I come from a large family, very large by today’s standards. My parents had 9 kids and we jokingly refer to ourselves by birth order. I am child number 8, daughter number 6. My dad was a cop and my mom stayed at home to raise her family. Looking back I believe she held many titles including Master Delegator and Chief Financial Officer. Dad brought home the bacon but mom was the one who made sure it was stretched effectively and distributed appropriately. She paid the bills, cut the coupons, made the shopping lists and took care of the budget.
We never felt poor but there was no excess money in our household. My parents were frugal with money and with resources. Can you relate to any of these?
- Presents were wrapped in the newspaper comic strips
- We reused ziplock bags, tin foil, plastic bags
- Hand me down clothes were the norm (I was very excited to be taller than my older sister)
- The house was heated with wood and bedroom doors were kept open for the heat to get in
- Long distance phone calls were limited to 5 minutes
- Attending college was expected however those of us who went paid our own way
- Clothes were patched, sewn and handed down to the next in line
- Whole milk was mixed with powdered milk to make it last longer
- The turkey from Thanksgiving kept reappearing in various forms for days on end
I remember when I was about 13 and desperately wanted my own stereo. My mom agreed to lay out the $250 cash for me as long as I agreed to pay her back. Together we documented in a notebook every time I made a payment and reviewed how much I still owed. She taught me the importance of tracking my money and taking debt seriously.
When I was about 16 I asked her how she managed to feed and clothe so many kids on a police officer’s salary. She showed me her black and white composition notebook that contained the family budget. She had created a spreadsheet with paper and pencil with columns for things like clothes, food, and utilities. I asked what would happen if she spent too much on clothes. She shrugged and showed how she could add money to one category but only by subtracting from another. Mom taught me the importance of sticking to a budget.
Shortly after I got my driver’s license Mother Fran sent me on an errand to the grocery store. She handed me a store receipt and a box of jello. She explained that she wanted me to return the jello because the store didn’t honor her 10 cents off coupon. I was horrified and refused. She was not amused when I offered to give her a dime. Mom taught me the importance of getting what you pay for.
My parents experimented with giving us a weekly allowance. I was supposed to earn $2.50 per week for doing my chores but I think I only received it three times. Like I said – no excess money. Plus my dad disagreed with the concept of paying kids to do household tasks. I remember him asking me why he should give me money. I patiently explained I did all my chores such as mowing the lawn, doing the dishes and cleaning the bathroom. He then patiently explained I helped make the house and dishes dirty so it was my responsibility to help clean them up. He also quite seriously said he mowed the lawn for relaxation and that no one paid him to do it.
Allowances didn’t really work in our home but not having one encouraged me to find a way to earn money from a young age. My parents were very supportive of us finding paid work! My sister and I watched the kids next door and split the $10 we earned each week. My first real job paid $2.50 per hour. I remember telling my boss not to pay me until I earned $100! As soon as I got a job mom said I could start buying my own school clothes and supplies. Mother Fran taught me the importance of paying my way.
The lessons I learned growing up have stayed with me. I have always been careful with money, pay my own way and abhor debt. My feelings about money continue to evolve as I get older, yet the lessons I learned from Mother Fran are the building blocks for all my beliefs about earning, spending, saving and budgeting.
- It is possible to be frugal without being cheap
- It is possible to minimize expenses without restricting life experiences
- It is possible to prioritize what you need and still get what you truly want
- It is possible to live a life without consumer debt
- It is possible to teach kids to be responsible with money
I have even learned to mow the lawn for relaxation!