Recession Mama

{April 24, 2009}   The Stingy Giver

By Carla

Who do you take after in the looks department? You’ve probably heard a million times, “You look just like your father”, or “You have your Uncle Ted’s nose”. And who do you take after in other ways? “You have your grandfather’s temper”…or…”You have your mom’s mannerisms”. Now answer this: Who do you take after financially? THAT’s the question I’m trying to answer for myself right now. So come along with me on this winding little road trip down memory lane….or however you say it. (I never get sayings right because growing up, Mom’s English was so terrible that it was like growing up with a mom version of Ricky Ricardo. Ma, sorry if that “burns you up a wall”…you’ll just have to “Let the ducks roll off your back”, ok?)

So I finally went in for a haircut and color last week (waiting 6 months for a trim = a gigantic mistake) and my stylist and I were chatting, getting caught up on things and it was then that she told me she was about to buy her first home. This mama really has her stuff together and I’m so proud of her for it. She’s in her 20s, maybe 8 years younger than me and she’s buying her own home. She also has money saved in IRAs, other accounts and investments she was telling me about and then it hit me…I had another V8 moment. THAT could have been me. What the heck was I thinking in my 20s? I could have purchased a home. After all, I was living just about rent free in my Dad’s rental property. I had a good paying job with benefits. At that time in my life, I was single and carefree with only a cat (and later a few dogs) to care for. But even back then, I blew it as fast as I made it. 

How the heck did this all happen? I have to keep asking myself that question these days because it is really boggling my mind. I mean, growing up, we had everything we wanted. Dad and Mom were great with money. They made my brother and I work for little perks around the house, like our own phone lines (remember when you were finally allowed to have your “own line”?). I did chores every week for my allowance…Mom put me on toilet duty (smart move, Ma), my brother did his thing.

Even though I grew up with money, (and by “with money” I don’t mean Trump money, or anywhere close. It just means that we always had what we wanted and we had nice things and traveled often and my brother and I attended private schools) I wasn’t spoiled. Or was I? I honestly don’t know the answer to that question. 

We never worried about money when I was growing up…it was always there…so maybe as an adult I carried with me the belief that money would always magically “be there” no matter what. But it’s nothing my parents instilled in me. After all, they went out of their way to teach me about money. Dad took me to the bank when I turned 16 and I opened my first checking account. After all, I was working on the weekends as a checker at Drug Emporium…BEFORE they had price scanners, thankyouverymuch…and I needed a place to stash all my massive earnings. (I still have the very first thing I purchased with my very first ever paycheck: A Fendi wallet…and yes, I realize I was doomed from the get-go) Back to the bank: I remember it like it was yesterday. The look on the bank clerk’s face was unforgettable after he pulled up Dad’s financial information (since Dad was co-signing) and realized that we owned our home outright, same with our cars, and we had no credit card debt. I didn’t see the big deal at the time. I thought everyone lived like that.

Not once growing up or even in my 20s did I entertain the thought that one day I would be out of work, pinching pennies and waiting 6 months to get a haircut. Not in my wildest dreams. Money was always there for us growing up.

"A picture says" something or's not important now...

"A picture says" something or's not important now...

Not only were Mom and Dad really smart with money when I was growing up, so were my grandparents…on both sides. Mom’s mom, or Sette (grandmother in Arabic), who passed recently, taught me more about saving money than anyone else in my life. Even though my grandfather owned his own business in downtown Mexico City, it never seemed that money went to her head. After all, anyone who can stop to hug a tree isn’t really caught up in the rat race and impressed with worldly goods.

But things get a little more complex when I think about Dad’s mom, “Grandma”. She and Grandpa were successful Dallas business owners who also owned real estate in and around downtown Dallas. Grandma was feisty and bold and a tad eccentric. She was a product of the Great Depression. Dad said she was a “Depression baby”. (Don’t be confused by this. Grandma was in her 40s and Grandpa was well into his 50s when Dad came along) 


Anyhow, living through the Great Depression made quite an impact on Dad’s mom. She would go out of her way to buy the wilting head of lettuce at the grocery store because it was “on special”, but two minutes later she was paying my tuition at a private, all girls high school, or writing a check for $15,000 for my first car when I turned 16. (I still have that check…)

"Will my hair fit in this car?"

"Will my hair fit in this car?"

We would go to a restaurant and Grandma would insist on not leaving a tip because she was stingy like that, so Mom and Dad would make me or my brother sneak back to the table after we all got up…and drop a few bucks. But two minutes later, she was cutting a check for the five of us to travel across Europe by rail for two weeks. She was stingy. But she was a giver. And then it hit me: (and only very recently..while lunching with one of my favorite mamas)  I, too, am a stingy giver. I love to give to others. I love picking out things for a girlfriends’ birthday, or a baby shower or something, but I do not enjoy spending money on myself…not on everyday items. Shopping for new clothes drives me insane. All I can think about is how much money this is costing me. But about this time last year when I was still riding the gravy train, I treated myself to a brand new, gorgeous timepiece (when you spend more than $1,000, they stop calling them watches) and didn’t feel a lick of guilt. It was my gift to me for turning 35. Where was this all coming from? Who knows…but I can tell you that when I check the time now, I feel pretty dumb. Same goes with the $250 Fendi sunglasses I bought during a girls’ weekend in Vegas a few years back. I feel like an idiot when I whip those out after a trip to the grocery store where I paid with my state-issued unemployment benefits debit card. I get it. I really do.

They say behind every dark cloud is a silver lining. I hope the silver lining in this whole economic meltdown is a wake-up call. In many ways it came too late for me, but many others will be able to benefit from my financial mistakes and those of millions of other Americans. 

I think I have money issues. Do I?

It’s going to be very helpful to me to sort through this financial mess in my brain.

—Despite all of this, I am quite proud to call myself a stingy giver.


recessionmama says:

Good post. I can’t believe you actually have a baby picture of someone waving money at you. Love the floor in that pic BTW.

My financial upbringing was very different and a little confusing. We had a big house on half a city block, nice clothes, horses and a plane. (My dad had his pilot’s license and we shared the small plane with another family.) On the outside, we looked pretty good. But we were so far from that. My parents always worked hard and tried to save. (dad was in law enforcement, mom was an registered nurse) But there was never any talk about stocks, bonds or retirement funds. Financial planning? What’s that?

After my parents divorced, they really struggled financially. Without help from my father’s mother, I’m not sure how we would’ve made ends meet. He even borrowed my sisters babysitting money on occasion. Mom would skip hair appointments so we could have the latest Esprit sweater or Pepe jeans.

Their “financial” advice was always put money in your savings account and “don’t spend it, if you don’t got it.” But that’s where it sort of ended. It was good advice. But we were never really taught how to invest money. I didn’t rack up credit card debt in college ( $900 TOTAL) I didn’t take out student loans (I worked instead, my sister joined the Army Reserves) But I never really invested in a 401K until I was in my 20’s. I wasn’t sure what that was, but everyone else was doing it so I decided to follow along. I didn’t buy my first stock until I got married.

I still don’t have a HUGE understand of how everything works, but I’m married to a financial guy so I’ve learned a lot from him. I still operated on the theory “don’t spend it, if you don’t got it.” But I’ve learned it’s better to make your money work for you.

Carla, we all have money issues. So you’re not alone. It’ll get better. It’s just a little bump in the road. Just consider this recession a “financial lesson” that you can pass on to your kids.


Teresa says:

Carla: stop beating yourself up, you are doing great, really!!… You are not a stingy giver at all, you are very generous!!, and I am the same way, I prefer to give than to receive, it feels SO good; I love doing it whenever I possibly can.

Carla says:

Heather, I didn’t know about the plane! You were holding back on that one, mama. Love it. But it’s true, I think kids are really smart and you have to walk the walk with them and not just talk the talk. The more I look around these days, the more I’m reading article after article about this new “reality” that we’re in as a nation. The party is over. Excess is out. So I feel like I’m part of a little club or something. It’s funny how growing up we were taught not to ever talk about money, yet here we are..and it’s the best thing we can all do…just put our cards out there …lay it all out on the table and talk. That’s how I will learn.

I am not beating myself up Ma, it’s quite the opposite. I love giving to others. (I already have your Mother’s Day gift, for instance..but don’t get your hopes’s not like other years..ha!) But I hesitate to buy for me….unless you count the timepiece…my gorgeous timepiece.

Anyhow, it’s a huge learning experience….and not just for me and my family but hopefully the country as a whole.

Heather B says:

A good watch is never a mistake. You’ll have forever. Paying a little too much for good quality is always better than buying crap that won’t last. BTW my dad’s plane was a four seater and my sister and I would puke everytime we flew to grandma’s in it.

Katy says:

I love the photos!! And I love the subject. I talk about this all of the time! Nobody likes talking about money, especially not our parents or grandparents. I’m glad we’re putting it out there! And also, glad we’re all, hopefully, learning from our parents’ good money advice or learning from their mistakes. I am going to write about my family and what I’ve learned from them for tomorrow’s post.

[…] was inspired by Carla’s post on where we get our financial sense. I have common sense, I have hopefully some sense of reality, […]

Stephanie says:

On the issue of giving, here’s something we do. You will find that there will be waves of birthday parties. Sometimes two a day, sometimes none, but with two boys, two classrooms full of friends. Rather than buying an expensive, impersonal birthday card, I always have plenty of construction paper around and crafty stuff. I fold a piece in half, and ask the boys to be creative and write something special to the birthday boy or girl. Actually we do this for most holidays too. The results, I think, are better than anything you can buy at the store. And much more personal.

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