Friday, May 5, 2017

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Remembering my Frugal Mother

Countdown to Financial Fitness: Remembering my Frugal Mother: My mother liked to be acknowledged on Mother's Day, but she bristled at the thought of money being spent on her. No gifts, a card was f...

Remembering my Frugal Mother

My mother liked to be acknowledged on Mother's Day, but she bristled at the thought of money being spent on her. No gifts, a card was fine.

Flowers (unless picked from one's garden) were too extravagant. When I got a job and became self-sufficient, I sent her flowers on Mother's Day and her birthday. "They're beautiful, honey, but you shouldn't have." And she meant it. I don't think she was ever able to enjoy them, she was so worried about how much the flowers--and the delivery--had cost me. After a while, I stopped sending her flowers, because they made her so uncomfortable.

My mother died before unlimited domestic calling was a common feature of most cell and landline plans. Back then, long-distance phone calls, with the charges escalating by the minute, made her nervous. As soon as she heard my voice on the line, she'd squeal, "Oh Sharon, how nice to talk to you. Thanks for calling." And sometimes she'd hang up before I had a chance to tell her the reason for my call.

Only the direst of emergencies warranted a long-distance telephone call. When my grandmother died, my mother wrote a letter to give me the news. (To her credit, she splurged on a special-edition, handwritten letter and thus an extra stamp; she didn't save that piece of information for the monthly family newsletter.) Still, I almost missed the funeral. My brother did miss the funeral, because he had a less-flexible work schedule than I and he didn't work for an airline that gave him free flight benefits.

When I moved to Los Angeles from Houston and drove with a friend across the desert in my semi-reliable 1976 Subaru, my parents wanted reassurance that I had arrived safely. "But don't waste money on a long-distance call," Mom instructed. "Tell the operator you want to make a person-to-person collect call to Sharon. When I answer and the operator asks for Sharon, I'll tell her Sharon isn't here. That will be our code. We'll know you arrived safely, and you won't have to pay for a long-distance call."

I inherited frugality from my mother, but I hope mine is less extreme.

My mother's attitude about long-distance calls changed a little when my brother got a job at Bell Labs. One of his employment perks was reduced-rate long-distance service; I think the company gave him an allotment of free minutes. Gradually, he convinced our mother that it wasn't breaking the bank for him to have a relaxed long-distance phone conversation with her.

I often wonder what my mother would do now that most cell phone plans offer unlimited domestic calling. Would she ever get used to it? Unfortunately, I'll never get to find out.

What endearing quirks does/did your mother have to save money? I'd love to hear your comments.