I read a blog post once about the unstable retirement plan many women rely on to get them through their golden years: a husband.
Though that blog post is long gone, perhaps only surviving in the purgatory space of the internet where blogs go to retire, it resonated with me.
I saw my mom in the post. She taught me one of the most valuable financial lessons a girl can learn.
Mom’s Retirement Plan
I love my mom. She’s sweet and caring and taught me to be kind to animals and those less fortunate than us. She had no real goals outside of motherhood, but she was a great mother.
My mom did what many young women in the late seventies/early eighties did. She got married and stayed home to take care of the children.
Unfortunately for her, being a mother doesn’t pay anything, and her story is one of the main reasons I decided to strive for financial independence.
Our Early Years
My parents got married and had their first child while still relatively young. She was 22, and my dad was only 19 when my older sister was born. My brother and I arrived shortly after, not twins but less than a year apart.
They had three young children before they turned thirty.
Despite having kids so young and not having college degrees, they did alright for themselves. The early eighties was still a time when people could have careers without degrees, stay-at-home parents without riches, and homes without high-paying jobs.
Our current times don’t allow for similar situations, but it was pretty typical back then.
Starting A Business
For the first ten to twelve years of my life, my mom stayed home with us kids while my dad sold insurance.
Eventually, he got disgruntled with the job and wanted something different.
They decided to start their own flyer delivery service. It began as just flyers but expanded into newspaper delivery when my dad scored a contract with a local paper.
My mom put a lot of time and effort into the business. She helped keep the books, ran some machines, and delivered the papers (along with us kids).
Things weren’t perfect, and it was a lot of hard work, but we were a family, and that’s all she ever wanted.
It All Falls Apart
Then one day, seemingly out of nowhere, it all fell apart. My father had an affair.
When my mom discovered it, he moved out of the family home. He stopped paying the mortgage and focused on running the business (which was in his name alone).
Unfortunately, my mother couldn’t keep up with the mortgage without the business income. My parents never budgeted well or saved any money, so she didn’t have an emergency fund to fall back on to help pay the bills each month.
In addition, she was a stay-at-home mom for most of her life, and she had no marketable skills to help her transition back to the workforce.
She got a job cleaning out kennels at a pet store, but that paid barely enough to keep the lights on. Refinancing the house in her name alone on her income was impossible, and there wasn’t enough equity to make selling the home worthwhile.
Trying To Rebuild
My parents decided to file for bankruptcy and let the house go into foreclosure. My mom stayed in the home while the bank went through the foreclosure process.
During the foreclosure proceedings, which took about eight months, she tried to find a way to stay close to us kids in Illinois. Unfortunately, the cost of living in the Chicagoland area was too high, even back then in the late nineties.
Her parents lived in Northern Wisconsin and offered to help her buy a home if she moved there.
Making the Hard Choice To Move
My mom decided to take her parent’s up on their offer. She saw it as her only option.
Please don’t chastise my mom for not staying with her kids. We were old enough to understand, and I was the only one who was still a minor.
My sister was 20, and my brother was 18. He had just started college. I was beginning my senior year in high school when she moved and had plans to attend college out of town the following year.
Although it was sad not to have my mom around, my dad’s home brought stability my mom couldn’t offer.
Mom’s Next Life
My mom lived in Wisconsin for nearly twenty years. She eventually returned to Illinois, becoming a caretaker for her ailing mother, who returned to Illinois after several health issues.
When my grandmother passed away, my mother was lost. She found herself in a similar situation as after the divorce. She couldn’t afford the home without her mom’s social security income and had few job prospects.
My sister helped her move to California, where she lived for about five years while my sister and I focused on our goals for financial independence.
When my sister moved to Arkansas, she brought my mom. She now lives on a parcel of land that they own in Arkansas and works part-time in retail to make ends meet.
See Next: Generational Poverty is Very Real
What My Mom Taught Me About Money
I bet you’ve been reading this, wondering where the money lesson is. Where’s the part where your mom taught you about savings plans, credit cards, financial goals, and essential money management?
Unfortunately, that type of financial education was severely lacking in my household.
My mom didn’t directly teach me anything about money, but her story served as a valuable lesson.
I learned that the only person I can ever depend on is myself.
Marriages Don’t Always Last
My mom thought her marriage would last forever. She depended on my dad to handle the finances. She didn’t consider that he wouldn’t always have her best interests at heart or that her marriage wouldn’t last forever.
I know it’s a cynical view, but I learned that even if I get married, I must look out for myself first. I have difficulty trusting a guy to do small things to take care of me, like cooking dinner, so I can’t even imagine putting my financial security and entire future into someone else’s hands.
My mom trusted her husband and ended up with a poor quality of life. I learned from her example to do not the same.
On Blaming My Dad
I don’t blame my dad for leaving, though others might, and my mom probably does. He was unhappy in the marriage and asked my mom for counseling numerous times, which she refused.
He tried to stay and make it work for the sake of us kids but was clearly miserable. Divorcing my mom was one of the best things he could have done for himself, his mental well-being, and us kids.
I don’t blame him for my mom’s resulting poverty, though it would be easy to. It’s unfair to saddle men with unhappy marriages just to ensure women don’t suffer poverty.
Ultimately the divorce was no one’s fault. They were unhappy together and better off apart.
Women Have Poor Outcomes in Divorce
Despite the common trope in the manosphere that women make out like bandits in divorce, the opposite is typically true.
My mom’s story is all too common.
After divorce, women’s household income falls nearly twice as much as men’s. Women typically gain a greater custody share (not, as is commonly assumed, because of sexism in the courts, but because men usually don’t want it) which forces them into lower-paying jobs that allow them time to take care of the kids. They also have to pay the brunt of childcare expenses, even after factoring in child support, which rarely provides enough to pay for daycare.
My mom was lucky because the children were grown when my parents divorced, and my dad insisted on taking us. I was the only minor, so I had my own room, but he made sure the house had space for my brother and sister if they needed it.
Millions of divorced women face far more significant challenges upon divorce.
Having Your Own Income is Essential
My mom never had a stable career. She didn’t value education or work and depended on a man for her financial security.
Her story taught me that having my own career prospects and income are vital to a secure life. It would suck if I got divorced, but I wouldn’t be destitute. I can afford my own home and my own life. I have a fantastic career that has nothing to do with my relationship status.
My mom taught me through her own example how crucial these things are to my own financial security.
And it’s not just a matter of divorce, which is all too common.
Having your own career prospects can protect you in case of tragedy, like an unexpected loss of a partner or an illness that leaves them unable to work.
Also Read: How To Make a Financial Plan
It Was a Different Time
My mom grew up in a transitional period. The 60s and 70s saw the sexual revolution, which brought the fight for equality in the workplace. My mom was a teenager before women were allowed to open their own credit accounts and had a child before the “working woman” trope became popular.
Her childhood likely taught her that women’s place was in the home, raising children. She likely learned that she didn’t need a career but needed to find a husband to take care of her.
My generation was the first to learn an opposing message: that we could be whatever we wanted, that we had options outside the home, and that we could compete with men in business and industry.
I don’t blame my mom for not wanting a career, especially when women of her generation were sold the lie that marriage was their best prospect.
Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom Now
We must remember that the choice to stay home to raise the next generation is still valid. Unfortunately, society hasn’t caught up to ensure appropriate safety nets for mothers (or fathers!) who choose to take on this essential work.
Choosing to be a stay-at-home mom can have serious financial repercussions on women until it does. Having a robust prenuptial agreement that protects and values your domestic work, keeping your skills up-to-date, and gaining a little stability in your career before leaving the workforce can protect you from serious financial consequences in the event of a separation.
Learning a Valuable Lesson from Our Mothers
Hopefully, women my age and younger realize marriage isn’t our only path to a secure life. We can do whatever we want, whether that involves traveling the world, rising the ranks in industry, or guiding the next generation.
When choosing our route, we must understand that even the best marriages fail and that tragedy can strike at any time. We must ensure we can take care of ourselves in any situation.
Learn the lessons from our mothers, who didn’t always have the same options we do, to avoid their fate.
We have choices they couldn’t even imagine, so let’s make the best of them.
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.