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Giving credit to Mom for her financial wisdom

John Egan

You’ve seen those books with titles like “Everything I Know About Life I Learned in Kindergarten.” Much of what I know about finances, credit cards and debt I learned from my mom.

As the only son of Lynne Meyer Egan, I was privileged to be the sole recipient of a mother’s love and the sole recipient of her maternal advice. Sometimes that advice came in the form of wisdom, sometimes in the form of unvarnished truth.

Back in July 2009, it was unvarnished truth. I had emailed her about some financial trouble I was encountering, including accumulation of way too much credit card debt. I was not prepared for her response.

Mom promised she wasn’t going to lecture me, but her email in reply to my plea for advice was no less tough. I won’t embarrass myself by passing along every word of Mom’s “I suppose it sounds harsh” answer.

Let me summarize instead. She reminded me I’d been down this road before. She instructed me to seek professional guidance to repair my relationship with money and spending.

“We always think buying things will make us happy, I guess,” she told me. “It is just a momentary pleasure.”

Mom never engaged in shopping sprees, as I have. She never took pleasure in “things,” as I have. She never blew money on vacations, as I have. She never racked up credit card debt, as I have.

My mom inherited her frugal ways and smart attitude toward money from her dad. He was a hard-working farmer and a bank president and a wise investor. Grandpa picked up his financial prowess the hard way: He lived through the Great Depression, so he truly appreciated the value of a dollar.

Like father, like daughter.

But like mother, like son? Hardly.

That handed-down financial acumen managed to skip a generation, as if I wasn’t her biological son. How could her financial DNA be so different from mine?

While our financial genetics weren’t a match, some of Mom’s financial lessons did sink in, as I acknowledged in my July 2009 email to her:

While I can’t reverse what has happened, I’ve now come to the full realization that you absolutely are right about what you’ve said before: Things really don’t matter. It’s something I’ve heard Suze Orman preach about time and time again. 

But when it comes to money matters, I am probably better at giving advice than at following advice. Suffice it to say that I have committed to changing my spending habits for the better.

Long before Mom passed away unexpectedly two years ago this week, she was able to see that I’d changed my spending habits for the better and had gotten my financial house in order.

And since her death at 74, I’ve committed myself even more to financial responsibility. For instance, I’ve been very diligent about paying my credit card balances in full every month. When I’m unable to do that, I religiously pay well over the minimum due each month.

She’d be proud of me on that front, even though she’d probably frown a little about carrying a month-to-month balance on a credit card.

If I am ever tempted to stray from the straight-and-narrow financial path, I remind myself how disappointed my mom would be – and realize how disappointed I’d be in myself.

I wish Mom were still here to dispense her straightforward advice on a range of issues, including money, but her wisdom lives on. And I swear her “money doesn’t buy happiness” voice reverberates inside my head every time I pull a debit card or credit card out of my wallet.

See related: Sorry Mom: Poll finds mothers losing financial influence, 7 lasting money habits from mom

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