Despite her salary increasing by forty percent, Lily broke her record for amount of time spent in one day checking banking accounts. If she wasn’t verifying transactions, she was thinking over and over about which investments to make. She had big dreams for her finances. She wanted to feel more free and fun, yet she kept herself from getting there. Instead of celebrating her new job and raise with a pair of shoes or a fancy dinner, she created a spreadsheet of monthly expenses. In spite of the frequency she daydreamed about throwing herself a party, she never followed through. Restriction was what she knew, so she stuck to it.
As if she could see a reflection in a shiny penny, Lily saw her mother in her own anxious ways. From the Great Recession to health care debt, Rebecca had to stretch her money thin when Lily and her sister were kids. Clipping coupons. Asking family for loans. Saving for her daughters’ gifts. In hindsight, the bickering over brand-name vs. store-brand cookies wasn’t worth it. The family survived, yet Lily adopted those habits and ticks. Comparing cents per ounces. Never giving into wants. Micromanaging herself. Judging others for not being as careful. Lily thought she wasn’t right but never felt happy.
While Lily copied her mother, Rebecca countered hers. As Hazel spent money, Rebecca saved hers. And Hazel spent a lot of money. Four failed businesses. Three trips to Hawaii. One red corvette. She didn’t start saving for retirement until she was sixty. Once money was in her hands, Hazel used it because she didn’t often enjoy that feeling as a kid. Poverty was a tough cycle to break, but she considered herself a success. Her children didn’t have it as hard as she did. Progress was the name of Hazel’s game. If they weren’t skipping meals, then she didn’t see anything wrong.
Decades later, her granddaughter had an anxiety attack when meeting with her financial advisor. While Hazel spent with confidence, Lily saved with remorse. Should she have been risky? Should she have saved more? Should she have had more fun? She had a running list in her phone of the things she wanted but never bought for herself. She reasoned that it was there to help others buy birthday presents for her, making the gift-buying process easy for them. She was obsessed with making the future easier.
Having learned from her mother who learned from her mother, Lily dreamed of the day when she could be calm with money. Meditative. Carefree. She didn’t have to buy clearance. Rather, she could go to Thailand like she always dreamed of. She didn’t have to ration her air-conditioning in Texas summers. Instead, she could live comfortably without sweating while watching TV. She could live without guilt.
Sitting in her advisor’s office, Lily fumbled on her phone to call her mother. She stumbled some more to set the call on speakerphone.
“Can I get you anything?” The poor, unoffending man behind the desk asked. “Can I help in any way?”
“No,” she panted. “I’m okay.”
“Hello?” Rebecca answered.
“Mom, hi. I’m freaking out.”
“Money. Money happened.”
“Hi, Mrs. Andrei,” the advisor butted in. “I’m Colby Banks, your daughter’s financial advisor.” He would soon realize he should have never introduced himself.
“Hi, Colby. What did you do to my daughter?”
“I’m sorry, ma’am. I don’t think I did anything wrong.”
“Well, I beg to differ.” He could hear her arms crossed through the phone.
“Mom,” Lily crooked. “He’s innocent.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I just freaked out again.”
“Honey, money doesn’t matter.”
“Lying makes it worse, Mom.” Lily counted her inhaling and forced deep breaths.
“Fine. Colby, did you get my daughter a glass of water?” Rebecca asked but really ordered.
“Yes, I did.”
“Yes, he did, mother.” Lily defended him. “Again, Colby did nothing wrong. Leave him out of it.”
“Fine. What happened this time?” Her mother got back on track.
“I’m considering buying stocks, and that scares me.”
“Then, don’t do it.”
“But my future. Passive income would be nice.”
“How about the present?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
“Buy a new shirt, not stocks. Stocks are boring.”
“Do something exciting with your money.” Rebecca could say and believe this while filing her nails or sipping iced tea. However, her daughter had to let this idea marinate. She couldn’t just have fun without planning it.
“Something exciting,” Lily repeated. “Colby?”
“What’s the most exciting thing I can do with my money?”
“I’m not sure. Maybe buy a jet ski.”
“A jet ski?” Rebecca cut in. “Sweetie, get yourself a new advisor.”
“Colby, ignore her.”
“How about you donate to charity?” He added. “Or adopt a highway?”
“Do people still do that?” Lily questioned.
“I think so.” Colby replied.
“Okay, Mom, I’ll talk to you later.”
“Seriously?” Lily’s life-maker pushed back. “I don’t get to know what you’re gonna do with your money?”
“No. Regardless, I won’t decide until weeks from now. You know me.”
Lily hung up the phone, let her head fall back, and sighed. “Colby?”
“How much does a jet ski cost?”
“They typically start at $5,000.”
Thirty years later, Lily visited her mother’s memorial tree at Liliana Andrei Park. With a bouquet of flowers and a package of Oreos, she spent her afternoon meditating on a bench. She blended in with the birds, wind, clouds, blue skies, and bumble bees. After a young mother and daughter walked by, a retired mother and her granddaughter passed. Lily would kick gravel by herself from now on.
When Rebecca said “do something exciting with your money,” her daughter didn’t realize its meaning until after she passed. It took her decades to learn that excitement took different forms. A gust of wind and the first bite of a fresh sandwich cookie. While chewing, Lily nodded to her mother’s tree and accepted that the greatest value comes from the posthumous wisdom of one’s mother.