Clipping coupons, chasing seasonal sales, rummaging through garage sales and buying off-brand versions of everything — this was my reality growing up. Frugal was my mother’s middle name, not particularly because of any shortage or abundance of money, but because that’s the way she was raised.
My mom was not a spender, but a natural saver. She made sure that I knew pennies added up, and that if I saved one dollar a few hundred times over the months, the efforts would prove to be fruitful and open up more financial opportunities for myself.
We bought only what was necessary, and it was usually the cheapest product that could do the job. “No” was a word I heard many times when asking for things growing up, from new toys to yummy foods to fancy summer camps across the state. Sure, we splurged every now and again on vacations, sports and other special occasions, but that was mostly when the stars aligned.
From my childhood, I learned that this was the way life was supposed to work. Into adulthood, I would flip through my mom’s coupon books on the way to the grocery store, helping to save a couple of dollars here and there.
I grew to have the same relationship with spending money that she had. I only bought things when totally necessary, squeezed by without things if I could manage and opted for the cheapest stuff whenever possible. This was a great way to get by in college and in my first few years of adulthood, when money was tight and saving up for my travels was my priority.
I still had this mindset even after becoming financially independent. It made a lot of sense to spend only when I needed to, and saving was always easy for me. I was essentially a spitting image of my mom (and funnily enough, her mom too), and I prided myself on being able to live comfortably on less than a certain amount of money per month.
However, I started to realize that money was often stressing me out when it didn’t need to. I worried over pennies and dollars for things that maybe I didn’t need but would make my life better. I stressed over expensive birthday dinners, new home items and obligatory events with friends. It weighed on me to know that these were technically unnecessary expenditures, or that they were maybe more expensive than need be.
The silly part is that these things were weighing on me whether money was tight or not.
When I realized this, my relationship with money slowly changed — and I say slowly because I still catch myself stressing and have to remind myself that sometimes, spending is OK.
It was ingrained in me that you should never spend more than you need to; you can always get food on the cheap and make do with less. This is still true. But when I eventually loosened my grip on my finances and understood that it’s not always possible to find the cheapest deal, I felt liberated.
I began to understand that spending money can be OK, especially when it’s with loved ones or for things that truly make your life, living space, job, relationships, health or general existence better. I will always thank my amazing mom for teaching me how to save because surely that is a harder skill to learn than how to spend. But I am also thankful that I’ve learned that money is made to be spent, and I should be happy when I spend it in the right places.
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Last updated: Sept. 8, 2021