By Sheryl Smolkin
My Mom will be 90 this year and we recently moved her to a private retirement home that specializes in Alzheimer’s and dementia care. In her prime, she was a feisty, fashionable businesswoman. In fact she sold registered educational savings plans well past when most people retire and her employer finally made a retirement dinner in her honour when she was over 80.
As we sorted through her condo to get it ready for sale, I realized that my mother taught me many essential lessons about money, both before and after I left home. Here are six important things I learned from her over the years — in many cases, by osmosis.
- Avoid debt at all cost: When we were growing up, the golden rule was, if you can’t afford it, you can’t buy it. Credit cards were not as pervasive as they are now and we were encouraged to save a portion of our allowance until we had enough to purchase the desired item. Other than a mortgage, my parents paid off their bills every month.
- Never pay retail: As an inveterate shopper on a limited budget my mother knew how to stretch a dollar. Her view was and still is that a sale starts at 50% off. She also seized every opportunity to buy clothes for the family wholesale direct from factories in Montreal she was able to visit as a result of family contacts. Internet shopping came a little too late for her, but if she was a few years younger, I bet that she would have loved searching for bargains online.
- Get an education: My grandparents emigrated from Europe. Neither of my parents graduated from high school. My brother, sister and I were the first generation on both sides of the family to attend university. For as long as I can remember my Mom viewed education as the key to a golden door that would unlock future opportunities.
- Invest in your children: While my Mom taught us the value of a dollar and we had summer jobs to defray the costs of going away to university, she scrimped and saved to make sure all three of us could graduate from a first degree, debt free. In her 40s she became a successful real estate salesperson and then a broker, in part, to help generate money for our education. We have done the same for our children.
- Buy and pay off a home: Mom firmly believed that a paid off home is the best retirement savings plan. It turns out that she was right. When she moved to Thornhill in 1980 she bought a semi-detached house for under $100,000 with a down payment of $30,000 realized from the sale of her home in Cornwall. Since then she moved to a condo which is expected to sell for over six times the value of her first Toronto area property.
- Save for a rainy day: Once she started making her own money selling real estate and then RESPs, Mom made maximum contributions to her RRSP every year. While initially her savings meant she could afford extras like travel in retirement, in the last few years we have used her money to hire caregivers so she could stay in her apartment as long as possible. And I am grateful that balance of her savings and the proceeds of sale of her apartment will now be available to pay for excellent care as long as she needs it.
But as we gather to celebrate our Mom on Mother’s Day, I realize the most important lesson she taught me is the power of love and family through good times and bad. My daughter’s family lives in Ottawa so she only sees her great granddaughter every few months. She may not remember her name or how she is related but she knows she is someone important and her hugs and kisses are more valuable than anything money can buy.