My investment accounts aren’t quite ready to support me in a style to which I’d like to become accustomed. But according to statistics from the Federal Reserve and other retirement studies, I’m in better shape than most people my age, who in 2010 had only $120,000 in their retirement accounts.
For this I can credit hard work, a good education and luck. Mostly, I can thank my mom.
Her example was my lesson plan. A child of the Depression, and later a single parent, Mom kept a beady eye on her bank account. At a time when the typical mother worked inside the home, mine worked outside it as well, usually as a full-time executive secretary (what we now call an administrative assistant). She saved some portion of every paycheck to squirrel away for retirement, disasters and splurges — usually new Easter dresses for my sisters and me.
She invested in quality. The furniture in our home was custom-made from walnut, ordered and paid for piece by piece as she had enough money.
She used credit cards but paid them off completely every cycle — after first checking every receipt against the statement.
She shopped at three different groceries (gas was cheap) to stretch $20 into a week’s worth of healthy meals for a family of five. That would be quite a feat today, even on the 2013 equivalent of $143. The only dinners out were church cover-dish suppers.
My “mom-money” lessons don’t seem to have been unique. When asked what they’d learned about managing money from their mothers and grandmothers, members of the South Florida Public Insight Network had plenty to say.
Tracy Towle Humphrey of Miami Beach remembers cutting out coupons from the Sunday newspaper with her mom and being encouraged to save for the things she coveted. “As a child I learned to save money for toys I really wanted and the lesson stayed with me as still to this day. ... When I see my son playing with certain toys, I can vividly remember the pride and joy I accomplished as a child saving up my own money to buy the toy.”
Rosa Santana of Hallandale Beach learned to buy clothes that were only truly on sale. One day, she recalls, her mother went to buy a pair of trousers that had been “discounted” — but she noticed the price had been marked up first, so that the “sale” price was the same as the original price on a previous visit. “That taught me to really pay attention,” she wrote.
For Nancy Murphy of Plantation, financial lessons came from her grandmother, who taught her to be “really frugal … I started saving when I was really young and I was able to travel to Europe when I was in high school all on my own savings. I started in my employer’s 401(k) immediately and have managed to always save over time.”
Jeffrey Weinstock of Miami Beach recalls going with his mother to open his first savings account — “a really big deal. Mom took me to the local bank branch...where they told me that I would be paid real money (!) for keeping my money in the bank and it would grow over time.”
Several women wrote about being encouraged to keep accounts of their own, separate from their husbands. Some disclosed to their mates; others had good reason to keep it a secret.
And Ina Topper of Miami Beach wrote that her mom “was a genius when it came to finances. Not yet 5 years old, Mom gave me a quarter (in pennies) every week AND 5 little wooden boxes in which to put the pennies as I pleased. With it came the explanation, in very basic terms, of how to budget.” On each box she drew a picture of what the purpose for the savings, such as a particular toy or holiday family gifts.