I 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.
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.