My godmother taught me to live without financial fear
Mother’s Day has always been tough for me, but this year it was brutal.
On April 22, I received a call that sounded like a punch in the stomach. My beloved godmother, Lois, had passed away at 77.
My own mother was challenged in many ways and she left me and my four younger siblings in the care of my maternal grandmother, Big Mama.
If you’re a regular reader, you’re probably familiar with my Big Mama stories. His financial wisdom has been the basis of much of my advice over the 25 years I’ve written the “Color of Money” column.
Big Mama taught me to live below my means and to hate debt like it was the devil himself. I’m a super saver because of my grandmother.
Lois, or Reverend Lois Bethea-Thompson, passed on a different financial legacy. When my grandmother was afraid that I would go to college, Lois encouraged me to pursue higher education. She modeled generosity beyond her nuclear family. She showed me the power of showing up not just for big life events, but also for small events – and what it can do to build people’s confidence and help them succeed.
So much financial advice focuses on how to save and invest, but more needs to be said about using your wealth to enrich the lives of others – not just those in your household or those genetically connected to you. . Lois embodied what it means to have a giving spirit – it can be financial, but it can also mean giving of yourself.
Lois collected people, adding to her life’s mission the care of anyone who could benefit from a little more motherly love and attention.
I met Lois when I was hospitalized as a child with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. She was director of the physical therapy department at Provident Hospital in Baltimore. My legs were so weak from the disease that I needed daily physical therapy to help me regain my ability to walk. When Lois learned that my mother was in my life irregularly and that I was being raised by my grandmother with four other siblings, she claimed me as her goddaughter.
His adoption of me as one of his own changed the trajectory of my life – and my career.
Under Big Mama’s tutelage, you opted for safety. I understand why my grandmother was so scared of me trying new things, even leaving my hometown Baltimore newspaper, the Evening Sun, for the Washington Post.
For Big Mama, new could mean failure.
Lois taught me to live without financial fear. She was a black entrepreneur who thrived running her own physical therapy practice in an industry plagued by discrimination. She exposed me to a whole different world than the low income childhood I experienced.
The first time I visited his single-family home in an upscale Baltimore neighborhood, I was in awe. It was not just the house that impressed me but the grace of Lois’ care. She always made me feel so welcome in her home. There was no room in his house that could not be entered, unlike the houses where the living room was not intended to be lived in but was a display case with plastic-covered furniture on which it was better not to sit.
The way she cared for people inspired me to follow her example. When my husband and I purchased our first home, we intentionally opted for more space to accommodate family members who might need housing. We have had several long term residents throughout our three home ownership.
Lois believed that your wealth was not just yours. You should live to give, she preached – and she lived by example.
Lois taught me that if you’ve saved up for it, you can spend the money on fun and not worry or feel guilty. I still have trouble with that, but less because of my godmother.
It was because of Lois that my husband and I decided over 20 years ago to take a two-week vacation, often bringing extended family members as she would when she went on a trip. The memories we made visiting places like Aruba, Hawaii, St. Thomas, and our favorite summer getaway, Hilton Head, SC, are priceless.
Big Mama considered frequent vacations a bit reckless, insisting that those funds be kept in my savings account for future emergencies. Lois viewed travel spending as an investment in life experiences that pays a different kind of dividend.
What I will remember most is how Lois showed up at everything – graduations, my child’s plays, certificate ceremonies, music recitals, and times when I was doing financial workshops in my church.
As parents, we often think that our children need so many material things. But Lois, whose love language was giving, also understood that being present meets the needs of children in a way money can’t buy.
I’m a better mother thanks to Lois. I enjoy the fruits of my labor more thanks to Lois. This Mother’s Day, I cried without her presence because it was exactly that — her presence — that helped me lead a more fulfilling, less fearful life.
Singletary is a personal finance columnist for The Washington Post.