Save. Spend. Splurge.

What my mother learned growing up about money

So I’ve talked about what I learned growing up about money, and what my father learned growing up about money, but never mentioned my mother.

My mother is a unique case to me because I can’t really fathom what she went through as a child.

In fact, it’s kind of gruesome what she endured and my siblings have forbade my mom to tell them what it was like when she grew up so that she doesn’t scare them or make them feel awful.

Frankly, it happened.

It’s reality and I think it’s a good thing that someone went through that, doesn’t have to ever do it again and you can learn indirectly from their experiences so that you feel even more grateful for the life you have.

I’d like my kids to hear her say all of this so that they don’t take what they have for granted either.


My great-grandfather was a business man.

Like a serious, we-have-lots-of-money-and-live-in-a-mansion-with-staff kind of business man who profited well from foreigners coming in and acted as a broker in between them to do business (kind of like a glorified translator for importing and exporting).


He had one son, my grandfather, and unfortunately he turned out to be a complete bum, so you can kind of guess where the wealth went.


Sigmund Freud had something here about how women tend to marry their fathers, and I myself almost repeated it but I broke out of that cycle early on and got rid of the bum.

Anyway, my grandfather was basically a bum.

He didn’t want to work, didn’t want to make anything of himself and grew up spoiled as a rich man’s boy.

He wanted very badly to become a lawyer in England but his father wanted him to take over the business, so my grandfather obeyed him (he who has the gold makes the decisions) and turned into a wastrel — almost a mirror of my father, to be honest.


As a result of my grandfather being a kind of lazy rich man’s boy who had his dreams dashed, he married a rather cunning first wife with whom he had a child with. She divorced him, cleaned out the bank accounts of every penny he had before she did so, took the daughter and left.

Why he didn’t fight this or do something about it either says something about the times they lived in, or his character. Maybe a bit of both.

At any rate, he was left completely, 100% penniless and poor.


Along came my grandmother who came from an extremely poor family. They were so happy SOMEONE wanted to marry their daughter that they gave her for free (they couldn’t afford to keep feeding her and were happy to unload her off to someone else, even a penniless bum).

With my grandmother and in the times of no birth control or any idea of how babies came to be born, my fertile grandmother gave birth to 18 children. 2 died young from accidents and other complications, and now 16 survive in the world, one of whom was my mother.

Times were really hard. Imagine trying to feed 16 children with no money at all!



This would have been a feast for them.

She would go to the church and beg for food which they kindly gave to her (and the reason why my mother’s side of the family is extremely religious and Catholic; something which did NOT pass down to us kids), and tried her best to keep all 16 clothed, fed and alive.

It was really.. really.. tough.

She would ration food out to the kids, and sometimes the older children out of desperation would beat up the younger ones to steal their food.

It goes without saying that my mother had no one to rely on growing up to help her.

See, when I was a child, my brother taught me how to read when I was 5. He sat down with me with a picture book, and went through word by word until I memorized the book, then applied it to other books until I learned how to read (and never stopped).

You would think this is normal in all families but my mother had no one to help her with homework, and they were so hungry and poor it was difficult for them to concentrate on anything but food. All she dreamed about was food and trying to quash that hungry wolf in her stomach.

(This part always made me really sad as a child when I heard her say that because she is an excellent cook.)

Other siblings resorted to thievery (climbing into backyards to steal vegetables and fruit to survive while everyone was in church). Everyone knew them in town as “THOSE children”, they were that notorious for being poor.

More on that later.



So as a result of the thieving first ex-wife, he had to start taking on debts from others in the community, promising to pay them back.

He of course, NEVER had any money to pay them back because.. well he didn’t work. He was a bum. Soon, people stopped lending him money, but once in a while a soft-hearted guy would spot him a bill or two, but kind of knew that he’d never pay him back.

He would give the money to my grandmother, who would then try and ration out the cash over 16 children for as long as possible.

As an example of how poor they were, they had no money to buy milk to feed her children, so she would take cornstarch, mix it in water and pretend it was milk. They obviously grew up nutritionally-deprived and you can see it in the way my mother’s body aches and has problems so early on in her life.

My grandfather’s bill collectors would come in the middle of the night with sticks and bang on the doors of the house that they were squatting in and demand the money they were owed.

It was a very scary period of her life to be woken up every 3-6 months with people angry, asking for their money back and threatening her father and her family.

Luckily nothing happened but that’s how it happened in the past. As a result, she grew up in fear of money. Everything to do with money, she tries hard to ignore.


As a result of all this nastiness, I only know 8 aunts and uncles out of the 16. The rest left the house as soon as they could, moved to other parts of the world and never ever wanted to see anyone in their family again.

I think they just all pretended that they were orphans if anyone asked.

(Oh and they ALL changed their names to get rid of their sordid, horrible past.)

My mother met one of her brothers 20 years later by accident in a store (she recognized him) when traveling and couldn’t believe it was him. He looked shocked to see her, but then refused to meet us (the rest of the family) because he didn’t want anything to do with us.

That’s the kind of relationship she has with half of them.

Out of the 8 aunts and uncles I know, they have tried their best to take care of my grandmother until she died 10 years ago, and my mother still sends back money once in a while to help pay for my older aunts and uncles who do their best to work but can’t find any work as they have absolutely no skills and nothing to offer (they’re too old now to do any kind of manual labour).



So back to how my mother grew up with nothing.

To give you an idea, she only owned:

  • 2 pairs of socks — only to be worn to school, replaced once a year
  • 1 uniform for school — replaced once a year
  • 1 dress
  • 1 pair of shoes — only to be worn to school, replaced once a year
  • 2 thin towels – one for the face one for the body, replaced once a year (given out of guilt by the first ex-wife)
  • 1 small wooden crate (the size for wine bottles) to sleep on, with a thin piece of cloth as a bed sheet
  • 1 folded piece of cloth as a pillow
  • schoolbooks

The rest of the time, she was barefoot.

365 days of the year, that’s all she had.

Literally next to nothing.

As I mentioned above, they fought each other like animals for food, and they were constantly hungry. They would sometimes go into neighbour’s backyards and eat the scraps left for the neighbours’ pets outside just to get something in their stomach.


After my mother managed to get high enough grades out of sheer tenacity (not really out of intelligence as she is self-admittedly not smart, but a very VERY hard worker), she made it into a university and then found a job right away as a teacher.

From there, it was a rags to riches story — something unbelievable and admirable.

She moved into the middle-class segment of society, and now has quite a wonderful life compared to what she went through.


Now onto the whole point of this post.


What my mother learned about money was that there wasn’t any and she’s in denial (in a way) that money exists.

She only saw food as the objective, not money to get food, and as a result when she had any kind of money in the bank, she wanted to spend it in fear that it would not be there the next day.

This habit has continued well into present day spending habits, and she doesn’t see the future because… she doesn’t want to see the future, to be honest.

She wants to keep working until she dies (a true possibility if her health holds up), and this is a good thing for her because she really loves her job.

So.. she doesn’t save for medical emergencies (we live in Canada), she doesn’t think about retirement (it’s kind of already set for her at a modest amount), and we kids have to step in sometimes to help guide them along the path of learning how to manage money.

She is someone who is adverse to debt (ironic but true), because of her experiences with her father and his collectors banging on the doors day and night, threatening her family, and I used this to her advantage by telling her to clear the mortgage as soon as possible (which she did in record time, about $60,000 in 2.5 years), and she avoids credit card debt like the plague.


She remembers the time her mother declared one of her sons “no longer her son” because he owed her $2000 from having borrowed the money to keep up with his wife’s lavish lifestyle.

He was unable to pay her back, and after 5 years my grandmother said he was no longer welcome in her home.

So… knowing that, my mother feels very bad about asking for money from anyone.

Don’t get me wrong, she’ll give you everything she has but she takes it to another level.

If my mother owes you money, she will NEVER forget to pay you back. She will hunt you down and give you the money.

If you owe my mother money, she will quietly ignore that fact and not ask for it because she doesn’t want to bother you.

As a result, my father and one of my siblings tends to take advantage of this generous quiet nature of my mother, and they basically use her money.

It is only through the hawk-eye intervention of the rest of us kids that they don’t go as far as they would like.



I’m sure my father would be thrilled to have full access to her money to do what he wants with it but luckily they keep separate bank accounts, although she pays 100% of all the bills in the household including groceries and paying for vacations.

That’s just the way she is about money. She hates fighting about it, dealing with it, talking about it, and doesn’t like conflict and thinks it’s so stupid to let MONEY come in the way of family.. although I am of the belief that to not talk about money and have a fair and equitable arrangement, causes more harm than good (especially for women).

And that’s the other side of the story.


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