I can't imagine a better one. My mom is mentally sharp, a great cook, up on all the news, a voracious reader and loads of fun to be with. With Mother’s Day coming up, it got me thinking about what she has taught me about money and work over the years. Her counsel has helped me both professionally, as a writer about work and personal finance, and personally in my day-to-day life.
Here are her four greatest lessons. Thanks, Mom!
1. Believe there’s nothing you can’t do and go for it. I owe a large measure of my professional confidence to Mom. She worked in advertising and public relations before quitting in 1956 to raise four kids. “All of my college friends had careers,” she says. “We never thought we couldn’t compete with men.”
Neither did I. At age 21, I announced to my parents that I was determined to get a job at Forbes magazine (Dad’s favorite) in New York City, even though there were few women in financial journalism back then. I hadn’t studied journalism in college — Duke didn’t offer it in the curriculum. My writing “clips” were from college publications or equestrian magazines. (Horses have been my passion since I was 6.) And our family didn't know any journalists.
But there was no pushback from Mom or Dad. In fact, after I graduated, began pitching freelance articles and landed some assignments, Mom lent a hand by proofreading some of my pieces. I also bounced story ideas off her. I knew I needed to build up my portfolio and expertise before I had a shot at getting in the door at Forbes.
In time, I was freelancing for Business Week, Advertising Age and The Pittsburgh Business Times. I even profiled ballerinas for In Pittsburgh, an alternative newspaper, though I knew nothing about dance.
When I felt I had enough ammunition, I sent my resumé and clips to the chief of reporters at Forbes. Score! I landed that Forbes position in the Big Apple. Mom had never doubted that I’d make it there. What a gift to give your kid self-confidence and a dollop of chutzpah.
2. Shop from a grocery list. Mom paid the bills in our household when I was growing up, so she knew more than a little about money management. She never shopped for groceries without a list — and still doesn’t. To her, this discipline was a no-brainer: It saved money by helping her keep tight control over her supermarket spending.
From the time we were children, she would actually phone in her weekly order to the local grocer, who would either deliver it or have it ready for pick-up.
I follow this shopping list regime for my husband Cliff and myself, and I estimate it helps me save at least $1,000 a year. But — sorry, Mom — I do walk the supermarket aisles. And, from time to time, I’ve been known to scoop up a bag of Double Stuf Oreos that wasn’t on my list.
3. Let your husband or partner do the shopping if your mate is a bargain hunter. OK, Mom lucked out here. My dad, Jack, who died four years ago, was the owner and CEO of a management consulting and executive search firm, but he also loved to shop. He was good at finding bargains, too. Mom actually hates to shop, even for clothes, so this worked out well.
Since how money gets spent is the issue couples fight about most often, this arrangement made for a happy marriage. I honestly never saw or heard my parents fight about finances.
I am not crazy about shopping either, but I'm lucky to have a husband who doesn’t mind doing it. He’ll patiently hunt down the lowest airfares and hotel rates or buy a new clothes dryer if we need one. From time to time, he even purchases clothes for me — usually with more upscale labels than those I’d buy for myself. Of course, he always waits for a sale. Win-Win.
4. Earn more to spend more. When Dad would announce he wanted to buy something expensive, like a new Cadillac, Mom would say: “Jack, you’ll just have to find a way to earn more,” and she’d laugh.
Well, truth is, I often try to use Mom’s rule myself. If there’s something extra I know I want to spend money on — like a trip to Ireland to visit my niece Caitlin, who’ll be studying in Galway — I immediately think about how many more assignments I’d need to pay for it without dipping into savings. Then I go out and get them.
That kind of motivation will make my Irish eyes smile — Mom’s too, if she decides to join me on that trip to the Emerald Isle. I hope she does.
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