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Family finance lessons: author Mary Roach

The most important lessons we learn about money don’t come from our accountants or our radios. They come from our family. Each week, we invite someone to tell us about the money tips they inherited.  

Author Mary Roach tackles the scientific questions that everyone is curious about, but that no one else seems to answer. Her most recent book is called Gulp: Adventures on the Ailmentary Canal ponders, among other things, whether or not constipation killed Elvis. And her previous book, Packing For Mars, talks about what happens if an astronaut throws up in their space suit.

Despite the colorful subjects of her books, her upbringing was pretty no-frills.

"My parents were very frugal," says Roach. Her mother was a secretary and her father was an assistant professor. "So we didn't have a lot of money."

But she says the financial lessons she picked up as kid were mostly result of learning-by-example.

She remembers that her mom had a very small collection of beauty products: a bottle of lotion and a bottle of witch hazel — the latter of which is a product that she's still unfamiliar with.

Scrimping and saving in the bathroom is something Roach wound up inheriting. She says that, now, when her bar of soap is worn down to a tiny sliver, she pastes it onto the back of a new soap bar. "So then you don't waste it. I must have seen my parents do that because it's insane. Who does that?"

Roach ever thought of her parents as cheap, "I just thought they were normal."

Looking back she did have one small regret. "We never left the country on vacation," says Roach.

But later in life, as a magazine writer, she was able to make good on all the travel that she missed. "Being cheap was a way to get overseas assignments. Say I wanted to do a story in Mozambique, I would figure out another story nearby so I could split the expenses between the two [and] I would stay in little cheap grubby places."

Her strategy worked.

"I would be able to pitch a story overseas for less than what a lot of writers would be charging to do it in the United States."

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