Every now and then I take a moment to inventory the athletic trophies of my youth, literary awards for the novels I penned and yes I also deliberate over the scars I’ve earned along the way. Oddly enough, many of the techniques we use to deal with what life throws at us can be traced back our childhoods. Although I’m over forty now, I often find myself dealing with situations based on lessons learned in a household run and operated by an extraordinary single mom, my mother.
One of her favorite quotes nudges me along from time to time and manages to keep me pushing forward. She’d say, “For every dream, there are a hundred people ready to chase it. But somewhere between sweat equity and elbow grease, most of them get tired and quit running.”
Lesson 1 – Everything cost something
Of course that sounds like a no brainer but allow me to explain. A single mom’s take home pay is a treasure in limited quantity. Divide it up among the bills, food, clothing, etc. and what’s left rarely covers much else. In order to increase the odds for an occasional movie ticket or pocket change for convenient store snacks, there were shower time limits to help with the water bill and extreme measures to cut electricity usage in half. Once I went a solid two weeks without touching a light switch. My reward was popcorn and candy during a Kung Fu movie marathon.
Lesson 2 - Get home before the street lights come on
Really, before the lights come on. I was well into my teens before getting up the nerve to question that one. My mother’s reply was simple. “There’s always a split second when the fun stops and the trouble starts. Somehow it seems to show up around the same time the street lights come on.” There’s still something to be said for knowing when it’s time to go home.
Lesson 3 – Vise grips and duct tape can fix it
There was an era before the remote control existed. How did we change the channel? We got up off our behinds, walked over the TV Set and manually turned the dial (every time)! I was my mom’s favorite remote control for years. When the dial became worn out or broken, vice grips were used to channel-hop to the other 3 stations. Yes, I said other 3. When various other household appliances or bedposts, kitchen table legs and alarm clocks became ragged; duct tape was brought in to patch it up, hold it together or tie it down until it absolutely had to be thrown out. Years later I used two rolls of duct tape to hold my first car together, until I could afford another one. Thanks mom.
Lesson 4 – Leftovers are better than take out
Three reasons: 1) Leftovers are already paid for. 2) At arm’s reach in the refrigerator. 3) And recently delicious. Since good eats were good eats, I never complained and didn’t spend a single dime on take out until I was a sophomore in college. Now my kids love left overs… and they hate chipping in for takeout. Everything costs something.
Lesson 5 – Don’t rub other people’s noses in your success
Going on and on about the bicycle I bought with paper route money wasn’t the smartest thing I ever did. My friends avoided me every time I ran my mouth and showed off motor-cross stunts at the sand lot. It took me a while to realize the lack of job opportunities that existed for teenagers in my neighborhood. I should have been more considerate and less conceited.
Lesson 6 – Pan seared bologna, almost too good to be true
When I was around nine years old, I outgrew my fascination for eating boxed cereal throughout the day. My mother was understandably concerned when she learned I’d planned on frying chicken for lunch. Instead of blowing a gasket, she sat me down and explained how I wasn’t quite old enough for that. Sensing my frustration, she taught me how to pan sear sliced bologna on a skillet. I can still smell that meat steaming, rising in the middle and browning around the outer rim. I felt like an accomplished cook that day and never enjoyed a sandwiched more. Everything in its own time I guess.
Lesson 7- Broke doesn’t mean poor
One day I heard the enchanting music of an ice cream truck in the distance. As the festival tune grew louder, I pleaded with my mother for loose change. I didn’t believe it when she admitted being flat broke, with a weekend standing between her and the next pay check. She gave me the go ahead to ramble through her purse and said I could keep whatever money I found. I was more disturbed over the thought of being poor than my search coming up empty until mom soothed my concerns with tender words and a few basic principles of economics. “Poor people are all out of options son. We’re just all out of money and that’s called broke. There’s a world of difference.”
Lesson 8 – Never appear to be more prosperous than the boss
For years my mother caught the city bus to work while saving for a new car. She couldn’t risk losing money on a used lemon or the safety of her two small children so sacrificed until having enough for a sizable down payment and an affordable monthly note. We toured around town in that 1976 powder blue colored Ford Elite all weekend. I couldn’t understand it when she went back to catching the bus that Monday morning. When I asked why, she shrugged as if the answer was right in front of me. “You don’t want to go upsetting things at the job. Driving up in a better car than your boss will do it every time.”
Her wisdom didn’t ring true to me until years later when I held a vice president position at a local bank. My new manager refused to award me the bonus check I’d earned from the previous quarter. He said, “You drive a Mercedes so I know you don’t need the money.” After a discussion with the CEO, I got what was coming to me then decided it was time to do something else for a living. Subsequently, I took up writing and managed to create 13 bestselling books. I’d say everything worked out just fine.
Single moms seldom get the credit they deserve for managing more than their share of hardships and headaches. They often go unheralded, unsung and unappreciated. Too many times, they put their aspirations on a shelf while working tirelessly to make their children’s dreams come true. Single Moms of America, I salute you.
Victor writes money management tips and other helpful hints for ace cash express. Before joining ace, Victor wrote 13 bestselling novels and worked in upper management in the banking industry. When Victor is not helping consumers with responsible spending ideas, he’s working on a “Talking Money Tips” audio book. Follow him on twitter @iwritemoneytips @acecash