Now that I’m a mom, blaming my problems on my own mother is not cool. I don’t want my kids to do that to me. Still, I know, inevitably, my kids will one day be relaying all my parenting mistakes to their friends, spouses, kids or shrinks. There is absolutely NO such thing as a perfect parent.

My mother was the most giving person I know. She’d let me bring friends on family vacations and showered me with tons of stuff for which I probably was never truly grateful. She helped my brother and me whenever we needed money, whether she had it to spare or not. She was a great mom, but by not saying “no” very often, she inadvertently taught me things that I spent years unlearning.

Here are the three financial lessons my mom taught me that I had to unlearn:

1. Stuff equals love. My mother loved to shop. Spending money was how she relaxed, spent “quality” time with her kids and showed her love. Unfortunately, at a young age, I took that to mean stuff equals love. The more she bought me, the more she loved me, right? WRONG!

My “ah-ha” moment came during Christmas with my Dad when I was 7 or 8 (my parents divorced when I was 5). Opening presents with my Dad and his side of the family, I felt a stab of jealousy when my cousin got this cool singing bear from my grandmother. I thought, “Boy does my grandmother love him to give him such a cool toy.” Then I opened a Rainbow Bright doll from my Dad and I immediately ran, crying, to the basement. “He must not love me very much,” I thought “because I don’t even like Rainbow Bright.”

My poor Dad—he probably just didn’t know what toys I liked because he didn’t live with me. He took my tantrum in stride and with his love, patience and understanding I was reassured that he loved me and that stuff was inconsequential. The two things have remained divorced in my mind ever since. That’s why I’ll tell my kids “no” without the slightest flinch of guilt.

2. You don’t have to wait for what you want. My mother didn’t often make me wait for something I wanted. If she didn’t have the money that day, she charged it. I cringe when I think of the $100 dress coat she bought me once. We saw the same exact coat on sale a week or so later for $50. When I showed her the reduced price, I felt bad that she had paid double. She wasn’t upset in the slightest—”Well, you needed it, so what does it matter?” My budding frugal mind understood that waiting meant the difference of $50.

I don’t mind telling my kids “No” when they ask for something. I know one of two things are guaranteed to happen with time: 1) they’ll forget entirely about the toy that absolutely had to be purchased right then or 2) I can get it for a much better price when it goes on sale later. I want my kids to really think about they want and not be tempted by marketing or peer pressure.

For example, my daughter kept bringing book-sale flyers home from school last year and would ask me to buy books because her classmates were buying some. After the second flyer came home, I drove her to the library. “Here you go Hannah,” I said. “Pick however many you books you want.” She asked me why I’d brought her there—I told her that she could read as many books as she wanted, get new ones when she’s done, and it doesn’t cost any money. She looked at me with big eyes, “You mean they’re free books?” When I said yes, she looked at me like I was a superhero. I knew she understood why I had said “no.” Money is about choices and if you make smarter choices you have more of it for other things.

3. Spending what you don’t have is ok, if it means making others happy. We all want to make our kids happy and I think that’s what my mother tried to do. She would help anyone, even if it cost her dearly to do it. Unfortunately, in my adolescent mind, I associated giving money or paying for things as why people like you.

In high school, I’d give my lunch money to kids I barely knew, without registering why. Well, all I ended up with was a hungry belly. I don’t want my kids to think that people like you for the things you give them. I want them to be confident that their friends like them for who they are as a person.

I’ve taken my kids to an outreach on Long Island that provides food, clothing, and entertainment to people in need. I want my kids to see that there are so many ways they can be of service to their community. I want them to be monetarily generous, but without sacrificing their own financial health. I want them to love others and be loved in return for no other reason than because that’s what they deserve in life.

I miss my mother every day—the way she would say, “Oh Erin, that’s so great!” or “I’m so proud of you!” I miss her voice, her hugs and seeing the way she was with my kids. I wish she knew her incredible value in my life was priceless. Nothing she could buy me would make me love her more and there’s no amount of money I wouldn’t pay for just the chance to tell her so.

So march on you awesome parents! Keep telling your kids “no” with your wallet and “yes” with your heart. Tell them often because the world we send them out into will tell them “no” plenty of times. I figure maybe, just maybe, they will be more confident in their own abilities to navigate their finances and lives when that day comes.

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