May 6, 2014

5 Life and Money Mistakes Learned from Mom

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I learned a lot of valuable lessons from my mother (always do your homework, live within your means, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches make everything better are among my favorites), but some of the most enduring skills I picked up from her actually came from her mistakes. My mom was an expert home manager and a loving parent, but she wasn't perfect. She made missteps and unpopular decisions, some of which were clear to me even as a child. Others weren't clear to me until I saw them through the lens of my own motherhood.

Ask for help.

My mom managed a bustling household of four kids spread out in age by 12 years – and she did it mostly on her own. My father was a traveling salesman who spent most weeknights on the road. If Mom asked for help during those frenzied years, I never heard nor saw it. Even though she never complained, at one point she fell ill with shingles, an illness surely exacerbated by stress and exhaustion. Thanks to seeing firsthand what can happen when someone tries to take on too much for too long, I’ve learned to ask for help when I need it.

Don’t buy trendy home furnishings.

Everyone wants to appear contemporary and on trend, but Mom would have been wiser to do so with skirts and pillows, not couches and washing machines. Because of our family’s tight budget, major purchases such as furniture and appliances had to last for many years. The couch’s horribly dated pattern wore thin long before the fabric did. And thanks to Mom’s avocado green refrigerator, I always remind myself to opt for the more subtle approach, no matter what I’m buying.

Do the math when using coupons.

There are instances when coupons can boost the family budget – when they are substantial. But Mom spent hours cutting out 5- and 10-cent coupons that cost more in her precious time than they made up for in family dollars. That old adage about time meaning money is true for tedious attempts to cut costs. I try to focus my time on bigger savings, like buying 5-10% discount gift cards and signing up for cash back deals on credit cards.

Find budget-friendly recipes.

Mom fed a family of six on the skinniest of budgets, but Top Chef she was not. Those last few days of the month were gastronomically challenging when Mom turned to soupy goulash, soggy dumplings and listless leftovers. I know she was stretching the grocery dollars, but eating on a budget doesn’t have to be distasteful. It takes some research and follow-through, but in this case, time is yummy.

Don’t neglect yourself.

My mom came from a selfless era that is foreign to our current ethos. In her era, “pampering yourself” was the purview of Hollywood starlets and the characters on the soap operas she watched faithfully. The everyday person wasn’t supposed to make a fuss. While I respect her selflessness and no doubt benefited from it, I wish she had taken more time for herself. Mom worked hard, and she deserved more pampering than I can give her now on Mother’s Day. I do my best, but I can never make up for all that lost time.

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