I have made many of my own financial mistakes, but the person who taught me the most what not to do with money is my mother. I have spent a lifetime trying to get smarter about financial matters, and I look to my mother as an example of everything you shouldn’t do.
Don’t let your monthly bills go
I remember being a little girl and overhearing my parents talk about how the phone was going to get shut off, or that the landlord was going to evict us. My father worked hard, but somehow there was just never enough to pay the bills. My parents didn’t understand how to manage money properly, and as a result, they were always behind on bills. This is kind of scary when you’re 6 years old and you don’t know if you’re going to have a place to live in a couple of months.
As a child, very little was in my control. As an adult, I have the power to choose differently than my parents did — and pay my bills on time every month. I still struggle to come up with the money to pay bills, but the first step is being aware that it’s my responsibility to cover the bills that come due each month. It’s part of being a responsible adult.
As I struggle with being unemployed, I recall the fact that my mother never wanted to work. She was, and still is, willfully unemployed and living off of disability. This is a situation that is likely to continue for the rest of her life. That’s not something I want, and from her example, I learn what I don't want for myself.
While I don’t understand how she can be content to sit and collect disability when she’s not truly disabled (a long and complicated story), I don’t have to let her poor decisions influence me. Or perhaps I do — they influence me to do the very opposite of what she’s done.
Again, being gainfully employed is part of being a responsible adult, which, sadly, is a lesson my mother did not impart to me. I don’t think it’s necessary to say that she set a very poor example that severely impaired me when I became an adult and needed to start working.
Pay your student loans, or face the consequences
I’m not sure how my mother managed to get a tax refund check while living on disability, but somehow she got a stimulus check in 2007. The government promptly seized the funds and applied them to her long-delinquent student loan. I remember her whining to me about how they had no right to do that. Actually, they did. The government will do whatever they have to to collect on federal student loans. And unfortunately for my mother, disability checks are not exempt. That’s something she’ll have to contend with in the future.
For my part, I am going to keep my student loans in deferment, forbearance and eventually IBR until the time comes when I can begin to make payments on them. It never occurred to my mother that she might need to get a job to start making payments on her debt. She will have to deal with the consequences of her actions.
I am actually very blessed. My mother’s many mistakes don’t have to become my own. While I have made many foolish financial moves — going deep into student loan debt, not saving money — I am also aware of the problem and aware that things need to change. As I move forward in my journey to financial wellness, I can keep in mind the mistakes made by others — particularly my mother — and vow not to make them myself.