Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Late Mother's Day Post: My Competent Mother

Getting to a post I hoped to post before Mother's Day about the competence with which I was parented. I won't try to cover it all, but my mother's money management and instructions about it kept coming to mind at Mother's Day because my wife just found the Budget Envelopes binder my mother gave me at the end of high school. More on that later. My mother managed and manages all of the money in my parents' household. Although I believe my parents set financial policies together, where the rubber meets the road, my mom still gives my dad an allowance. Both of my parents come from skinflint Scottish stock; my paternal grandfather ushered in the invention of disposable diapers by collecting BOGO coupons and redeeming them to fill a closet with successive sizes for his first grandchild. At half price!

Anyway, the way my mom managed the household finances would make Dave
Ramsey quiver with glee. First of all, she budgeted by area - groceries, clothing, entertainment, savings (of course). Second, she withdrew cash and put cash in the aforementioned divided budget envelope binder thing. I don't know where she got them, but apparently when she found a time warp five and dime that sold them, she would snatch up several because the manila envelopes inside wear out with use. Mom would follow the budget pretty closely; when the envelope was empty, there wasn't money for that item until the next payday.

My parents started giving me an allowance when I was about 5. I would mostly save it for vacation spending money. That continued right up through high school, where it constituted walking-around money (not that I ever did much exciting walking around). I never held a regular, part-time job during the school year. I collected seasonal income mostly working at summer camps. In my last semester of high school, my mom calculated how much of the amounts in the budget envelopes would get spent on (or saved for) me and my brother. Then she took that sum and gave it to us with the caveat that we would now pay for everything but room and board. We'd cover our own entertainment and clothes and savings.

When she did that, she provided us each with our own budget envelopes. My wife discovered mine while cleaning out our clotted filing cabinet over the weekend. It still has the entries from the $55 I received from my parents every two weeks that last half of senior year. Here's the breakdown:
$25 - savings
$5 - Norway
$8 - clothing
$8 - tithe
$9 - miscellaneous

A few notes:
  • I - like most people - went to Norway with a brass band in May of my senior year of high school.
  • Just writing that out, I'm wondering if my parents instructed me that the money I received was after-tax or something like that because a tithe on $55 would be $5.50, not $8.00. I guess I was just precociously pious and generous.
  • Interestingly, my brother, who received the same allotment, set aside $16 per week for clothes. We all referred to him as a "clothes horse" in this period.
I'm grateful that my mom turned over the reins on this money to me at that point in my life. When I got to college and got a workstudy job, I made about $50 per week, which seemed like a big raise. The reality, of course, was that at that point, I really did have to cover all of my incidental expenses myself. The season at the end of my time at home having to make some hard choices about how much to spend and on what prepared me to make better decisions a few months later when the stakes were higher. While I haven't maintained the cash budgeting system into adulthood, I still admire my mother for her planning and discipline.

1 comment:

Anne H. said...

I admire your mother too. Discipline isn't my long suit. This is a nice tribute and I enjoyed reading it.