Everything I Learned From My Mother (About Money)

Everything I learned from my mother about money - Homely Economics podcast episode 6

My mother and I have a wonderful relationship, and I’m truly happy to be able to say that. She’s taught me a lot about life, but not always in a direct way. Everything I learned from my mother about money could be a very short list if we were only counting direct pieces of advice.

Generally, I’ve learned from her example over the years. As well as the things she got right, I’ve also learned a lot from what she got wrong. You see, although we are very alike in many ways that neither of us have ever tried to control – subtle things like our gait, posture, voices and mannerisms – we have very different personalities.

Although I could fill a book with stories about her life, I’ll stick to what I’ve learned from my mother about money.

My name is Lee, and you’re listening to the Homely Economics podcast.


My mother’s a spender. She has enough clothes, shoes, accessories and jewellery to open a store of her own, and rotating her wardrobe through seasons means that she has to carry cartloads of ‘stock’ through her house to where they’re stored in the basement and loft until it’s time to wear them again. She loves clothes, and she loves shopping.

My mother loves shopping - here's what she taught me about money.

One useful thing she did tell me was this: don’t buy it unless you’re in love.

That’s stuck with me since I was a teenager. I haven’t always listen, but I do now. The problem is, I think my mum just loves a whole lotta stuff, and that’s not going to change!

I also observed when I was still a teenager, how some people, like my mum, love to shop for fun. Of course, that’s a “hobby” that very easily leads to trouble…

What I learned from her:

Retail therapy feels real at the time, but its effects don’t last. Buy better quality items if you can, but shop less.


We came from a poor family – in the UK we’d say working class, but in Barbados we don’t tend to dress it up as much. By the time I came along, we’d moved up to a two-up, two-down housing authority house complete with indoor toilet – swish! Still, I never once felt poor- we were just normal.

Most of my relatives had emigrated to the USA in the 80’s, but it wasn’t until the severe economic crash of the 1990’s cost my mother and other public sector employees their jobs that she considered moving away to find work.

After moving to America, my mother had to learn a new cultural language, but she also learned the culture of consumer debt. It’s very hard to resist, especially when moving from a situation where everything was out of your range to one where suddenly, everything is in your grasp… even if you can’t actually afford it there and then.

I saw that spending was a way to inject some happiness into a stressful time, and it was her way of trying to make me happy in spite of the upheaval we were going through. Perhaps it’s because of our differences, but I realised that shopping didn’t give me that lift, and that I didn’t want to get into a tangle of credit cards myself.

What I learned from her:

Anyone can fall into the trap of debt, but we don’t have to accept it as a normal part of society – don’t buy what you can’t afford.

Surviving as a single parent

Some of my earliest memories of my mother are of her wearing her Barbados Transport Board uniform. As a conductress she took bus passengers’ money and gave out change and tickets, doing long shifts and regularly going into the bus terminal in her time off in case there was any overtime to be had. They called this “peeping” – that terminology still makes me smile a bit.

Mum working for the Barbados Transport Board.

At the time, it seemed that all she ever did was work. I just wanted her to play with me and my dolls, but she usually had to go peep or go to sleep… I couldn’t figure out why adults needed so many naps in the middle of the day. Of course, I get it now.

Mum worked hard at a low-paying job because she had to. She was a single parent with a basic secondary education in a developing country. She had no financial help from my father as he never paid child maintenance, and although she occasionally had my grandmother around to help look after me, we were often on our own after moving to a different area, so she had to rely on neighbours to help get me ready for school when she had to be at work in the early hours of the morning.

When I found myself suddenly in the same situation as a single parent, I did feel sorry for myself at times, yet I couldn’t keep that up for very long, knowing that my mother did the job so well with fewer advantages than I have. Raising a child in 1980’s Barbados is a world away from raising a child in post-millenium Britain, but the point is that she taught me not to be afraid of bearing the burden on my own.

What I learned from her:

Providing for a family as a single parent is hard, but there’s dignity and pride to be found in providing for your family to the best of your ability. It won’t go unnoticed by your children when they grow up.


Our attitude to careers, as I’ve already mentioned, is very different, but I’ve still learned a lot from comparing them.

My mother’s options for work were limited by her social position, family finances and education, which is why she placed such a high value on my education and career prospects. It’s totally understandable; as the first of my family to go to university, it would seem to be the way out of poverty for me.

However, my options for work are limited mainly by myself and my ideologies, despite having many more formal qualifications. I enjoy working part-time so that I can write and make art; I’d rather earn less from doing something I love than earn more from doing something I hate.

Mum works hard to make money so that she can spend it freely and enjoy herself. I like to work less, make as much money as I need and save enough of it so I don’t have to work any more.

What I’ve learned from her:

Work is a means to an end, not the main focus of life; still, you have to put the work in to achieve the ends you want.

Money Isn’t Everything

This is similar to our outlook on work. It’s a tricky one, because both my mother and I believe that money isn’t everything, but it’s the application wherein we differ.

We drive each other a bit crazy because she thinks that I could be rich if I’d only get a fancy job, and I think that she could be rich if she’d just stop buying stuff. We’re both right in a way, but we both do what’s right for ourselves. The similarity is, neither one of us thinks that hoarding money is wise.

She has no need for money apart from the experiences and the fun it can provide her. Depending on how you see it, she’s either generous or wasteful, fun or frivolous. Depending on how you see it, I might be frugal or stingy, wise or miserly.

Mum is no longer in debt, so she can spend her money on the things and people she wants to without harming herself financially. She won’t bother maximising her money in the way that I do by changing bank accounts and being aware of interest rates because it’s too much hassle, but she has enough to make her happy and share with others when she wants to.

What I’ve learned from her:

It’s only money, so as long as you’re not hurting yourself or others, manage it in the way you like, and don’t judge anyone else for not doing the same as you!

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Everything I learned from my mother about money - Homely Economics podcast episode 6

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