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Pay Yourself First

Growing up I knew there were many places where I could spend the money I earned from my various jobs. I also knew I would have to be a big contributor to my education due to my family’s financial circumstances. Early on I understood the concept of paying yourself first. I have my mother to thank for that.

I watched my mother literally put cash in a coffee can that she planned to use for our trip to Ocean City, Maryland every summer. That was her goal every year. She stayed home to care for me and my three brothers, but she picked up odd jobs here and there to help her reach her own financial goals. Family came first for her, but she found a way to work in between shuttling us all to sports and programs and the other stuff that parents do that I was oblivious to at the time. But when July came around, that coffee can always had enough money in it for us to go on that trip.

She kept track of how much was in the coffee can, and sometimes my brothers and I would throw a few dollars in from our allowance or our own odd jobs to help. Bottom line—she always achieved that goal. Lesson learned.  

As I grew older and college grew nearer, I knew I would need every bit of money I could muster to pay for my education. My family was not in the position to pay for four years of college. No one in my family had ever graduated from college. What did I do?  Same as my mother did. I paid myself first. I didn't have any bills living at home, so my bill was my college education , which was looming large in front of me. No matter what, I had to have a plan to set aside a certain amount of money for what I needed. That meant I couldn't buy a car to get around like my brothers did with their money, or have new clothes like they did, or even hang out with friends spending money on movies or food. I just couldn’t. Did it stink that my little brothers had stuff I didn’t have? Yes. Did it stink that I had to walk everywhere? Yes. Was it worth it in the end? Yes.

I worked every summer full time as well as during Christmas break and spring break while I was in high school and college. It was hard. There were so many temptations to take me off track, but I held steady and became the first in my family to graduate from college. My parents paid for my first semester, and I paid for the rest. Every semester I would walk into the finance office with my money and pay for my room and board. It was quite an achievement in my mind then and now.  

Everyone has a different story and their own challenges. It’s important to remember you don’t have to have a lot of money to set aside. Just a little will work if you stick with it. Whether you are saving to set up an emergency fund, a trip, college or even investing in your retirement account, you can let your money work for you. You will be surprised at what you can accomplish just using these three words—pay yourself first.

I still have a can in my cabinet with some cash in it that I use to treat myself every now and then. Thanks, Mom.