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Lessons From My Mother

Ylan Mui

Today's edition of Small Change comes to you from Houston, where I am helping my mom celebrate her 60th birthday. I flew down to surprise her, and one of the first things she asked me was, "Was your ticket on sale?" (Er, oops, no.)

This post is dedicated to her on her big day. My mom has taught me a lot about saving money and the value of a dollar. Here are some of the lessons that have stuck fast with me and my siblings:

Eat the last French fry. My mother is infamous for sitting at the dinner table long after everyone has finished dessert, eating all the leftover scraps. Nothing goes to waste at her house. She lived through food rationing in Saigon after the Vietnam War, and she will make sure every morsel on the table is thoroughly enjoyed.

Don't use the dishwasher. In classic immigrant fashion, my mother eschewed the dishwasher. The chore of hand-washing the dishes instead fell to my sister and her now-husband. I dried. My mom didn't trust the dishwasher -- she only believed in the cleansing power of her own two hands. (Or, our hands, as the case may be.) It served as a reminder of all the little luxuries which we can easily do without.

Only buy on sale. Don't get me wrong -- my mother has expensive tastes. But she's not going to pay full price to indulge them. I remember her modeling the floor-length black evening gown she wore to my wedding. The grand total? Less than $50, on sale, at a discount department store.

Handle your own money. Mom controls our family finances, and my father used to joke that she gave him only a $5 allowance each week. But her careful eye on our budget taught me not to be intimidated by personal finance. Now I manage the household accounts, and my husband calls me for help when he forgets our ATM pin.

Clean the plastic utensils. My parents reuse everything. After a party, they hold on to the plastic utensils, wash them (by hand, of course) and store them away for next time. "Disposable" is not part of their vocabulary. We tend to think things are no good just because they are dirty, broken or old. But my mom always managed to squeeze life out of things that we kids thought were dead.

It seems many of the lessons that our parents and grandparents taught us now feel more relevant than ever because of the recession. Share your stories with us. We'd love to hear them. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a party to get ready for!


By Ylan Mui  |  June 26, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Ylan Q. Mui  
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Next: Getting Nutritional Bang for Your Buck


Ha, this reminds me of my mother. She's older than your mother (first year of the baby boomers she'd tell you and make you do the math) and was raised in Ireland (which she'd also tell you was a third world country in some place until the 60s)(see "Angela's Ashes"). I take the spatula to the inside of cans to get EVERY LAST BIT OUT. Small appliances and kitchen stuff come from the thrift store. We also washed plastic forks and cups. We never used that roll of paper towels, just rags made from my holey undershirts and underwear. I tell my mom now that she's not cheap, she's an environmentalist.

Posted by: em15 | June 26, 2009 8:15 AM | Report abuse

Eating the last french fry isn't necessarily good diet sense.

How about - don't be shy about bagging that fry up and taking it home for another meal?

You can reheat them, chop them up and put them on a salad for a crunchy topping.

Posted by: RedBird27 | June 26, 2009 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Studies have shown that using the dishwasher is actually cheaper than washing dishes by hand, as long is it's fairly full. Also much more sanitary as the dishwasher washes and dries at much higher temperatures.

Posted by: Yankeesfan1 | July 1, 2009 9:54 PM | Report abuse

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