What My Mom Taught Me About Personal Finance

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Teach Your Child About Money

A while back, I wrote a post on my site, detailing some of the accounts of my impoverished childhood with my mom and two younger brothers. We were quite poor growing up, compared to many in the U.S. My parents divorced when we were young (both admit responsibility for the derailing of their marriage), and us kids stayed with mom, which was the norm back then. Our income at the time was LOW.

Dad paid faithfully his $300 a month child support. That was our income, as mom had been a stay-at-home mom for years, and our parents had no savings to speak of, only debt, debt and more debt. Personal finance was the last thing my mom was thinking about in those days, but the lessons she’d learn, and teach us kids, about personal finance, were indeed profound.

As you can imagine, supporting a family of four wasn’t too feasible on $300 a month, especially when our house payment alone was $250. Those first months and years were quite hellish financially, to be blunt, and they are forever ingrained in my memory. There were days when food was beyond scarce, and days when we were threatened by the power company that they would shut off our heat/electricity.

Whereas in my first 40 years, I viewed those years as a reason to always make sure I got the “stuff” I needed and wanted, my mindset has now changed, and I’m working (with my husband who had a similar background) to make sure our family has financial security instead. I never thought those growing up years could ever be counted as a lesson in personal finance, but now I’m seeing things differently.

Mom didn’t manage our family finances perfectly, by any stretch of the imagination (a fact she’ll freely admit), but she was quite persistent in her quest to keep us afloat financially, and I’m quite proud and grateful that she pulled us through it all. My dad, of course, did what he could too, always paying his child support and seeing us kids regularly, but mom bore the brunt of the financial responsibility in those days as she had custody of us.

Here are some of the personal finance lessons I learned as I watched my mom raise our family and work to balance her meager means.

When it Comes to Personal Finance, Do What’s Right, Even if It’s Not Fun


One of my mom’s biggest regrets during those beyond lean years is that she continued to spend money on her two-pack-a-day smoking habit.  Now that she’s been a non-smoker for over 20 years, she can see what a waste the addiction was and how her denial of that waste and addiction hurt us financially (as in counting cigarettes as a necessity along with food and utilities).

She can’t go back now and change that, but if she could, she would’ve done the right thing and given up smoking (her words, not mine).  Doing what’s right isn’t always the most fun option, or the easiest option, but it is the right option.

There’s Always a Way Out


Or, ‘where there’s a will there’s a way,’ as the old saying goes. My mom had been a stay-at-home wife and mother for 14 years until the divorce.  In fact, she didn’t even have her driver’s license at the time of the divorce.

*Related: Need to buy your child a cell phone? Read our guide on the best mobile phone plans for kids that won’t break the budget.*

She knew that if we were going to survive as a family, she had to find a way to bring more income in, and she did it. She learned firsthand that there’s always a way out of a bad financial situation if you are willing to look for it.

Don’t Give Up, Even At Your Lowest Point


Those first couple of years following the separation and divorce were super tough on all of us emotionally, my parents included. The last thing mom wanted to do in her depressed state was to move forward, but she did. Mom learned how to drive, got her driver’s license, and taught herself to type so she would have more marketable job hunting skills.

Many days she had to force herself to keep moving on, but she did it anyway.  It wasn’t easy, by any stretch of the imagination, but she kept plugging forward. When you are working to change your personal finance situation, success will only come if you choose to not give up.

No Matter How Bad You’ve Got it, Somebody’s Got it Worse


It helped us in some way to remember that somebody always had it worse than us. Not that we were happy that others had it worse, but seeing commercials on TV of children and people who are lucky to eat once a week gives you some serious “stop your whining” medicine.

Seeing that others had it worse than us helped mom to remember and remind us that, in spite of our struggles, we had a lot to be grateful for. When you’re working to change your financial situation, it’s important to concentrate on what you have accomplished, not what you haven’t.

Yes, you may have LOTS more debt to pay off, but you’re always making that move toward debt freedom. Many other people are not. Give yourself a pat on the back for that.

Just Do What Needs to Be Done


After two years on welfare, all the while teaching herself valuable skills like driving and office skills, mom was ready to head out into the work force. This was another hugely scary step for her after being at home for 15 years with little to no focus on herself whatsoever.

Mom was terrified to jump into this world of independence after so long at home, but she did it because she knew it needed to be done for the survival of her family. Was it easy? Of course not. But sometimes you need to just do what needs to be done and take that first step.  If you do, the second step will be much easier.

How does this apply to personal finance?  It means that you take that big first step of making a budget and tracking your spending.  Will you screw up?  Probably, but so what?  Then you just get back on track and keep moving.

A favorite quote that I found this week says:

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.”  – Thomas Edison.

You have an opportunity today to change your life, personal finance wise or otherwise.  Don’t miss it!


What memories or experiences do you draw on for motivation or inspiration when it comes to personal finance?


Photo courtesy of: Tax Credits

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Laurie is a wife, mother to 4, and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom, and to a simpler, more peaceful life.


  • FI Pilgrim says:

    We’re twins today Laurie! It sounds like your mom did a great job overcoming her circumstances to train you well, that’s awesome. And I think it’s cool that while poor, you didn’t grow up in an environment where you were constantly comparing yourselves to people who has more than you, instead being grateful for what you had. That’s really impactful!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      LOL, funny! Can’t wait to read your article!

    • Kostas says:

      It seems there were a few of us out there with mothers who taught us that it isn’t important to keep up with what everyone else has, so long as you appreciate what you do have. No matter how much or how little I have, I always appreciate the fact I have that much.

  • Rebecca @ Stapler Confessions says:

    “But sometimes you need to just do what needs to be done and take that first step. If you do, the second step will be much easier.” This is so true. I feel like I hem and haw a little too much over taking that first step, when I know that I should just move forward even if the result won’t be perfect. At least I will have started!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Love that, Rebecca, and you’re SO right! The first step is terrifying, the second, a relief. 🙂

  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    It sounds like your Mom wasn’t someone who sat around and waited for others to do things – a real self-starter. I think that’s so important when it comes to finances (and life). You can’t wait for someone to give you a job, promotion, raise, etc. you need to go out there and get it yourself. I’m inspired by how frugal my parent’s were and how they really prioritized spending.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Funny, she isn’t by nature a self-starter, but she knew she had to pick up the pieces and move forward if we were going to continue to be able to eat. You’re so right about not waiting for someone to give you a job, raise, promotion or whatever. Life’s so much better when you get to work on your own goals instead of just waiting for stuff to fall in your lap.

  • kelly @stayingonbudget says:

    We always try to remember someone is worse off than us as well. It keeps things in perspective and that no more matter what we can always help someone else.
    Great post especially close to Thanksgiving!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Thanks, Kelly. Yeah, it really helps us too. Most of us don’t have it nearly as badly as we think we do, I’ve learned.

  • Catherine says:

    The fact that you learned a huge lesson from your situation may be valuable enough. Glad your family was able to overcome it, must havebeen tough.

  • JC @ Passive-Income-Pursuit says:

    What an inspiring story. I think this goes to show that the biggest determinant of success, especially with personal finance, is your attitude and determination. It’s not going to always be easy but you have to have the right mindset in order to push through the tough times.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      So true, JC@! I know that the persistent attitude and commitment to success is what has kept us on the road to debt-free, even though it’s a seriously uphill climb right now.

  • Holly@ClubThrifty says:

    My mom taught me most of what I know about money. She was (and still is) very frugal and my parents have done quite well despite raising three kids on a mostly one-income family. I’ve listened to her most of the time!

  • Tara @ Streets Ahead Living says:

    Your mom’s story is a great one, thank you for sharing it Laurie. I love your point on perspective… that’s something I have to tell myself once in a while when I get down. My husband and I can pay our bills and save for retirement and fun so even though we may have to be frugal in most areas of our lives, to not have to worry about not having enough for rent is a blessing.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      So true, Tara!!! I know that for us, focusing on the fact that Rick has a job, that we always have plenty to eat and a warm, dry place to live, well, it really helps us to get through those rough budget months, you know?

  • dojo says:

    Wonderful story. We need to remember that most of the time there IS a way. It’s hard, it’s painful, but there’s a way. Your mother was clearly an amazing lady and inspiration.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Thanks, Dojo. 🙂 Yeah, she’s a great woman. Both her and my dad have been amazing inspirations to me.

  • Matt Becker says:

    Powerful lessons here Laurie. I think there’s really a lot to admire about your mom here. The “do what needs to be done” lesson is such an important one when you have a family that relies on you. It can’t be all about you and what you want. That matters, but at the end of the day it has to be about what’s best for your family, even if that scares you. That can be a really hard lesson to learn, but it’s so important.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      “It can’t be all about you and what you want.” LOVE that, Matt! Life is so much better anyway when we focus our time on others (while taking care of ourselves too).

  • E.M. says:

    I think it’s great that you were able to pull inspiration from tough times. When it comes to family, most people feel they have no choice but to do what they must to make sure they survive. I wish my parents had realized how much their smoking habit was money down the drain. They were in debt and money was a constant worry, and even though I suggested giving up smoking and cable and whatnot, they tuned me out. It was a bit saddening. I’m glad your mom came to that realization, even if it’s years later.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      I had those same frustrating conversations with my mom, E.M. As a child, I think it’s really hard to understand, but I think the takeaway is that we just have to give our parents credit for doing what they could at the time. As a parent now, I see just how difficult a job it is. The rewards are tremendous, but the learning curve is steep. 🙂

  • Deacon Hayes says:

    I love that quote by Edison, it is hard work to seize opportunity and make things happen. It sounds like you had a wise mom Laurie. My parents were not so financially savvy or encouraging, so I sought outside counsel. One of the pieces of advice that has stuck in my head is “It is not how much you make, it is how much you spend”. I have tried to take that advice, spend less than I make and invest wisely.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      I was just thinking about that quote today, Deacon!! In our one-income family, we are learning that very well. We always thought Rick needed to earn more, but now we know that wasn’t the case. Thanks for the comment, Deacon!

  • Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life says:

    There’s always a way. If your mom could support your family of four on $300/month and work towards independence I can surely create a solid financial future for myself.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Can’t we all, Stefanie! That’s one thing I’ve learned from mom is that no matter how small the income, there’s a way to make it work, or a way to increase income.

  • Budget and the Beach says:

    Great stuff Laurie! All so true. Especially if there’s a will, there’s a way, and you just do what needs to be done. Period. It’s like what Jean Chatzky said in her keynote at fincon. She’s never afraid of being a homeless bag lady because she would be the best damn waitress anyone had ever seen. I’t’s tenacity. I think I would be doing the same thing. My mom was terrible with money but my dad is excellent with it. I think I fall somewhere in the middle. I’m not great at managing money (yet) like my dad, but I’m also not in denial about money like my mom was. Very different types of people.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Interesting, Tonya! I kind of have the same thing with my parents, and it’s always a bit of a battle, staying away from the bad habits and following the good. I love what you said about “tenacity”. It truly is what gets people through, isn’t it?

  • Romona (@monasez) says:

    Great post! I kind of learned how not to be when it comes to finances by watching people in my family. I have family members who are intheir 40s and 50s who dont work and act as if life is suppose to just hand them something. I never want to be that way which is why I work hard and why I’m teaching myself to properly manage my finances.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Oh my gosh, Romona, we have those same people in our family, and it’s so scary to me, b/c I know when they’re 65 and wanting to retire, they’re going to be unable to do so and angry about it. Those are the people who are really driving us to be out of debt, so that we’ve got some choices in life.

  • Dear Debt says:

    I love this post, Laurie! I’ve learned the power of hard work and doing whatever it takes from my family. While I was one generation removed, and lived a modest lifestyle growing up, my grandma was a single parent who raised 6 kids by herself. She got by as a custodian at the church. Her hard work and strength to do that by herself just blows me away. I will never forget that and it inspires me so much. It also inspires me to see how far my mom has come from those days. Glad you have learned so much and that you are your husband are making a better life for your kids.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Your grandma sounds like an amazing woman! That kind of strength always inspires me to pull up my bootstraps, so to speak. Thanks for sharing that story. 🙂

  • midlifefinance says:

    Oh wow, that’s quite a story. It’s great that your family is doing better now.
    I also believe in doing whatever it took. My parents and grandparents were immigrants and they had it rough, but they made the most of it. Our lives are quite cushy in comparison.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      I can’t imagine coming here from another country – that is truly starting from the ground up – you must be very proud of your parents/grandparents. Yes, we do have it cushy, don’t we?

  • Grayson @ Debt Roundup says:

    These are all fantastic lessons learned. It really goes to show that if you choose to fight your situation, you can triumph over it. It is great to see that she didn’t give up and through her struggles, she was able to teach valuable lessons.

  • anna says:

    What a GREAT quote!! I love it, and will share with my loved ones. I can relate a lot to this post, as we have similar backgrounds. My mom had a clothing habit that she did tend to spend on, but that woman hustled and always made sure we were fed (even if it meant that it wasn’t that much food for her). She had some spendy faults, but she was the epitome of role model for me. Great post, Laurie, thanks for sharing your background!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Your mom sounds like an amazing woman, Anna! It really is nice to have such a great role model in terms of bucking up and getting things done, isn’t it?

  • Color Me Frugal says:

    Great post. I love the Thomas Edison quote at the end! I love the overall message of this post that you always have a chance to change your life. It doesn’t matter where you start. I’m doing a lot of reflecting on this these days. Thanks so much for this great post.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Thanks, CMF – glad you like the post. Yes, and you are correct when you say we always have a chance to change our life. Great reminder. 🙂

  • Dividend Mantra says:

    Fantastic lessons. Hard work isn’t easy, but anything worth having in life is worth working for. It’s important to have fun, but sticking to an overarching long-term plan is imperative.

    Best wishes!

  • Broke Millennial says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story, Laurie. I know it can sometimes be tough to dredge up those thoughts and feelings. I have no doubt your story, and blog, is motivating so many others who face similar situations. I think your own journey is incredibly admirable.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Thanks, Erin!! As difficult as that childhood stuff was, it really did teach me a lot about life, and for that, I’m grateful. I think it’s important to look at the garbage life throws at you that way – learn what you can from it, and then leave it in the past.

  • Micro says:

    My parents worked very hard to try and make sure that me and my brothers had a good life. One of their big concerns was making sure we didn’t work during the school year. Part of this was simply because we lived on a dairy farm and that was a priority. The other reason was their belief that we had 40 years ahead of us for work but only 4 years to take advantage of all the sports and organizations offered in high school. Having only summer time to stash away money helped me to be more self conscience when it came to spending money.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Wow, Micro, you’ve got wise parents! I’m under that same belief too that kids shouldn’t “overwork”. There’ll be plenty of time for that when they’re adults. The dairy farm work must’ve been quite the job in the summers – I’ve heard it’s amazingly time-consuming work. Good for your mom and dad that they didn’t overwork you guys and saw the value in education, rest and fun.

  • Kim@Eyesonthedollar says:

    That’s an awesome quote! I see where you get some of your motivation from. Where are those people today? i feel like so many people are sitting around waiting for someone to solve their problems, when the answer is probably looking at them in the mirror.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      SO true, Kim!! A strong work ethic seems to be a lost tradition these days, doesn’t it? I love that quote too – it’s quite the eye opener!

  • Untemplater says:

    My parents have always struggled with money. It used to really anger me but I’ve learned to let go of my frustrations and help them as much as I can. They genuinely try and want to improve their situation, which is really all I can ask for. As much as I wish they were better with money in the past, I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for them. So I do what I can to give back.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Same here, Untemplater. My parents really want to continue to do things on their own, without advice, and although I admire their independence, I know I could help them to have SO much more money! Like you said, though, give back, and help where you can. Wise advice.

  • C. the Romanian says:

    You are lucky to have such a great mother that found the strength to move forward and do what has to be done to get her family out of the financial hole. Few people have that power and your mother should really be an inspiration for us all.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Thanks, C. Yes, I’m very proud of her. Both her and my dad took a crappy situation and did the best they could with it.

  • Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

    Awesome article! Unfortunately, the only lessons I learned from my mom is that it’s good to spend hundreds of dollars on Scentsy and Cutco knives lol. But I think that if parents would teach their kids about personal finance, we wouldn’t even need to teach it in schools. The home is the best place for that kind of stuff.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Oh, we all have those types of role models in our lives Ben! I agree too, that home is definitely the best place for those lessons. It’s near the top of the list at our house.

  • Kyle | says:

    Sounds like your Mom was a pretty amazing woman Laurie!

    I was lucky enough to grow up with a couple frugal farmers for parents and I have a bunch of great sayings ingrained in my thick head. My favorite? “Make sure your fences are horse-high, pig-tight and bull-strong” Always think of this saying when building our families emergency fund!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Kyle, I LOVE that saying! It seems to cover just about everything in life, doesn’t it? Have a great weekend, my friend. 🙂

  • Daisy @ Prairie Eco Thrifter says:

    Very inspiring story, Laurie. This is very sad, too. It’s crazy how things can change in an instant. My mom was a single mom when I was growing up, too, and we definitely struggled. She was a smoker as well and still is, and will never admit that she made a lot of sacrifices to keep up the habit.

  • KK @ Student Debt Survivor says:

    My mom was also a single mom for a good chunk of my childhood. Those days weren’t always easy (my dad didn’t contribute to the household financially once they got divorced) so my mom was completely on her own to provide for me. She did a great job, but as you’d imagine things were really tight at times. Those times have taught me a lot about life and money and self-sufficiency.

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