The lack of money is the root of all evil.
— Mark Twain
As you get older, there comes a time in your life when you begin to switch roles with your parents. It may happen overnight for some people — with the onset of an illness, for example — but for me it has been a gradual sort of thing.
My mother is a dear lady, and highly educated and intelligent, but is absolutely disastrous when it comes to managing money. She made a perfectly fine salary over the course of her long career as a teacher, yet she and my step-father struggled financially pretty much continuously for my entire life, and still do, despite the fact that she has a generous pension and lives in a very inexpensive small town in Tennessee. The pension, which includes health care, has been their salvation — I can’t even begin to imagine where they’d be, otherwise. (Teaching in public schools is tough without question, but it has some advantages, depending on which state you’re in.)
The Forbidden Topic
Money is a touchy matter for many, and for my mother especially. Over the years, whenever I’ve attempted to broach the subject, she has flat out refused to discuss even the most basic of details. “I just don’t like to spend my time thinking about such things,” she always says.
I suppose you can’t really blame her for not wanting to think about money when it was always such a source of stress, but the great irony of it is that failure to do basic financial planning and to keep spending under control meant that she was constantly having to think about it — to fret and worry over money on a daily basis, for pretty much her entire life. Despite her solidly middle-class income, she always felt poor.
By contrast, once you’ve learned the rudiments of personal finance, it’s not all that hard to put a simple plan in place where, so long as you maintain good spending habits, the money mostly handles itself. As you might have surmised, I personally enjoy thinking about the subject, so I spend more time fine-tuning things than most. But my wife and I could just as easily go about our day-to-day lives for months at a time without giving money even a moment’s thought. The lion’s share of our finances is almost entirely automated. We’d need to check up on things roughly once a quarter, just to rebalance and to make sure nothing had gone amiss, but that’s about all that would be required to keep us more or less on track.
No matter how hard I’ve tried, I’ve never managed to convince mother that the best way to keep from having to think about money all the time is to buckle down and learn about it.