The Tale of Two Families - Love, Money, Relationships and Food

author/source: Therese R. Nicklas, CFP

Taleof2familiesmarco-ceschiThis is the true story of two families and their very different relationships with money.  Family #1 had very little money.  Family #2 earned more money than they literally knew what to do with.  How their stories end is what inspires me to do the work of Money Coaching.  If you see yourself in either story, please reach out and let me know where you fit in.

Before I begin, I have a confession to make.  I grew up very wealthy.  I didn’t know it until my 40th birthday.  Now, my wealth is not measured in dollars.  My wealthy upbringing can be found in the rich stories my paternal grandmother (Nonnie) shared with me for the 23 years we were on earth together.  The reason I say I grew up wealthy is that I had an epiphany on my 40th birthday that provided a profound and deep appreciation for her journey and that I was the beneficiary of her lessons and legacy.

My Epiphany

From the time I could hold a telephone to my ear to my 23rd birthday, my grandmother’s 7:00 a.m. birthday call was always my first happy birthday greeting.  On my 40th birthday, I heard her singing “Happy Birthday” in her distinctive broken English as I was leaving my dream state.  At first, I felt sad, missing this special lady.  As my sleep state waned, I realized this was a gift.  Nonnie was trying to tell me something.  Suddenly, the money stories she shared came rushing back to me.  And, not a moment too soon.  Nonnie’s timing for her special “visit” was perfect.  I was at a low point financially and really needed her support.  Remembering her lessons was the kick in the pants I needed to stop wasting energy worrying and start using the tools she gave me.  I had the answers inside me all along!  What did she teach me?  Read on…

Taleof2families-jason-leungMy First Money Conversations

As a little girl, I spent Sunday mornings with my grandmother.  My older sisters went to Sunday School, and my dad watched my younger siblings so my mother could go to church.  I cherished our private time together, knowing in a few short hours my entire extended family would descend on my Nonnie’s kitchen, creating chaos and demanding her attention, while anticipating another amazing “Sunday Dinner” at her table. 

I would stand on a chair next to her as she put the finishing touches on dinner.  While standing at her elbow, I learned how to make meatballs and tomato sauce.  I tried in vain to make her bread.  As much fun as it was to cook with her, the best part of our time together was hearing the stories of her life as a young girl, her family in Sicily, and how she and Grandpa worked together, and how they met the challenge of taking care of the family during the Great Depression.


My grandmother arrived in Boston in January 1928 with my father.  He was almost a year old before he met his father (my grandfather).  My grandfather left Sicily first to get established.  When he had enough money saved, he sent for my grandmother and my father. 

Leaving Sicily, family and everything familiar was a huge risk and sacrifice.  My grandparents had faith that they would have unlimited opportunities in America, unlike their homeland.  They worked hard, both were as blue-collar as it gets.  My grandmother shared the stories over the years of how they worked and saved for 20 years to buy the 3 family home they lived in when I was born.  Never in the conversation did my Nonnie complain.  Her words were always positive and filled with gratitude.  They didn’t let their history of extreme poverty define them.  They spoke with love and appreciation for the opportunities available in their new homeland.  My father often told us as a child, he was not aware of the great depression.  He never went to bed hungry, and all their basic needs were met – food, clothing, shelter.  My Nonnie used to tell me “if you can work with your hands, you will never be hungry.”  Now, as an adult, I understand she was expressing the importance of being self-sufficient.  In her world, if you weren’t hungry, (like so many others) you were successful.  She felt fortunate she didn’t have to ask for help from the government (what they called “relief” in those days, today we call it welfare).  My Nonnie had simple needs, and 4 key goals –

Taleof2families-jordan-rowlandNonnie’s Financial Goals:

  1. She wanted her children to have an education.  As a small child, she had to leave school and go to work to help her family.  She didn’t want that for her children.  All 4 graduated from high school and went on to trade school after high school.
  2. She didn’t want her family to go to bed hungry.  Often my dad and his siblings would bring friends home after school.  My grandmother always had something for them to eat.  Pizza or bread from the oven, a meatball, soup, whatever she was cooking she shared with love.  When she passed away, many of my father’s childhood friends came to pay respects.  Many shared stories of visiting his childhood home after school.  We heard over and over how my grandmother’s generosity kept them from starving.  Several shared that the after school snack was often the only meal they had all day.  And if it wasn’t the only meal, it was always the best meal.
  3. She wanted her children and offspring to do better than she did.  She lived to see all her children graduate from high school and go on to advanced training after high school.  She also lived long enough to see many grandchildren graduate from college, get married, start a family and buy their first home.
  4. She wanted to buy the 3 family tenement style house where my grandfather’s barbershop was attached.

It took her 20 years to save enough to buy this house.  When she arrived in America and my grandfather took her to show her the barbershop, she said to him (in Italian) “Charlie I want to buy that house!”  He responded “Rosalia, are you crazy, it took everything I had to get you and Luigi here!  Buy a house?  How?”  And she responded, “someday, Charlie, someday.”  Someday came 20 years later…


taleof2families-diane-helentjarisNonnie attained all of her goals and always showed gratitude for her blessings.  Nonnie had discipline, faith, common sense, and knew how to live within her means.  She had no formal education but had a keen understanding of how money worked.  She spoke openly about it and her system.  This was done as a conversation as if she was sharing her favorite recipe.  She and my grandfather spoke openly about their financial goals.  She handled the family’s meager finances, and my grandfather was smart enough to trust her completely.  They never complained about not having enough, and they never fought over money.  Money was a tool that they knew how to use and respect.  It wasn’t emotional, it just was.  They didn’t earn a lot of money in their day.  Because they managed what they had well, they left their children a small inheritance when they passed.  Nonnie and grandpa arrived in America right before the great depression with next to nothing and died with a surplus.  Quite a contrast to family #2

Family #2 – My parents and my father’s siblings

Nonnie’s children became adults during the greatest economic times –post-world war II  All 4 were successful.  Her 3 sons owned their own businesses.  Her daughter worked in the fashion industry and married well.  All 4 made more money in their lifetime than their parents ever dreamed possible.  What do you suppose was their outcome?

  • One died penniless
  • One lost everything and is living in government housing for the elderly
  • One had to sell her home and downsize considerably, barely hanging on financially
  • One took his mother’s teachings to heart and is retired comfortably, enjoying his golden years


What did they do differently?

Three of Nonnie’s children (including my father and mother)

  • Did not have a plan (guess who did!)
  • Spent more than they made – all the time!
  • Robbed Peter to pay Paul all the time
  • Lived the good life (and then some), even though they were stressed over money.
  • Did not have a savings plan, paid for their lifestyle with earnings
  • Fought over money all the time
  • Did not have open conversations with their spouses so everyone was on the same page
  • Blamed each other for their results
  • When the income stopped
    • One didn’t change his lifestyle and put everything on credit cards
    • One participated in risky ventures and conned others out of money
    • One sold possessions to keep going but reduced her lifestyle considerably
  • They were winging it, never expecting the income to stop
  • Wing-it behavior get wing-it results


The fourth child (my uncle)

  • Followed in his mother’s footsteps
  • Started planning for his retirement as soon as he opened his business
  • Spoke openly about his plans with his family
  • Created a savings plan to help pay for college for his children
  • Carried very little debt
  • Paid cash for most things
  • Only spent extra after his savings goals were covered
  • Lived within his means
  • Enjoyed life and his lifestyle, not having to look over his shoulder
  • Had a lovely home and family
  • Enjoyed hobbies and special interests
  • Knew his numbers
  • Knew how to create a budget that worked so he wasn’t over budget or under budget
  • Enjoyed financial freedom
  • He lived his life by design, not by default


How did his siblings react to his behavior?

  • They called him a “cheapskate”
  • Said “he has the first dollar he ever earned”
  • Jealous of his results


My Life Lessons

I am so grateful I had a grandmother with such a positive money attitude.  She taught me to–

  • Be grateful
  • Be generous
  • Set goals and work toward them
  • Be patient
  • Be honest about what you want
  • Be self-sufficient
  • Send blessings to others that have more than you.  Jealousy is a waste of time
  • Talk openly about money, it is a tool that you need to use wisely


My parents taught me not to be like them.  Watching them fight over money and seeing them die penniless is something I never want for my children.  Nonnie’s lessons and healthy money attitude is her legacy, and I happily share it with anyone who will listen.  Abundanza!

Terri Nicklas aka Therese NicklasBIO:

Therese R. Nicklas is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and Certified Money Coach(CMC)®, founder of The Wealth Coach for Women, Inc.

She’s passionate about helping women improve their money mindset so they live their life by design and not by default. Learn more about Therese at The Wealth Coach For Women, Inc. You can download her eBook, filled with tools and tips to help you attain financial freedom “The Money & Life Playbook” .