Today, I’m going to celebrate the biggest financial lesson that each of my parents taught me in a pair of posts. This morning, I’ll discuss my father; this afternoon, my mother.
When I think back to my childhood memories of my mother, they usually involve her taking care of someone.
She was – and still is – a naturally caring person. She’s the type of person who will just take care of little things to make sure everyone’s life functions easier.
My parents had a marriage where they truly divided the labor based on the skills they could each bring to the table. My father was good at certain things – small-scale commercial fishing, maintaining a garden – and my mother was good at other things.
In our home, she took care of most of the domestic responsibilities. She did the majority of the cooking, for example, and often handled the shopping. She didn’t always do these things – my father would often prepare meals via grilling and take care of other chores.
My mother was – and still is – a master of frugality.
She could turn a few ordinary staples – whatever was in the cupboard – into a delicious meal. She could magically transform whatever bit of cash we happened to have that week into a trunk full of groceries and household supplies.
She could intuitively stretch whatever my father grew in the garden into an absurd amount of meals. He could have dozens of tomato plants and not a single tomato would go to waste. Instead, we’d have a pantry full of home-canned goods.
Even when my father was unemployed, she managed to find ways to make a memorable Christmas for all of the children. Looking back, there were a few years where I’m still not sure how she took the family’s income and made any sort of holiday at all, but there was never a bad one in my memory.
While my father might have been the primary income earner, it was my mother that performed magic with it.
The amazing part was that she made all of this nearly invisible to me when I was growing up. When I look back on my childhood, I can see obvious signs that we didn’t have a lot of money, but it didn’t seem like that at all at the time.
Not only did she show me countless examples of how to actually be frugal and cut corners, she showed me how to do it in a way that didn’t leave the family feeling as though they were poor or as though they were missing out on anything.
(My family did sometimes spend money needlessly when there was a windfall, but I always had the sense that it was more my father’s choice than my mother’s. Whenever there was an amazing and unexpected treat, it always seemed like he was the one that produced it.)
The lessons my mother showed me again and again throughout my childhood took a long time to sink in, but when they did, they were a key part of turning our financial life around.
You don’t have to have endless piles of stuff to enjoy life. A joyful existence isn’t measured by who has the shiniest new thing. Instead, it’s measured by making sure that the people in your life always have what they need – comfort, shelter, food, and clothing – and one of the most powerful tools we have to make that a reality is frugality.