This is a story of what my family taught me about money through a seemingly first-person narrative, and how I was able to mold their struggle with finances into lessons that would benefit me for the rest of my life. My journey through finances has been shaped by personal and family struggles, and I believe that these experiences taught me what financial success truly was.
My family never had a lot of money growing up, but we made do with what little we had. The clothes on my back were hand-me-downs from my older brother, and the cars my parents drove were not exactly brand new. However, the frugality of my parents never affected my brother and I, since we had the tools and resources we needed. There was hardly, if ever, a need to buy school supplies. My brother and I learned from a young age that our mother and father were hard workers who wanted to provide everything they possibly could for us to succeed, and it was at this early time in our lives that we understood that anything that we could do to help our parents out would help more than we could know.
My extended family never had their money “under control”. The majority of them were unfortunate addicts who lived with their parents, unemployed. My father would always explain the importance of college using his family as a reference. He was the first of not only his family, but his extended family, to go to a four-year university. He understood that college would provide opportunities for my siblings and I that were not available to others, things like a strong education, opportunities for networking, and above all else, jobs. He could not stress enough the extreme importance that I learn from his family’s mistakes, and gain experience for a decent job that one day I too may provide for a family. My father was an excellent saver and spender, and to this day I look to him as a financial role model.
My mother was the same way. Suffering from burnout and a bout of depression, she dragged herself to a job that would replace her in a heartbeat if she dropped dead without a second thought. Her persistence and determination brought not only a second income to the family, but it brought a roof over our heads and food on our table. She taught me that there will come a time when others rely on me, and that giving up should never be an option. However, it was not until December of 2013 when I was able to fully understand what she meant.
2013 was the most financial strain my family has ever been through. It was the year when my mother was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, a rare and aggressive cancer that required chemotherapy and radiation as a treatment. By this time, my father had taught me basic finances, things like how not to open credit cards I did not need, and paying off principals before they compounded interest. He was always the financial person in the family, after all. However, there was simply no feasible way for my father to pay my mother’s hospital bills through a debit card or check. My family accumulated an overawing amount of unwanted debt on unwanted credit cards. But even through this unstable period, my father showed me how to check for inconsistencies in everything, from hospital bills to bank statements, as well as how to conserve money to the best of one’s abilities. How to ask for help from the billing department at the hospital, and that payment plans are usually an option. Above all, he taught me how to understand that there will always be light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how dark it may seem. To this day, I have nothing but the utmost respect for the things he taught me during this dark period, and I realize that these are lessons I will use indefinitely.
Money saving tips for university students
The recovery period after the cancer was hard on my family as well. My aunt’s family had moved in with us, and was paying our family rent, which helped out tremendously in our struggle to pay hospital bills. My mother was unable to work because of the toll that the chemotherapy took on her body, so my father picked up a ton of overtime hours. I hardly ever saw him, since he was either sleeping or working. We learned quickly how to coupon in order to save money, and we signed up for a multitude of reward systems and discounts through various grocery stores and supermarkets. The coupons would come in the mail and only then would we go shopping. Even after the debt stabilized, it almost became tradition to shop after the coupons came in the mail. Our hard work and resolve paid off, because looking back, my family must have saved hundreds from these coupons and rewards.
Now, my family learned how to not only coupon, but also how to stretch a dollar. A favorite quote of mine says “The buck that bought a bottle could have struck the lotto”, which to me means that using money wisely now, rather than spending it on unnecessary indulgences, can make a world of an impact. I can personally attest to this statement, as there was simply no room to buy wants, rather than needs. I learned about credit scores, how to build them, and the benefits and downsides to said credit.
Learning how to coupon was honestly one of the most fun times I had during this dark period in my life. My father and I would go to the store with what seemed to be a ton of coupons in hand and find everything we would possibly need at a fraction of the price. If coupons could not be combined, we would figure out which coupon was the best deal in terms of quantity and price. Over a short period of time, my family saved over $1000 from our extreme couponing. The frugality of my family paid off, literally. However, our couponing addiction was not limited to groceries and food items.
As time passed, the vastness of the internet grew. Coupons were not limited to paper, and could be found over the web as well. Coupon websites like Retaimenot, and smaller websites that had little traffic like CouponVario, had expanded and became not only prevalent, but important in our everyday lifestyle. Different stores had coupons that could be downloaded and printed from their websites, which we took advantage of at our local library. This advancement not only revolutionized the way we shopped, but it also allowed my family to get the things we needed without having to wait for the coupons to come in the mail. As the debt from my mother’s hospital bills shrunk from saved money, our ability to buy the things we wanted increased.
After the mountainous debt subsided, my father began to travel with me, my mother, and my two siblings, which is where my father’s knowledge on credit came in handy. He taught me about how to use the benefits of the card to my advantage. By using his credit card at his favorite stores and restaurants, he gains miles which he uses for flights and hotels when he travels with my siblings and mother. As a matter of fact, his trip to both Ghana and Paris cost him about $80 as a result of his extensive miles. By putting me on his card as well, I too earn miles towards my own trips, and when I buy gas or eat at restaurants, I gain miles for him as well. Credit cards tend to also be useful for online shopping, which I have come to realize. If the seller seems to be a scammer, credit card companies WILL fight for a refund, rather than paying with a debit card and having the money instantly taken out of the account with almost no way to gain it back.
Over the years, learning how to spot clearance deals became a crucial part of my repertoire. Even now, I never buy anything that is not on sale as a way to save money for things I may need in the near future, thanks to past experience and knowledge from my father. The best thing I have learned from my experiences is that the company is the one that usually puts on the sale, rather than just having the customer put in a promo code. Now, there are hundreds of promo codes online that have not expired yet from the same store, and using these promo codes on top of the items already on clearance can net an extreme discount. I once got a $200 pair of shoes for less than $30 this way, and it helps tremendously, especially as a student, where most companies already give a student discount, however slight the discount may be.
After all this time, I feel that my family thoroughly prepared me for the challenges I faced in life financially. My father taught me through his thorough and practical explanations on credit and clearance sales, how to spot them and utilize these sales rather than buying something because it is cheaper than usual, using himself as an example. My mother taught me how life can come sideways sometimes, and expecting the unexpected will only improve my financial well being later on. My extended family provided a first person look at what will happen if I am not on top of my finances, and what will happen if I give up rather than keep pushing for financial stability and success. I cannot help but thank them for the knowledge they have shared with me, and I will be sure to continue to utilize it as best as I can.