- My mom worked two jobs growing up but never seemed to have enough money.
- She was incredibly generous, but I don’t think she had much of a budget.
- The experience taught me to give every dollar a job and always know where my money is going.
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This essay is part of “The Value of a Dollar,” a collection of stories about money from writers who grew up low-income.
The year was 1990. I was a young girl. My mom had just finished her nursing program at a nearby community college. It was a joyous moment, no doubt. For two years prior, she’d been working full-time at a nail salon while attending her nursing program in the evenings.
At the time, there never seemed to be enough money to cover the bills. We lived in subsidized housing and shopped at Big Lots for groceries. When she finished her coursework and passed the test, that meant she could land better-paying work as a nurse. We’d have plenty to get by.
But that’s not quite what happened. When my mom landed a job as a nurse at a convalescent home, her first goal was to move out of an apartment and get a house of our own. So she saved for a down payment. Because there was now a mortgage, my mom got another full-time job, and there were some days she worked 16-hour shifts. And while she was making more money, she was also working a lot more hours — and had a lot more living expenses.
I don’t know for sure, but it seemed as if my mom didn’t really have much of a budget. She was always generous with her family and loved ones, even when she might not be able to afford it. And because she wanted us to have a good life and didn’t want to deny us anything we wanted, money seemed to magically appear out of nowhere.
I remember once my mom was stressed about not having enough to pay the bills. And she felt embarrassed, but she asked if she could borrow $20. That’s when I realized that no matter how hard you work or how much money you make, and even if you make more money than before, if you don’t keep an eye on your spending, or if you spend more than you make, you’ll continue to have money woes.
From that experience, I learned to live within my means and be mindful about where my money is going so I don’t spend more than I have or get in over my head with debt. These days, I make sure that every dollar I earn has a “job,” so to speak.
Whether it’s to go toward spending; a short-term savings goal, such as a vacation or new gadget; or longer-term goals, such as saving for a down payment on a car or for my retirement, everything I earn has a purpose. Even if that dollar is assigned to a splurge fund, it’s still accounted for
I learned early on to create specific savings goals
My money nerd ways emerged at an early age. Because I grew up without much, I saw firsthand that if you don’t have what you need when the time comes, you’ll probably resort to digging a debt hole.
I started saving for specific goals when I was about 8. One Christmas, I received several piggy banks. There must’ve been a sale at the drugstore, because my parents and relatives all gave me identical piggy banks that year. I wanted to save for the church spring fiesta, so every penny I came across went into these piggy banks — one bank was for quarters, another one dimes, the third for nickels, and so forth. When the fiesta rolled around, I had saved about $30 to spend on games and food.
I kept up that habit as I got older — when I wanted to go on a “shopping spree” with my best friend for back-to-school clothes, when I wanted to take solo trips or get SCUBA certified, or for big-ticket items such as buying a new computer or down payment on a car.
I’ve always kept track of my expenses
Shortly after I got my first bank account at age 16, I started to keep track of my expenses. And when I entered college, I kept track of every dollar that went in and out of my bank account. While I wasn’t technically making money, I did get some money from financial aid and from work-study jobs.
Any funds that dropped into my bank account, I made a note. I was pretty nerdy about it and created a spending plan for each semester in a spreadsheet. This helped me make sure I had enough to cover books, groceries, and any other expenses I might…