Dear Money Adventurer,
I just came back from a week-long mother-daughter trip to Puerto Vallarta in celebration of my mom’s 77th birthday. We’d been talking about traveling together for a while, and when she suggested we go to Mexico, I said, “YES!”
Now, I don’t love the hot sun or the pool like my mom does. But I do love walking around cities, finding colorful murals, exploring a new world of food, and finding restaurants for us to try. We found a great spot in Puerto Vallarta that offered the best of both worlds, and we enjoyed the week together.
My mom and I share a love of reading – we have been passing on novels to each other for years, which we did a lot of during our week away. We both also love pairing a glass of wine with lunch (the big meal of the day) on vacation and playing gin rummy. There was a lot of walking. I may have pushed her a little too much, but on those walks and over many meals of seafood, ceviche, and guacamole, there were a lot of stories and talking about life and marriage and her grandkids (she has 3 kids and 4 grandkids).
I was reminded that my dad (who passed away 7 years ago) proposed to her on their second date, and my mom said, “Yes!” But my grandma Ida suggested they wait a year before tying the knot, promising to buy them a car when they did marry, if only they waited – and they did. I mean they were 21 years old!
On her 77th birthday, we celebrated with lobster and a spa date, ending the evening at a Japanese restaurant in our hotel where my mom had miso soup for the first time ever. In a serendipitous moment of celebration, the waiters (who also happened to be in a Mariachi band) spontaneously serenaded her in Spanish for her birthday. It made her so happy she glowed.
With Mother’s Day also approaching, I wanted to share a little bit of my mom.
If you follow me on social media, you’ll know that my mom comes over for Sunday dinner often. It reminds me of when my grandpa, Poppy, would come over for Sunday dinner when I was growing up in Chicago. Threads of a family tradition passed on to the next generation, a legacy from mother.
My mom, Sue, is extremely social and extroverted. She worked hard for many, many years, juggling the demands of being a mother and running the behind the scenes of a small family business. Now she spends her days waking up early and going from pickleball, to ping pong, to volunteering, to grief group, community dinners, and local plays. She travels often, vacationing with friends and visiting family in Europe.
When I gave birth to my son, four months before my 40th birthday, she flew out to help the moment we came home from the hospital. I was going through a big life transition and having a rough time recovering from birthing my boy. Like most new parents, I was barely sleeping. My mom was the only person I trusted to be with my son. I remember walking into the other bedroom to find her napping with Noah, feeling the relief of knowing he was safe, and I could go get a few hours of sleep myself. That moment was hugely healing for me.
There have certainly been phases where we butted heads, especially in my teenage years – and a few times during my adult years too. Anger was a predominant emotion in our household when I was growing up. It was actually the biggest emotion that was allowed or needed for survival, but we all have done some good therapy over the years. My mom has let go of a lot of that anger, and so have I. We’ve been deeply connected again for a while now.
I call her at all hours of the day and ask her random questions about our family lineage, like how my grandparents escaped Russia or questions about our lives growing up, and all sorts of money questions. She happily answers all of them.
On our flight home, I asked her a few money memoir questions; here are her responses.
A Mother’s Day Money Memoir
Sue Tessler’s personal life began in the Windy City of Chicago, where her own mother grew up (and eventually, I would, too). Her mother, Gertrude Rosen, was a bookkeeper who brought a Saver’s perspective to working with money. Her father, my Poppy, Sam Brahill, was born in Russia before escaping in the early 1900’s with his mother and brothers. Unlike his Saver wife, my Poppy was a Spender who gave freely, even if he didn’t have the money to give.
Growing up with this money dynamic, Susan inherited more of her mother’s Saver money mentality, although she has her Spender side, too. In her own words, her money style is to be “frugal on the small things, but generous on the big things.”
On Marriage, Money Mistakes, and Money Identities
When I ask about the differences between how she and my father spent and saved and thought about money, echoes of my grandparent’s marriage and money relationship ripple through. “He always overspent, and I was always watching the pennies. He was a risk taker, and I was not.”
My mom avoids financial risk because she knows what it’s like to lose. “Twice we lost big amounts of money from bad accounting advice. We made most of it back but at a personal cost in our marriage and mental health.”
You see, in addition to being a Spender, my father was an entrepreneur. Despite the risks that come with owning your own business, my mother sees the benefits. Alongside the risky money decisions made against her wishes, my dad made some very smart ones, too. “I believe we could have made the money without the bad decisions…Once I said, “Over my dead body.” That one was bad, but I wound up getting a depreciation tax deduction for many years which worked in my favor in the end.”
On Bookkeeping and Money Decisions
Like her mother before her, Susan learned the art of bookkeeping by hand and took care of balancing the books for the family real estate business. In the 80s and 90s, she also helped my beloved uncles manage their books for the first gay bars on Halsted Street in Chicago (a family enterprise and home to many beloved memories).
Later on, her accountant would teach her how to use QuickBooks, bringing more clarity to her ledger and more ease to her home office. Bookkeeping was also one of the first touchstones of my Art of Money adventure; an inheritance from my matriarchs that young Bari would never have imagined claiming.
When I asked what she thought of her children’s money habits and patterns, of how my siblings and I spend, save, and invest, I got a face that clearly told me she was not touching that subject with a ten-foot pole. “I try to ignore how you all spend your money because it’s your decision, and it’s very different from what I do. I won’t dwell on it because it’s not my job anymore.”
She has no judgment or further opinions to share on that, but she will share about her own money story and spending habits. She enjoys spending on travel and entertainment, like plays and music. Food, too, but as she says, “I shop at Costco, not Whole Foods like my daughter.”
She’s okay with spending on big things, like our trip. Or her electric trike, a recent purchase, and an investment in joy. “I feel like a kid again when I’m riding it.”
But Susan doesn’t like to spend on small things – and she hates the idea of owing money, even a dollar. She doesn’t want to feel indebted to or dependent on anyone anymore. Being cared for by her family means thoughtfulness, love, and respect, not financial support.
On Money Legacy
Yet, as a mother, she’s still finding ways to provide for her family. A few years ago, after debating a cosmetic procedure, she decided against the surgery and gifted the money as a surprise to my siblings and me.
When I asked her why and how she arrived at that money decision, she gave me two answers: “The number one reason was that it helped improve your lives. And, number two, the surgery could have been dangerous for me.”
This legacy of love and support is what she wants to leave behind. All of her files and financial papers are organized and ready. She has prepared everything and let us know where to find it when the time comes, to save us any additional stress or worry. (She has divided everything equally, and “that’s that,” she says. She wants the money she leaves behind to be a blessing, not cause for family strife.)
When I ask what money advice she would pass on, she smiles, “Don’t waste too much. And enjoy.”
A mother’s wish: that you would have enough to meet your needs and enjoy your life. I hear echoes of both the Spenders and the Savers of our lineage in these words. I also see the healing she’s brought to her money story, and to our money stories, too.
I see the way it ripples out from her, to touch my siblings, myself, my son…
I see in her every mother from every walk of life who has chosen to do the work of healing their life and money journey so they can leave a legacy of love behind.
I see the bridges built by that love, over divides and differences that once seemed too great to overcome.
I see the way our collective stories and narratives around life and money and family change when mothers of all kinds dare to write a new chapter.
This is my wish for you. This is my wish for us.
This is the tribute I lift to my mother today, and to all mothers, everywhere. Whether you are an adoptive mother, a birth mother, a chosen mother, a mother of children in the spirit world or a mother to furry family members, I see you.
And I celebrate you, your money journey, and the legacy of love you are writing with your own life.
P.S. Do you need a private financial therapy session with me? I offer a one-time deep dive session. You can read all about the details and sign up over here.