5 Amazing Money Lessons My Single Mom Taught Me

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single momI wasn’t born into a single-parent household. Life took a few turns along the way, and I ended up in one.

My mother and father were model post-divorce parents—they remained in constant contact, we continued to share holidays as a family and my father faithfully paid child support until the day he died. Since he was a retired Navy senior chief, we received financial support from the military following his death.

Still, money was tight.

As the new head of our family, my mother had to make several tough financial decisions. By watching her, I learned five key money lessons that have greatly affected how I view (and spend!) money as an adult.

1. Live Within Your Means

My mother always told me that she moved to Florida with $2,500 and a prayer in her pocket, so she ran our household in a way that it wouldn’t fall apart if her prayer went unanswered. Once a week, she picked up ingredients for modest, yet filling homemade meals that we shared as a family; now that I’m older, I appreciate the practicality of staying in with chicken and rice, rather than going out to eat. When she could afford to purchase a few back-to-school threads for me and my brother, they were often pulled from the clearance racks at department stores. And since we didn’t have cable, our nights consisted of board games and novels, which we would take turns reading aloud.

After I landed my current job, I succumbed to the temptation to buck all those years of frugality. Within a year, I racked up four digits’ worth of new work clothes, vacations and other unnecessary expenditures. I’ve since transferred that balance to a low-interest account, and I hope to be credit card debt-free by 2014. Sometimes you pay for the lesson—if I had been a little smarter, I could have learned it for free just by heeding mom’s avice. (Yes, mom, I’m admitting it. You were right.)

2. Earn Your Own Money

On the day that I turned 16, my mother made a deal with me: pay for my share of her car insurance policy, and I could use the family wheels. It took four months of saving my paychecks from the local Domino’s Pizza to fulfill my end of the deal, but to this day, I can still feel that pride of laying those hundred dollar bills on her dresser. It was almost as exhilarating as cruising to school on my own for the first time. She could have paid for my insurance, but she instead taught me how to budget, save and meet a financial goal.

RELATED: Paycheck to Paycheck: How 4 Real Single Moms Make It Work

After college, I found myself jobless and living at home again. Mom gave me the occasional $20 to spend out with friends, but I was well aware of the fact that I had to find a job. Within a month, I was waiting tables to earn a few dollars each week. It wasn’t exactly a dream situation, but borrowing money was certainly something that I was happy to end.

  • SMLnewyork

    Thank you Natalie for sharing this. It’s a testament to the many single working mothers in the US and abroad and the many sacrifices that they make. Many of which we never will ever have to experience ourselves because of them. I have to say though, I also resonated with the first inclinations after moving to the city of spending. After such a life of struggle and frugality, I mistook my new found “wealth” for freedom and unlimited opportunity. This is the struggle many young people face who come from families where money was scarce and life was a constant balance on a shoestring. A double-edge sword. As with everything, I think the middle path, of learning to find ways to fully enjoy life, spend on things you like responsibly and not feel guilt for wanting them and also learning to save without that added guilt or stress of feeling struggle is where we find true liberty and fulfillment. Sometimes it takes a few falls to learn this. ;-)

  • Whitman Farms

    Natalie,
    This article brought back many memories of my own childhood and my mother’s frugal ways. I learned to pinch pennies and it is the foundation of who I am today. It taught me to appreciate everything I purchase and/or own today. Thank-you for sharing and keeping us all grounded. :-)

  • Alison

    Great write of things we all need occasional reminders of, thank you for sharin!

  • Coach Wright

    I had the distinct pleasure of knowing this “top shelf” family, as I was Nat’s high school biology teacher and taught her
    brother as a hospital home-bound student, so I got to know mom well too, seeing her quite often, as I was in their home 4 times a week teaching her brother. They were (are) a great family and everything she wrote I know to be true. Mom was (is) an elegant, beautiful woman and I first met her at our Open House the first week of school during Nat’s 10th grade year.

    Nat, I am so proud of you, though am not surprised in the very least to learn of your success. Your mom is a grand lady and seems to have instilled in you some strong, positive values. I am pleased and proud to have played a very small part in your success. Please give your mom and Donnie my very best wishes and drop a line sometime!

    My Best Personal Regards,
    Coach Wright
    MHS
    dawright@mail.clay.k12.fl.us

  • http://www.RTConsultingServices.com/ Rachal Tarquin

    Natalie, I truly admire your writing. This article reminded me of how my mom raised three kids as a single mother. Her rough road has shaped my understanding of the future and am truly grateful! Thank you for keeping us humble and appreciate the sacrifices that lead to a better tomorrow. (:

  • http://www.journeytomillions.com/ Edel Ramilo-Peria

    How admirable! My parents never urged me to earn my own money while I was studying, but I recognize the value of learning to be financially independent even at a very young age.

  • katelyn

    very funny

  • katelyn

    im awesome

  • Denise

    Natalie,

    This article reminded me of my childhood – thank you so much for writing this. I can honestly say, that as a child I never really understood on the financial hardships my mother went through to raise us three kids. Because of her sacrifice and undying love, she was able to help put us through college and become the people we are today. I only hope that I make my mom as proud as she has made me looking back on everything she has been through.

    This article was beautiful and you are a beautiful person for writing it. I know your mother must be very proud of the person you are today.

  • http://annezca.blogspot.com/ Annie

    Awesome article. Its amazing how much influence and sway our parents have on us just by observing their behaviour as we grow up. Your mom definitely taught you great lessons!

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  • John Lewis

    Superb article! Also, if you have a degree, your job options will expand and you will be able to really provide a stable life for your child and can have a bright and shiny future for you and your child. Great way for single mom help.