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I read a blog post once, a long time ago, on a blog now lost to that space on the internet where blogs go to retire when their owner no longer has time for them. It was about the unstable retirement plan many women rely on – a husband. That post resonated with me, mostly because of the valuable lesson that my mom taught me about money.
Mom’s Retirement Plan
I love my mom. She’s sweet, caring and taught me to be kind to animals and those less fortunate than us. She didn’t have any 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 fairly 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. Life is a bit too expensive for all of that now, but I digress.
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 (for a good reason – you can read a fictionalized version of his experiences selling insurance in inner-city Chicago here!) and wanted something different. They decided to start their own flyer delivery service. It started as just flyers but expanded into newspaper delivery when my dad scored an awesome contract with a local paper.
My mom put a lot of time and effort into the business. She helped keep the books, ran some of the 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 found out about 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 the majority of her life, and she had no marketable skills to help make her transition back into the workforce easier. 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 house worthwhile.
Trying to Rebuild
My parents decided to file for bankruptcy and let the house get foreclosed on. Fortunately, My mom was able to stay there for quite a while the bank went through the foreclosure process.
During the eight or so months that it took, 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 up there. With no other options, she packed up and moved up north to be closer to her aging parents.
Please don’t chastise my mom for not staying with her kids, though. My sister was 20, my brother was 18 and had just started college, and I was about to be a senior in high school by the time she moved.
She knew I was going away to college after senior year as well. And although it was sad not having my mom around, my dad’s home brought some stability that my mom couldn’t offer at the time, which was needed for a 17-year-old kid.
After 20 years of being miserable and lonely in Northern Wisconsin, my mom decided she had enough. My sister helped her move to California, where she lived for about five years, while my sister and I focused on our own financial independence goals.
When my sister moved to Arkansas last year, 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.
What My Mom Taught Me About Money
I bet you’ve been reading this, wondering where the money lesson would be. Where’s the part where your mom taught you about savings plans, credit cards, financial goals, and basic 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.
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 have to look out for myself first. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I haven’t gotten married yet. I have a hard time trusting a guy to do small things to take care of me, like cooking dinner (which probably stems from this, now that I think about it).
I can’t even imagine putting my financial security and entire future into someone else’s hands. My mom got screwed because she trusted the wrong person with these things. I learned from her example to do not the same.
Unfortunately, that lesson didn’t take as well as it should have. Although I’ve always known that I have to take care of myself, I often go overboard and feel the need to take care of others. This flaw has opened me up for financial abuse, and it took many years and loads of counseling to understand why I allow myself to be taken advantage of.
But even though I will go overboard and take care of others, one thing that I will never do is put my entire future into someone else’s hands. The only person you can ever truly depend on is yourself, and that’s the most valuable lesson my mom taught me about money.
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.