Top financial lesson my mother taught me

Seventh grade cheerleading.

The moment had finally come. I made the squad. Yes, thee cheerleading squad and it was time to buy the uniform. The school provided the skirt, but we had to purchase the sweater.

Now during this certain decade (the decade that must not be named), the Izod, Lacoste crew neck sweaters were all the rage. Remember those basic sweaters that had the cute little alligators in the right hand corner? The elite alligator which signified to everyone that this article of clothing cost much more than a similar sweater on the rack next to it?

I couldn’t wait to wear that new sweater. I was 12 years old and it symbolized all that was right in my junior high world. The sky was the limit,  until we got to the mall and my mom witnessed the price tag.

You see, my mom quickly did the math and in a split second, my utopic junior high dream of sporting that trendy, designer sweater was crushed.

“Jennifer, We are not spending $20 more for that sweater just because it’s a designer name when I can get the same exact sweater at JC Penny without the alligator on it.”

“But mom, the cheerleading coach said it had to be a yellow, Izod sweater. I can not be the only one showing up with a different sweater.”

“Don’t worry. It will be fine and I will take care of it.”

And in that moment, I knew she was up to something. We left the mall with a $10 yellow, crew neck sweater that did NOT have the necessary emblem and I was certain that my cheerleading days were over before they began.

Little did I know that she would impart a life lesson that would shape not just how I thought about certain aspects of my finances, but a life lesson that would be passed down to future generations.

As a 12 year old, I needed to be reminded that our worth is not based on the car we drive, the brand name clothes we wear or the amount of money we spend. Our character isn’t strengthened by making sure we “keep up with the Jones,” and our teen years certainly aren’t defined by the label on our sweater.

(In my 40’s, I still need that still small voice to remind me of that lesson.)

don't buy to impress

We went home that evening and she grabbed a pair of my dad’s Izod socks. She snipped off the alligator and sewed it onto my cheerleading sweater.

I. WAS. MORTIFIED!!!! Can you even believe she would do that to me??? Is your seventh grade self feeling the pain?

But Voila! An identical sweater for half the price.

Now realize, if I hadn’t told anyone, no one would have known, but of course, I had to make a global announcement of her craziness to the entire seventh grade class and to this day, that lesson marked me.

Marked me for life – for the better.

At an early age, my mom instilled in me the importance of  living with in one’s means and building a budget. She modeled for me comparison shopping and saved when possible, so she could afford what she wanted.  She understood the difference between want vs need. The Izod sweater purchase showcased that perfectly. She knew purchasing quality clothing brand was a worthy investment, but she also knew I would never wear this sweater again, so why not save where we could.

This memory surfaced last Christmas when our high school son asked for Ralph Lauren clothing. With five children, we set a clothing limit for each child, so I asked him, “Since you know our budget, would you like me to buy a few brand new items for you or do you give me permission to hit up local thrift stores and outlets to get you an entire Polo wardrobe for the same price?”

He pondered it a bit and then agreed that if I could promise to pick out “cool” things, he was fine if they were second hand.

The result? Ten, instead of two, Polo items for Christmas, many which were practically new and two with tags.  And yes, I realize that he may be telling this story decades later, just like I do with my mom and her stolen sock alligator and I pray that it teaches him the same lesson. 😉

Our parents impact us in so many ways for both the positive and negative, but I’m so thankful that my mom instilled so many positive financial lessons in my life.

Were your parents savers or spenders? Has it impacted how you handle your money?


Since we just celebrated our fabulous mothers,  I want to join Suntrust and their onUp movement who think moms should be celebrated all month long, not just one day of the year. That’s why we’re creating #MothersMay – a series of opportunities to celebrate the most important women in our lives.

We can sign up for more of “moms” wise, financial advise here through the onUp movement.

At SunTrust Bank their purpose is lighting the way to financial well-being. When you feel confident about your money, you can save for your goals and spend knowingly on what matters most to you.  

The onUp movement was created to guide millions of people one step at a time towards a more financially confident life without ever losing sight of the moments that matter along the way.

Join the growing number of people transforming their stress into positive motivation to move onUp.

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This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of SunTrust. The opinions and text are all mine.