stack of bills with their envelopes and stamps nearby and a pile of money orders she’d sign in her neat, flowery penmanship.

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I learned about money from my mother—how to be afraid of not having enough and how to stretch a dollar. Once I heard a commercial jingle for HFC Finance, a well-known lending company at the time, on the radio, its song punctuating the company name with the strikes of a xylophone. I said to my mom, “Why don’t you call them, mom, they’re giving away money.” She laughed. “They don’t give you money for nothing,” she said.

When my parents bought our house in Brooklyn, a big deal for my Depression-era folks, she went to work nights at a candy factory to help pay the mortgage. “I told your father,” she said, “how else are we going to pay our bills if I don’t go to work?” And my father told me later when I was an adult, “If it wasn’t for your mother, we’d have nothing. I would’ve spent it all.” My mother had a clear-eyed focus on our family finances.

My mother was an exceptional role model when it came to money and so many other things. Whether I chose to absorb those lessons was another matter. In fact, I discarded her simple “don’t spend more than you have” approach in place of a freewheeling “ain’t no stopping me from having what I want” recklessness. But eventually, when the ice water was thrown in my intent-on-denial face, my mother’s common sense rallied to my side like a long-lost friend. The foundation my mom had laid was there under all the debris. All I had to do was sweep the junk aside and allow her guidance to take over. Just like in the photo of me at age 1, where she’s propping me up, hidden, behind the scenes.

Though my mom has been gone for almost 15 years now, she left a legacy of care. Her lessons of strength and common sense had been there for me all along. I just needed to listen to my still, small voice inside me right alongside hers.

Tell me what your mom taught you about money and life.

6 thoughts on “My Mother, My Money Guru

  1. Maria Dessi says:

    Wow, Jan, I can just picture her in your kitchen “downstairs” with that pile in front of her. And I remember her once telling me with tears in her eyes how hard that work was, explaining how she put the covers on the tins, and her hands hurting afterwards.
    A role model for sure.
    In our house, my mother paid the bills as well — Guess they were a couple of apples from the tree. When she told my Dad that she was going to go to work to ‘help pay the bills’, he gave her parameters — “You can go to work, but you have to be home when they leave for school, and be back when they get home.”
    One of her first jobs was before we moved into the house on E.9th street. It was in Merril Lynch on Wall Street. I don’t know exactly what she did, but with only a two year high school degree in “sewing”, I know it was some sort of “paperwork”!

    Later on, she worked in some sort of mail room. I know she was proud of what she did. AND she was always home when we left for school, and there again when we returned. How did she do that??? And she continued to keep house, have dinner on the table at 5pm when Dad came home, AND ‘pay the bills.

    I do know she used envelopes dividing up the money into the necessary categories. And amazingly so, everything was kept filed in a shoe box. I’ll never understand why we need so much more room? (Or computer space!!).

  2. Gail Weiss says:

    Hi Janet. It’s refreshing to read a Mother’s Day tribute that, rather than being purely sentimental, focuses on learning life skills from Mom. I must confess, however, that I couldn’t identify. My mother, who was something of a tightwad, taught me very little about money (except for the need to occasionally hoard it).

  3. Paula Beck says:

    To this day my brother and I cannot figure out how my mother was able to manage her finances the way she did on my father’s salary. From a 2 bedroom apartment in Brooklyn and then purchasing a small home on Long Island, she and my dad raised three children in the 1960’s. She was a stay at home mom. If they were ever struggling financially, we never knew it, she was the master at budgeting and giving us what we needed. I think that was the answer, “what we needed”. There wasn’t any fringe, except, and only, birthdays and holidays. When the three of us were old enough to start working in high school we did. And then we each purchased what we needed with our earnings. When we wanted to purchase a car or needed insurance money, she was always there to lend us whatever we needed. Her little black book came out and we were logged in and began paying her back weekly. Her wisdom and guidance has made me a very responsible mom who handles money with respect. I miss her terribly and cherish all she gave me in life. I love my mom. Thank you Janet, Happy Mother’s Day!

  4. Lucille Schiavone says:

    my mother taught me money does not bring happiness BUT it does bring independence, which when the ice hit me in the face, I totally had learned

  5. Jo-Ann Ferris says:

    My mother was not a saver. If she had $10, she gave $5 of it to someone else! She just couldn’t enjoy things without sharing……..If she was eating something, she would enjoy it so much more if she could give someone half of it!! Her joy came from seeing others happy. She always said that she wasn’t concerned about what she would leave after she died. She gave while she was alive so she could see the happiness her gift could bring. She loved to give money to her grandchildren for travel or just having fun. When she died, my brothers and I were left a bit of money…………I still give my daughters money “from Grandma”. My mother got such pleasure from “sneaking” cash into her grandchildren’s hands that I hope, somewhere in heaven, she smiles when I do it! My daughter, Allison will be turning 40 this summer……She doesn’t know it yet, but,she’ll be celebrating with the help of some of Grandma’s money……….my mom would have wanted it that way.

  6. linda says:

    we had no money, well at least that is what my dad had us believe. no money for sports, music or any other outside activities that all the other kids were doing. my mother counted coins, pennies even, until she made enough money to bring to the local grocer to change in for bills. bills that we didn’t have to be embarrassed to hand into the coach or the teacher. to this day I am infatuated with the way coins add up, the way a little jar of coins can fill up and pay for some little luxury. thanks mom

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