The importance of financial balance — a conversation with my mom about money

It seems like an odd goal for a kid; but when I was little, I wanted to be financially secure. Of course, I didn't put it that way. Instead, I declared, “When I grow up, I want to be rich.” Incidentally, so did my parents. I remember rolling quarters with them, while they explained to me the importance of saving. At a young age, I realized I'd need money to do many of the things I wanted to do: travel, live in the big city, and buy stuff at the grocery store without feeling guilty. “Save your money,” they told me. “It adds up.”

But as I grew up, I began to feel like it was wrong to care about money. I was afraid to think too much about it. I felt greedy. Or boring. Money, as a topic of conversation outside of my immediate family, became taboo. Because of that, I absent-mindedly associated personal finance with selling out, working too much, being materialistic.

So when I found Get Rich Slowly, I was surprised by the content and the discussion. J.D. wrote so openly about his own financial situation. So did the readers. And what I always felt about money, despite trying to ignore it, was plainly explained here: Personal finance isn't about greed or materialism; it's about security, control and the freedom to make your own choices. You can tell yourself money isn't important, but we all use it at some point. You might as well make it work for you, rather than the other way around.

Partly because of this, Get Rich Slowly has been my favorite place to write. The reader support has also made it a positive experience for me. While I've certainly come across critics — this is the Internet, after all — I've never had so many people I've never met support my writing, opinions and financial decisions. As someone who second-guesses nearly everything, that's been pretty encouraging. It's nice knowing that many of you are on the same path, with the same mindset, learning similar lessons.

Most every time I've had an article due, I've thought about your feedback and wanted to write something you'd not only find useful, but also appreciate. I won't lie — some weeks my brain was pretty fried, and I didn't have much bandwidth for financial philosophizing. But most of the time, I worked really hard to repay your support by trying to write something that's not just practical, but also meaningful. That's not easy for me, but it's been worth it, if not just for the fact that it made me think about my own financial situation a little more.

But, sadly, this will be my last official post for Get Rich Slowly. I've mulled over what to write about for a while, and I hope this will work.

I've noticed that readers seem to really appreciate the posts that contain stories or insights from my mother. I know slow and steady wins the race, but I still don't understand the “get rich slowly” experience nearly as well as she does. In fact, I once reached out to her for a guest post. She was shy about her writing, so she declined. But I convinced her to at least do a Q&A to share her story, her thoughts on personal finance and how she went from extreme poverty to financial stability.

Thank you for supporting me as a contributor, and I hope you'll follow my writing endeavors on my personal blog (kristinwong.tumblr.com).

KW: What were things like for you when I was a kid?

Mom Wong: It's hard for me to say we were poor because I've lived in really, really poor conditions before. To be honest with you, I never really felt like we were poor. It was rough, timewise. It was rough not being able to be at home and spend time with my kids. But we were always able to save a little bit.

KW: Yeah, you've always been great at saving money, even when you earned next to nothing. What motivated you to save so well?

Mom Wong: For me, it's a sense of security and freedom. If I get sick, then I can just go to the doctor and not worry about it. I have the freedom to use coupons or not use coupons. I can look for things that are on sale, but I don't have to, you know? I have more options. Of course, money is not everything. But it does make things easier, because it gives you a sense of security. Options.

KW: What about striving to earn more? Don't you think that's more important than focusing on saving? What about following your dreams? Don't we let money get in the way of our pursuits sometimes?

Mom Wong: I think you need to have balance. Sure, you need to look for a better job. But at the same time, you should always save, because you don't know what happens in the future. You need both. If you just follow your passion and don't save, the balance is off, and — Well, I'll give you an example. Remember when your Dad had that Tae Kwon Do school?

KW: Yeah. You guys fought a lot.

Mom Wong: That was the time that I felt we were most poor. We were struggling. We were solely using my salary, barely above minimum wage. He wasn't bringing in any money, but that was his passion at the time, and he really wanted to go for it. So he went for it, and he had to quit Kroger because he couldn't keep up with both. So we sacrificed. And he was good at it. He had the ability — that was his skill and passion — but it didn't work out. After two or three years, he wasn't making money with his passion.

KW: So you're saying you should follow your dreams, but be realistic about it?

Mom Wong: Well, what do you do? We sacrificed for a long time. You've got to come to a realization: Do I keep making my family sacrifice? No matter how good you are at something, you might have to find other avenues if one doesn't work out. Now, he has a new job. He's doing marketing, and he found that's his passion too. If you're lucky enough, you can find your passion and make money at the same time. Not all of us are that lucky. Part of life is survival. And what does it take to survive? Money.

KW: So explain how it's about balance.

Mom Wong: Well, I was so worried about saving. I was unhappy. I think it did affect the family. Because you thought that we were so poor. I remember we couldn't afford to buy you the clothes you wanted and — Did you get made fun of at school for your clothes?

KW: Well, that, among other things…

Mom Wong: See? I hate that you went through that. I should have just given in more and let you buy the things you wanted.

KW: No way! I'm glad I grew up that way. It taught me to be a be a better judge of character. I didn't want to be friends with the type of kids who make fun of people for the way they dress.

Mom Wong: Okay. That's true. But still, I wish I would not have put all my focus on saving because I was not a happy person. I wanted to save so much, right? I stressed myself out over that.

KW: How did you change?

Mom Wong: I think I changed very gradually. I got older. Of course, I still save. But I don't wig out. We were still surviving. It's not like I don't know where the next meal is coming from. We might not be able to go roller skating or bowling, but we were still able to put food on the table — and that should be the main thing. You can still be happy with what you have. I guess a lot of it is about attitude.

KW: It seems that Dad was always focused on earning more, investing. Eventually you guys stopped working against each other and started working together, and that's when things seem like they got better financially, right?

Mom Wong: That's true. I never thought about that. I kept blaming him. We actually kind of learned from each other. He's right about taking risks. I used to think, I'm 100 percent right. I thought, “He just spends money.” I used to think he was irresponsible; I was the only one who had the mind to save. But now, I realize he's right, too. You have to take risks. You have to take the chance. You've got to make your money grow. So he's right about that. He saves it, but he uses part of it to take risks — to invest, to take a chance so it can grow. It's kind of liberating to realize I wasn't totally right — to be open to other ideas.

KW: What's been the best financial decision you've ever made?

Mom Wong: The smartest thing I did was save and not spend frivolously. Our couch is older than your brother. I'm proud of that! I feel so satisfied because I feel like I got my money's worth. I feel that I'm not being wasteful. I'm using something to its maximum.

KW: But you said saving so much made you unhappy!

Mom Wong: But I've evolved over time; I don't stress over it. I still set goals. But they're more realistic, they're more attainable. Don't get me wrong. I still have my goals and my plans to save for my retirement and all that, but the difference is that I don't stress out over it now.

If I could go back in time, I would tell myself to be happier. I was almost as unhappy as I would be if I didn't have the money to save. I could have saved the same amount, but I didn't have to be constantly worried.

KW: Is that true, you think? You think you could've saved the same amount without being so obsessed with it?

Mom Wong: I think so. I think maybe even more. Because if I had a better attitude, I might be more willing to take a chance on investing it in some way.

KW: What else would you tell yourself if you could go back in time?

Mom Wong: I would tell myself, it's not that bad. Be happier — You have a family. You have two young, healthy kids. Spend time to be happy with your family. Things will work out, and, if they don't, be happier about what you have. Focus on that, not what you don't have.

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Nick | Millionaires Giving Money
Nick | Millionaires Giving Money
5 years ago

What a great interview. We will miss you Kristin and all your wonderful posts on GRS. Good luck with all your future endeavours. Great interview and I learned a lot from Mom Wong. I try to save 70 to 80% of my income every month and I do get stressed and anxious if I cant. I guess I’m a lot like her and her advice on the final question really hit home. I will start to destress and be more happier. Great post, thanks for sharing.

Beth
Beth
5 years ago

I’m sorry to see you go, Kristin! You’re one of there reasons I continue to follow GRS.

Best wishes for your future endeavours!

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
5 years ago
Reply to  Beth

Thanks, Beth! I’ve always really enjoyed your insight in the comments!

NicoleAndmaggie
NicoleAndmaggie
5 years ago

🙁

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
5 years ago

I’ve gotta say, I’ve learned a lot from your comments, especially when I first started writing here. You’ve diplomatically called me out a couple of times, and I’m glad you did. Your comments helped shape a lot of my perspective! I’ve bookmarked your site and I’ll be a regular visitor 🙂

PJ @ networthnirvana
PJ @ networthnirvana
5 years ago

Kristin, I’m so sorry to hear you’re leaving but wish you nothing but the best of luck in your future endeavors. Your articles have been such an inspiration to me over the past year or so and I always get excited when I see the daily post is by you.

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
5 years ago

That really makes my day. I appreciate the comment, PJ!

Mrs PoP
Mrs PoP
5 years ago

Sad to see you go, Kristen. Best of luck with everything!

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
5 years ago
Reply to  Mrs PoP

Thanks, Mrs. P!

Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom
Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom
5 years ago

Sorry to hear that this will be your last article, but I loved hearing from your mom. She’s very articulate! I think reading that she regrets letting savings make her unhappy and realizing that she wasn’t 100% right were what stuck out for me. I’m going to try to be a bit more relazed and open today. Thanks for that and for all your other articles you’ve shared here.

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
5 years ago

Yeah, my mom has always been pretty open-minded and willing to admit her missteps. I really admire that about her!

Wiggles @ FirstYouGetTheMoney
Wiggles @ FirstYouGetTheMoney
5 years ago

“The smartest thing I did was save and not spend frivolously. Our couch is older than your brother. I’m proud of that! I feel so satisfied because I feel like I got my money’s worth. I feel that I’m not being wasteful. I’m using something to its maximum.”

I love this quote. Whether it be a car, couch, TV, etc., taking care of your things and getting the most out of them is a good feeling. I think everyone can appreciate getting their money’s worth!

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
5 years ago

Haha, that couch is almost as old as I am, too!

M
M
5 years ago

Best wishes in your new journey, Kristin. And I your mom!

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
5 years ago
Reply to  M

Yeah, she’s pretty great. And thanks!

Carol C
Carol C
5 years ago

I’ll miss your articles, Kristin. Best wishes for whatever you do next.

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
5 years ago
Reply to  Carol C

Thanks Carol! I appreciate the support 🙂

A0
A0
5 years ago

Oh man, I’m sorry you’re leaving. I hate to see the good writers go! But at the same time, good on ya for making a decision that you believe will benefit your personal situation.
I hope if your situation changes in the future you will guest post as able. I love your insightful articles. Thank you for all the posts. Best of luck to you as you continue your financial and life journey!

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
5 years ago
Reply to  A0

Thanks much! I’ll still be writing, and I hope you’ll keep in touch.

Tyler
Tyler
5 years ago

Thanks for the insights on your family. My take-away is that it is very important to be on the same page with your spouse when it comes to the family finances; even, if you don’t think it is the “optimal” approach. The benefits of working together as a team far outweigh any benefit of the particular wealth building strategy used (% saving vs % investing vs % towards debt, etc). Financial plans are long term and often more susceptible to failures in relationship than even failures in the markets or in the plan itself. It is best to get everything… Read more »

JoDi
JoDi
5 years ago

I will really miss your articles so I guess I need to go find you on Tumblr now!

Loved the Q&A with your mom! She has a lot of wisdom to share, and the fact the she used the term “wig out” makes her just that much more awesome! 😉

Britni @LazyGirlFinance
Britni @LazyGirlFinance
5 years ago

I’m also sorry to see you go. I enjoy your writing style and your message, even if I don’t always agree with you. Your writing has been a pleasure to read, and you will be missed at GRS.

Thanks
Thanks
5 years ago

This is my first post to GRS, although I’ve been reading for some time. Just want to thank you Kristin for your time spent crafting helpful and meaningful posts to this blog. I routinely find myself getting excited when seeing that GRS has one of your posts up on a given day. I appreciate your ability to reflect on the philosophical and psychological processes you go through when making decisions. Thanks for your insight, and best to you in your future endeavors!

Jessica
Jessica
5 years ago

I’m sorry to see you go, but will continue to follow your writing.

I loved this Q&A with your mom. I’ve always enjoyed reading your posts containing her perspective.

Kalie
Kalie
5 years ago

It’s very enlightening to consider what we learned about money from our parents and what we want to keep or change about those attitudes. Also very interesting to hear your mother’s reflections on that. What a neat learning opportunity. She seems to be saying the key is to be contentment with the present while planning for the future.

Sergio Cuevas
Sergio Cuevas
5 years ago

Wow I identify with you and your experiences with money as a child. I just wanted to say I liked this blog and I didn’t know it! I will for sure come back. I’m starting in the world of financial freedom with my blog but nothing compared to this one 😉

Fig @ Figuring Money Out
Fig @ Figuring Money Out
5 years ago

Sorry to hear you are leaving! Your posts have been some of my favorite to see in my reader from GRS. I wish you the best and much success in your future endeavors! Thank you for sharing one last post with wisdom from your mom! 🙂

Jill
Jill
5 years ago

Kristin, first comment but I’m a long time GRS reader. I love seeing your posts each time they are up, and hearing your thoughts on how to approach various financial decisions. I imagine my brain works in a similar fashion and I can envision the process as it happens as I read your work. I will miss your posts greatly. All the best in your “what next” (what we call moving on around here…) Thanks!

sarah
sarah
5 years ago

I love this conversation. My experience with my mom was similar, we went through a time when saving was the top priority and there were drastic consequences. It motivated me to look for balance and while I’m always careful to save I also never want to be as “frugal” as she was in those years because it was so miserable for all of us (but mostly her). OTOH I do wonder how to instill the same compassion and understanding that you talked about (not wanting to be friends with the type of people who make fun of clothes) without raising… Read more »

Jeannine
Jeannine
5 years ago

Great post. I’m sorry that you’re leaving, but wish you all the best as you go. Thanks for all your sharing.

Erica W.
Erica W.
5 years ago

Oh, I’m so sorry to see you go! You’re a great writer and I love all your Mom Wong stories. Good luck on your next steps.

Sandi_k
Sandi_k
5 years ago

Kristin, you’ve been a highlight of this site – best of luck on your new path!

Josh
Josh
5 years ago

Also my first time leaving a note here in GRS (my wife and I are active followers). It was actually my wife who suggested I read it saying that she really loves your articles but that this was going to be your last post. Each generation should learn and improve from the previous one and I am a firm believer that it all begins with the kind of teamwork that your mom and dad shared and pass on to the kids. Best of luck on your future endeavors! We’ll continue to follow and hopefully hear more from you and your… Read more »

Ramblin' Ma'am
Ramblin' Ma'am
5 years ago

Sorry to see you go, Kristin, but I understand. Good luck with your writing in the future.

Linda Vergon
5 years ago

(This comment came from Gary, a reader of our daily newsletter.) Thanks, I think balance is the answer. As my kids were growing up, we never had quite enough, but actually we did, because we always made it. I was never able to save like your mother because the car would break or some such thing and wipe out any savings that had been accumulated. As a public accountant, I saw people who obsessed over money and I saw those that never cared. Neither of these types were ever very happy and as your column points out, balance is the… Read more »

Mysticaltyger
Mysticaltyger
5 years ago
Reply to  Linda Vergon

“As a public accountant, I saw people who obsessed over money and I saw those that never cared. Neither of these types were ever very happy……Trouble is that it’s hard to know when you are that condition.”

Thank you for this comment, Gary. I think I need to read this about 50 times. I lean toward being “obsessed” (even though I don’t think I am).

phoenix1920
phoenix1920
5 years ago

What a fantastic interview–it was particularly interesting hearing your mother’s POV in reflecting back on when her children were younger. Balance is so difficult, and yet so important.

I love your writing and know that you will do wonderful in the future. What a brave and hard decision to change things up so much! But one that will open other opportunities. Best of luck to you–you already have the talent!

Kayla @ Cash Smarter
Kayla @ Cash Smarter
5 years ago

I love hearing insight from people’s parents and seeing how that impacted both lives – the parents and the kids (yours). Very interesting!

Grace @ Investment Total
Grace @ Investment Total
5 years ago

Hi Kristin, this is a great conversation with your mom. I really learned a lot from this topic. I’m glad you post this topic. BTW, thank you for reminding me about “ATTITUDE”.

Keep up the good work.I wish when I grow old, my daughter will also talk about money with me.

Allyson
Allyson
5 years ago

Kristin, your writing will be missed! You always chose interesting topics and I LOVE the conversational tone of your writing style. I will definitely check you out on your personal blog!

Sarah
Sarah
5 years ago

Kristin, I enjoy your writing so much, and this article/interview with your mother is a real gift to all of us as readers. I feel like although we had such different childhoods, my experience with parents who grew up in the Great Depression, and who spent a lifetime then being frugal and hard working — gave me so much wisdom that it’s taken me years to recognize (because I wasn’t so wise).
Thank you for sharing your and your mom’s wisdom! All the best for continued success!

Edward
Edward
5 years ago

Awww… My favourite writer on GRS is leaving? I’ve enjoyed your stuff over the years, Kristin–your psychology of money perspectives are top notch (and usually amusing.)
BTW, never underestimate a mother’s ability to talk in nonsensical circles. 🙂

Mysticaltyger
Mysticaltyger
5 years ago

I really needed to read this post today. I am like Mom Wong was when she was younger…too obsessed with saving even though I save a good amount. I really need to learn it’s ok to not drive myself nuts about saving every last dollar and to focus on other areas of life that might actually require me to spend some money…which, for me, would probably be a good thing.

Margaret Mary Myers
Margaret Mary Myers
5 years ago

I could see myself in your mom. Thank you to her for sharing so openly, and to you for all your wonderful posts.

Beard Better
Beard Better
5 years ago

I’m definitely sad to see you go, as you are one of the best writers on this site, but this was definitely a great way to go out. The Q & A/financial retrospective with your mother was interesting, and a little bit touching without veering into maudlin territory.

Good luck with all of your future work!

Susie
Susie
5 years ago

I used to read every single post on GRS, but a few months ago I stopped and I’ve only been reading yours, Kristin. The other writers here aren’t nearly as skilled at writing material that is original, useful, and interesting. I really enjoyed hearing more from your mom in this post and I look forward to reading future posts on your personal blog.

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