Most moms have had one—that aha money incident that made us say to ourselves: “Yep, I’m definitely a parent now.”
Depending on how old your kids are, you may have a whole collection of stories, but one thing’s for sure: Kids change our money lives forever.
I remember standing in FAO Schwarz when my three-year old spotted an electric sit-in Ferrari that cost about what a small home would cost. He said, “I need that car.”
“I can’t afford that, and you never need a toy,” I shot back. Of course, none of this meant anything to him. “Don’t pay real money, Mommy. Use your magic piece of plastic!” he said, exasperated. It dawned on me that this was a “money mother moment” that needed to be dealt with. In fact, it was the spark that led me to write my first book, “Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees.”
Other mothers have different tales—and different stages at which they realized they were definitely financial adults now, charged with teaching their little ones good money lessons. Here, seven of them share stories of the money moments that made them proud, terrified and—in one case that will make you cry—heartbroken.
Pam, 41, mother of newborn James
“The minute I held my son for the first time, I got it. Suddenly it was all clear to me—the way my parents scrimped and saved and did without, so that I could have a better life than they had when they were young. That was all I could think of wanting for my boy. I instantly forgave my parents for being so frugal and sometimes even seeming so mean. I knew in that second that my only financial concern was to give James the best life that I could.”
Susan, 66, mother of Margaret and Elizabeth (now grown with families of their own)
“My life-changing money mom moment? It happened when I was about four months pregnant. My husband and I hadn’t been married very long, and we both worked in a business owned by his family. I went for a routine doctor visit and learned that I was carrying twins. The first thing that came to mind was, This is some crazy joke. With the second breath, all I could think of was needing two of everything!
Every expense from here on out was going to be doubled—food, diapers, clothes … college. There was no way I was going to be able to go back to work, so we were going to be losing one paycheck. My husband’s job was secure, but we weren’t making a lot of money. When I told my husband the news—and then my concerns—he smiled, held both of my hands and said, ‘Twice the blessing.’”
Jenny, 31, mother of Jack, 11, and Jason, 8
“Last year my son Jason ran in from the yard crying. I thought he probably scuffed another knee or whatever. Then he started to rant: ‘Jack keeps calling me Bugs Bunny, and now all his stupid friends are doing it.’ The name-calling was because of his crooked teeth, and he was really upset.
I kissed him on the forehead, and the next week we were at the orthodontist’s office finding out about braces. At the appointment the doctor told me how much it was going to cost; my next stop that day was at one of those quick oil-change places—I knew I was going to be driving my old, beat-up car for another few years.”
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Leslie, 43, mother of Georgia, who was 8 at the time
“We were doing our best trying to teach our daughter how to budget her allowance, including putting some money away for charity. Georgia was doing pretty well but just wasn’t getting the concept of charity. One day, during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, she came down to dinner holding a plastic bag and announced that she wanted all her money to help the people of New Orleans.
She went on to round up her third grade friends to start a lemonade stand to raise money for Red Cross. I got to listen to her explain the importance of giving your money to help other people to her friends and customers. I was so moved, and so grateful for having such a smart and caring daughter, that I went inside and made my own donation.”
Marcie, 28, mother of Markie, 5
“My son had just turned one when his father decided he didn’t want to be married anymore—at least not to me. I’m going to leave out all the stuff about the really bad divorce because I can’t even talk about it. Anyway, there I was with a one-year-old, no husband, no job and $80 a week in child support, when my ex actually paid it. What was I going to do?
I moved in with my mom. I fought with bill collectors. I got a job waiting tables—and we managed. That was four years ago. Now I’m back on my feet. My son and I have our own little apartment, and I’ve vowed to myself: I’ll never be in that kind of position again.
I was able to get tuition grants and I’ve been taking online grad courses. I’m going to get my MSW degree (a master’s in social work) so I can use my experience to help other women. If it weren’t for my son, I would have given up a long time ago, but I want Markie to learn that you can beat the odds.”
Julie, 62, grandmother to Molly, 6, and Jill, 2
“Mine is a mother/grandmother story. My only daughter had one daughter, Molly, four years old, and was pregnant with her second daughter. Throughout the pregnancy, my daughter and I walked every day—she had a great pregnancy. She delivered a beautiful, healthy girl, and everyone was thrilled to see mom feeding Jill for the very first time.
The following day, my daughter got out of bed to visit a friend of hers in a nearby room who’d also had a baby the day before. The nurse found my daughter on the floor in her room, where she had collapsed from a massive heart attack caused by a blood clot. No one is supposed to die from childbirth anymore! I thought that was something that happened a hundred years ago. We were all in shock—there was my 32-year old son-in-law left alone with a four-year-old and four-day-old daughters. I knew I had to retire from my job in order to try to hold my daughter’s family together the best I could. We’re still working on that.”
Roberta, 27, mother of Laura, 7, and Annie, 5
“I had that moment when Laura, my older one, was two and we were looking at preschools. I grew up down South, in South Carolina, and went to a nursery school that was part of our church. After we got married my husband and I moved to Boston. At the time I had no idea that preschools were harder to get into than Harvard—and cost almost as much.
It was really hard, but I finally found a church-run program that we could afford and actually had an opening. Most of the other schools looked at us like we were crazy: ‘You have to reserve a space as soon as your child is born,’ they said snippily. Luckily, we were more prepared for my second daughter to go to preschool; we budgeted and reserved early, then decided to send her to the same small school as my first daughter because we were so happy with it.”