Watching my mom donate money taught me the importance of saving

  • My mom always gave to friends and family who asked for loans, even when we needed the money.
  • As an adult, I was determined to manage my money better and not to abuse it.
  • I learned the value of saving and now I always have money on hand for me in an emergency.
  • Read more stories from Personal Finance Insider.

This essay is part of “The value of a dollar”, a collection of stories about money from writers who grew up low income.

Growing up, I saw my mother struggle to raise my four sisters and me. She had to make ends meet without a college education by working an arduous paper route for the Hartford Courant, delivering the news before sunrise. After her shift, she would come home and get our kids ready for school and drop us off at the bus stop before starting her next job as a home care attendant for elderly patients.

I could see how tired and underpaid she was, but I knew she didn’t have many other options. So, I couldn’t understand why she would gladly give her money away when there wasn’t even enough for everyone.

But there was always a family member or friend who needed a loan. Sometimes it was for very serious situations, but many would come back for a handout just because she always said yes. If she had the means and was presented with a need, she would give.

When I was 15, I remember challenging my mom’s decision after she gave another loan to a family friend as we boiled huge pots of water for a week to bathe due to the gas cut off. She just said to me, “We’re going to make our way.

I took the time to learn about money matters

I knew this mindset wouldn’t work for me when I got older. I didn’t want to be in a precarious situation, always having to find a way to “find my way”. I saw it as having no other plan but to hope and pray for the better.

I didn’t want to suffer the same fate. I didn’t want to be abused by the people closest to me. And I didn’t want to teach my future children that they should give even when it hurts. I loved my mom and admired her desire to always help others, but I knew it shouldn’t come at the expense of her own survival.

When I made it to college, I prioritized financial education and took some lessons to help me feel more confident money management. Through discussions with other financially savvy people and budgeting reading material and prepare you for the future, I quickly learned the power to say no, without the guilt. It was not easy at first. I was always my mother’s daughter, and even though adult children try to do the opposite, we cannot entirely shake the influences of our parents.

Learn the difference between friend and exploiter

As a broke college graduate, people didn’t ask me for money at first, but for favors. Like my mom, I was grateful that people asked for my help, but I noticed the red flags early on and had to learn to say no, even when I wanted to say yes.

Saying no got a lot easier once I realized that other people weren’t going to be generous to me. When I was in need and asked these same friends in search of favor for help, I was given countless reasons why they couldn’t support me. Once I noticed more of taking than giving in these relationships, I knew I had to face it or suffer the consequences. I chose the first one.

I learned precious lessons that I will never forget

Learning to say no helped me set up a savings fund. Now, when disaster strikes, I don’t have to rely on the belief that things will work out on their own; I have already taken the necessary steps to prepare myself in the first place.

It’s refreshing now not to have to live in a state of scarcity and worry because I know I made myself a priority before helping others. I currently make sure that with every paycheque I receive, I pay me first by putting money in my savings. And when there’s a friend in need, before I say yes, I check my finances and make sure I’m able to give generously. If I can’t, I don’t apologize and comply. I say no and hope I can donate in the future.

I have since shared my findings with my sisters and watched them make strides in becoming financially wise and adopting smarter financial habits that will forever change their own lives and the lives of their children. We cannot go back in time to correct the mistakes of the past, but I am grateful for the hard lessons that have led me to seek a different path than what has been laid out for me.


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