A Lesson from Mom: Learing to Live Below Your Means

May 6, 2013 in kids and money

Mentor MomsIn celebration of Mother’s and their strengthes, the next 2 mentor mom posts will be from friends reflecting on valuable lessons their mother taught them. In this image-obsessed culture, moms can obsess over pinworthy birthday cakes, super organization, or extra healthy meals. While those things are nice, it is the character of  moms that matter most. To prove my point I wrote a post in March about how my mother taught me about patience (though I didn’t inherit her habit of patience), then I invited a few friends to write about their moms and what they remember most about them. Today, welcome my friend Joylynn.

My mom, Oanh Thu (pronounced “Won Two”) grew up in a family of 11 children in Vietnam prior to coming to the United States at the end of the Vietnam War. During her life in pre-communist Vietnam, she experienced both a comfortable lifestyle but also poverty. Real poverty. The kind of poverty where you don’t know where the next meal will come from and every piece of clothing is a hand-me-down. She once told me that she identified with Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind when Scarlett said, “I’m going to live through this, and when it’s all over, I’ll never be hungry again.” Enduring that hardship taught my mom the importance of managing finances well. Living below your means. Saving as much as possible. So that there is something to give to someone else in need.

Of course, when I was younger, I didn’t appreciate her perspective and just thought she was being cheap and denying me what I so desperately wanted. The hamburger on our rare trip to a restaurant instead of the combo meal, the designer brand name clothes, shoes, toys, etc… that would help me fit in and be popular with my classmates. The budget motel with doors that opened out to the street on a family road trip (why fly when you can drive?) instead of the nicer Holiday Inn with its extra fluffy pillows across the street. Blame it on my adolescent brain for such short sightedness.

It didn’t take me long though after graduating from college and starting my first job to realize that because of her and my dad’s frugal management of their middle class income throughout my childhood and their generous personalities (my dad worked for 4-H, a non profit organization, and my mom didn’t begin working outside of the home as a paraprofessional in a local elementary school until I was in middle school), they were able to help me start my own adult life off on a much better footing than they had when they were my age, debt free with savings accounts to boot.

And she continues to bless. Us grown children and our spouses, her five grandchildren, extended family, their community, people on the other side of the world are benefactors of my mom’s on- going ability to be generous because of her foresight many years ago to be frugal. I sometimes consider how I will never be able to pay my mom back, but I think that she considers her repayment in the form of me carrying on the tradition of living below my means, saving as much as possible, and giving to others in need.


Joylynn Rasmussen is married to a man named after a Greek mythological character and mom to her 3 year old son and 1 year old daughter. She is a native Michigander who became a Southerner for a few years before coming back to her home state. She loves nothing more than to sit in the driveway and eat ice cream with her husband after the kids go to bed. 
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