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With Thanksgiving nearing, I was reflecting on all the things in my life that I’m grateful for. Of course, my amazing, selfless and loving mother made it to the top of my list (as she does every year). I’ve been blessed to always have an open and supporting relationship with her. No subject matter has ever been off-limits, and that includes money.
But that’s not the norm for everyone. According to a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, 36% of people reported being uncomfortable discussing money. Even scarier, 18% reported that money is a taboo subject in their own families. This lack of conversation is a big problem, as we develop our attitudes toward money as early as childhood.
My mother taught me the money basics when I was growing up, like never charge a purchase you can’t afford, always have emergency savings and start saving for retirement as soon as possible. And while all of this is great advice, the best thing she taught me is even simpler.
The $3 Rule
It’s this: Never buy that "$3 item." The $3 item comes in many forms. In the discount bin at Target, by the checkout at the drugstore or that iced tea at a restaurant. Essentially, the $3 item represents any optional expenses that are so small you don’t think twice about them.
No, picking up that travel-size sewing kit you found in the sale section isn’t going to make you miss a student loan payment, but add up enough of those purchases and all of a sudden, the total isn’t so small anymore. And that money you aren’t spending on things you don’t need can instead collect interest in your bank account or be invested.
Of course, I never skip out on small expenses if they’re true necessities. And I’ve wasted my fair share of money on my personal vices (like craft cocktails), but because of my mother’s advice, every purchase I do make is mindful. I never thoughtlessly throw items into my cart or add a side salad to my meal without stopping to ask myself, “Do I really need or want this?”
This mindset has trained me to think about bigger purchases in that way, too. So, whether a blouse is 70% off or that television is significantly cheaper than it was last week, if I really don’t need something, I don’t buy it. Buying something just because it seems like a good deal is still spending money you otherwise wouldn’t have.
I am so grateful that my mother took the time to have serious conversations with me about money before I reached a point in my life where the financial stakes were a lot higher than blowing through my babysitting money too quickly. Thanks to my mom, that never happened — and by the time I entered the workforce I had strong saving habits already in place. One thing I won’t be skimping on is her Christmas present. She’s earned it, after all.