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Lessons Mama Taught Me

In honor of Mother's Day tomorrow, I want to dedicate this post to my mom. She is a huge reason I'm on my journey today.

"Mom in New Zealand" by Olga Kirshenbaum

Twenty-one years ago my mother made a journey of a lifetime. My parents decided to move from Russia to America in hopes to build a better future for my siblings and me. She was giving up her family, friends, a career as a pediatrician, and the only language she's ever used to start from scratch. Looking back as an adult, my mom made it all seem so effortless. She embraced the experience with a smile on her face.

But that's no surprise, my mom always has a smile on her face and is a consistent source of optimism, support, and positivity. I'm lucky to have a wonderful relationship with my mom and be able to call her my best friend.

During the last 30 years, my mom taught me lessons that have shaped who I am and a lot of what I teach my clients is a direct result of my mom's continuous support. She taught me very early on that I can do anything, that while being optimistic is great that it's also important to be realistic with your expectations, and that living on a budget doesn't mean you have to live cheaply.

"Mom, Penguins and me" by Olga Kirshenbaum

You Can Do Anything

My dad was a great teacher and had a degree in mathematics. Naturally, we'd do my math homework together. Except for the nights he had to work late or on a work trip, those nights I would do my math homework with my mom.

One of those nights peaked with me in tears saying something along the lines of "I won't ever get this!" My mom never told me to stop crying or say that I was overreacting. She would let me cry it out and say "You're going to get this!" Once I stopped crying, we kept going, and I did end up getting it.

This was my mom's approach to everything I thought was scary or intimidating. She constantly broke down the walls I built for myself in my mind and it taught me that there's a solution to every problem. Sometimes, it may not be exactly what we expect, you may have to get creative but a solution is out there.

Be Realistic With Your Expectations

Sometimes, you don't know the things you don't know until you are made aware of it. That's how we felt when it was time for me to go to college. We had no idea that people start preparing to pay for college years before it was time to go to school. When I was starting to consider schools, my mom was honest with me about what kind of help I can expect from my parents. The reality was if I wanted to go to any school outside of CUNY/SUNY systems I would have to find other ways to pay for school.

I ended up setting my eyes on a private, liberal arts college in Manhattan, Marymount Manhattan College. It was probably the exact opposite of what my mom was hoping for when she had that "real talk" with me. 😅 But I also made it work!

  • I applied for scholarships and financial aid.

  • I had an after-school job in high school and continued to work through college, any money that I made was spent helping pay for tuition and books.

  • Instead of having a typical college experience and living at the dorms, I lived at home and commuted to school.

  • I found out about a language proficiency exam that would count for a set of elective courses. I ended up getting 11 credits for taking a Russian proficiency exam!

  • I still ended up taking out student loans, but I graduated with only $17,000 of student loans. The average undergraduate student loan amount for my graduating class was $26,600. I'm not arguing that $17,000 isn't a considerable amount of money, but in the grand scheme of things, it wasn't so bad.

The first lesson, that I can do anything I put my mind to, always ends up pushing me through.

Living on a Budget Doesn't Mean You Have to Live Cheaply

My parents didn't sit me down and explain to me what a budget was, but if my mom and I went shopping I'd know there's a budget we were sticking to. If we couldn't afford something, that's what my mom would say. At the same time, that didn't mean we didn't do things.

When I was in middle school I joined a Venture Crew troop, a co-ed version of Boy Scouts. During the school year we'd go on hiking and camping trips and during the year we'd go on a two week trek. This experience allowed me to get out of the city, see different parts of the country, and learn leadership skills.

As far as I can remember, my mom would take me to theaters and museums. Over the years we've seen countless operas, musicals, orchestras, ballets, and more! I remember going on day trips as I was growing up, to different states just to visit museums and have all kinds of experiences we wouldn't have in NYC.

"Mom and me in Hobbiton" by Olga Kirshenbaum

Three years ago, I was able to treat my mom to a different type of journey for her birthday. A trip to New Zealand, with a surprise trip to Hobbiton! We have always wanted to go to New Zealand, everyone who has been would only have incredible things to say, so I went for it.

What made this trip possible is the combination of the lessons my mom taught me. When I told my friends that I was planning this trip for my mom, many said it wouldn't happen but I knew I could make it a reality. I partnered with a travel agent already in New Zealand to be able to plan the details of our trip. I knew that there were people more knowledgable than me out there to help me make the most of my idea and I trusted them to take over that part of the planning. But most importantly I didn't break the bank making this trip happen!

Today, I am grateful to pass on these lessons to my clients in whichever way they need most in their life.


If you have a money question, submit it here for a chance to be featured in the "Dear Olga" column!

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