Between time at home due to quarantine and the reality of getting older, the reach for nostalgia is becoming part of my everyday routine. And with Mother’s Day upon us, I’ve been thinking about my mom more than usual: her words of wisdom, her signature “Southern mama” disposition, and her strength.
Because of her character, she has been able to weather an upbringing rooted in poverty, win a battle with cancer, and confront the everyday hurdles of life that none of us can avoid. As she gets older, I know my time with her is only becoming more precious. And as a sentimental person, the thing I cling to most in relationships is what the person teaches me about life.
Though I could fill a book with her anecdotes and stories, with her cautionary tales and biblical proverbs, I would like to share the top three financial lessons, my mom, Pam, taught me.
A woman should always keep “getaway money”
Pam is your classic, loving helicopter mom. I was never allowed to get a Mickey Mouse pop from the ice cream truck with friends because “bad guys could be lurking by the truck. Better yet, they could be operating the truck to snatch kids!” I couldn’t play outside or in the rain, because “that’s how kids get sick. And weirdos could be hiding in the bushes.” From an early age, I was groomed to believe the world had its moments of magic, but it was primarily a symmetrically oppressed playground. (Which, she wasn’t wrong….)
As I got older, my tight leash morphed into a “street-smart” preparation that she would armor me with before going on a date, attending a concert, or even entering a marriage. “Always bring your own money on a date; some boys will buy you dinner and think you owe them something — which you don’t! So take extra money for a cab so you can leave if he becomes pushy.” She called it “keeping your getaway money.”
And “getaway money” wasn’t limited to first dates or casual outings. Pam instilled the idea of keeping a separate stash of savings — especially during marriage — years before I began seriously dating. She grew up in a small town in Alabama and throughout her life had witnessed the turmoil that comes with staying in a relationship out of financial convenience. Though she never used the phrase “financial abuse,” she detailed the stunted growth and the irreparable damage a woman faced if she found herself in a toxic relationship. She warned me against entering a union where money was treated as a bargaining chip, a poor attempt at foreplay, or if the partnership was merely a meal ticket with added benefits.
As I write this, I can hear her subtle Southern twang, which is about the only evidence of her countryside upbringing, repeating to me, “A woman should always have enough money to get her own apartment, move away, and say, “Screw you!” (And if you’re curious, my husband is fully aware of my separate savings account.)
While my mother and I share some financial philosophies, we do live two very different lifestyles. She is the mother who doesn’t believe in “wearing white after Labor Day” and had a closet full of designer handbags. While I, on the other hand, wear Birkenstocks every day and am only about six months clean from fast fashion. Nonetheless, my mom did her best to hand down all hacks and tips and prayed they would prove applicable.
She has a past professional life in sales and retail and worships at the altar of What’s The Harm in Asking, non-denominational. In my pre-teen years, she explained to me that most people don’t ask, and “closed mouths don’t get fed.” Being a shy and insecure pre-teen, I nodded my head to signal I understood but thought the access to a treasure trove of freebies was something reserved for the blunt and the beautiful, a world I wouldn’t dare enter. My mother was so talented at appearing unabashed, but I would later learn through experience that my mother didn’t have a secret password in her possession. She just asked. Sometimes the answer was no, and sometimes the answer was yes.
I’m not nearly as bold as my mother when in the company of strangers, but I’ve grown courageous on the phone to dispute a claim, collect discounts with service providers, and yes, even to ask for samples at beauty counters.
Invest in quality.
I mentioned I’m “six months clean from fast fashion.” I can confirm, first-hand, having a dependable item of clothing will pay you in dividends, and that trendy number you bought at the mall for your girl’s trip won’t be on the return flight home with you. Yes, this is one of the lessons I’ve had to learn the hard way. But dammit if a mother doesn’t know best. Pam was diligent when breaking down the numbers with me, “By the time you buy five cheap pairs of shoes, you could have bought one nice pair that will last you years.” It took a pair of heels ripping at work for me to listen finally. (Me: 0; Pam: the limit does not exist.)
Her advice to never compromise quality rings loudest when it comes to my skincare and self-care routines. Being an invested parent, she has always been generous with sharing not only her information but also her products and contacts. In high school, I saw a dermatologist for my fickle skin and had regular appointments at hair and nail salons. At 16, it felt luxurious, sure, but I thought most of it was vapid and self-indulgent. I took my waist-length, healthy hair for granted, and I figured I would always have decent skin. (LOL.) Pam was thoughtful enough to broaden my perspective and offer the idea that regular beauty regimens are less about “being pretty” and more about self-care and self-prioritization.
To this day, it’s the lesson she reminds me of most often. And I know it to supersede clothing and tangible items. In my early twenties, I took a very “flavor of the month” approach to most things: my career, my friendships, my workouts; I wanted to maximize my time and pleasure, cut corners, and move onto the next entertaining option. My mother patiently waited on the sidelines, coaching me through the marathon of life. She vowed I’d finally be closer to the finish line once I realized investing in quality will withstand the test of time.
As I close out my open letter to my best friend, I see she’s dedicated her life as a parent to teaching me the very lifelong struggle I’ve always fought: to love myself. And self-love looks like preparation. Self-love is advocacy. Self-love believes you’re worth the additional time, resources, and energy.
Jazmine Reed-Clark is a true crime and self-improvement junkie working in HR, and a millennial who (finally) knows the difference between a stock and a bond. She thinks.
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