Get That Money is an exploration of the many ways we think about our finances — what we earn, what we have, and what we want.
Like it or not, our moms make us who we are. If you’re lucky, yours knew a thing or two about money, and if you’re smart, you listened to her advice. From budgeting with envelopes to recycling rocks, here are five women on what their mothers taught them about spending and saving.
Stretch every dollar — and pay the bills first.
When my dad died, my mother was left with six kids and about $30 in a small city in Massachusetts. She never complained. She never borrowed so much as a dollar. She kept envelopes in her armoire so that she knew she could pay her bills — there was an envelope for electric, gas, and telephone. She wouldn’t spend money until she knew those envelopes were filled, and whatever was left, she’d stretch as far as she could. She’d buy groceries on Friday and they’d have to last until the next Friday. She could make an apple cake from flour and water and an apple. When the apple cake appeared we knew it was bare bones until the next paycheck. I still can’t look at apple cake anymore. Because I grew up poor, I didn’t want to live like that when I grew up, and I’ve done well financially. I also socked all my money away and put it into real estate and investments. I’ve been wise with my money, like my mom was. —Ann T. , 65, real-estate developer
Flashy stuff isn’t worth the money, even if you have it.
I grew up in the 1980s when Guess jeans were all the rage, especially at my fashion-conscious Catholic school. But I never asked for a pair because I implicitly knew that $70 was too much to spend on jeans for a seventh-grader, even though we had the money (my dad was a lawyer). Decades later, I’ve realized that I absorbed this from my mother. She never showed any interest in status objects or designer labels, even if we could afford them. We had things that were high-quality but not ostentatious. She never bought things on impulse. In other words, just because you can spend the money doesn’t mean you should. —Pavia, 48, start-up founder
Don’t take cabs — buy plane tickets instead .
My mom grew up very poor, and watches her money carefully. To this day, she is never careless. She will never casually take a taxi or go to a fancy dinner — she is cautious about every penny she has. But she is frugal, not cheap. And that’s the trick. She bought herself a Cartier watch because she loves it, and she takes her families on wonderful trips to Europe because she values beautiful places and things. Having watched her, I’ve never been in debt, I’ve never tried to look like I have more money than I do. I brag about shopping at consignment stores. I keep track of my money (as I should — I work hard for it!) and would never be flashy or wasteful, because it would devastate my mom. —Allison S., 31, writer
Never depend on anyone for money (especially your spouse).
My mother always worked as a high-school teacher. Although she wasn’t some badass, pioneering executive, she always had her own money, and never once did I hear, “We have to ask your father.” Growing up, I couldn’t possibly fathom getting an allowance or being dependent on a man for money. Now, as a mother and a partner, I’ve always kept my own bank accounts and only spend my own money. None of this pooling of funds. It doesn’t mean we don’t pay for certain bills together, but if I choose to spend money taking the family to dinner or buying new curtains or clothes, it’s never been a big joint decision. As a result, we’re on equal footing in the relationship. —Rosemary M., 48, COO of a distribution company
Everything should be reused.
Growing up, we had a greenhouse, and one summer it was taken down. It had a stone foundation, and rather than pay for a bulldozer to come in and rip it up, my mother put crowbars next to it. Each time someone walked by, she would tell them to pick up a tool and swing. I have a several siblings, and there were a lot of kids around that summer, so it got to be a game of sorts — the kids proudly showing off which big rock they had pried off. All the rocks were saved and repurposed for something else. It would have been easier to just tear it down and have the stone and concrete hauled away, but she wouldn’t have it. Everything should be reused! I now own a restaurant and I try to apply the same playfulness and values to our business. We make the most out of everything, whether we’re feeding hundreds of people or doing renovations — we get scrappy and we have fun with it. It all trickles down from my mom. —Hadley R., 50, restaurateur