My grandmother never made excuses.
Big Mama didn't believe black people could afford to make excuses. This was particularly the case when it came to handling money.
"The bank don't want to hear if you lost your job or that you used the money to buy food. They'll put you out on the street just the same," she would say.
Come hell or high water, my grandmother always found a way to pay her bills--on time, all the time, even when she had to stop working because of a stroke.
I thought about my grandmother's style of money management after reviewing the preliminary results of a consumer credit study by Freddie Mac.
Freddie Mac, one of the nation's largest buyers of home loans, conducted a study that found that 47 percent of African Americans have "bad" credit. Without much scrutiny, Freddie Mac's raw data have already been accepted as gospel.
I, on the other hand, am livid. As I wrote last week, I think Freddie Mac was reckless and irresponsible in releasing a study that was incomplete. And their methodology leaves me to doubt the accuracy of their findings. I also was angry because the study hadn't fully addressed the reasons black borrowers disproportionately have bad credit.
But I got lots of letters from readers--black and white--who felt I was blaming the messenger. If blacks have bad credit, it's their own fault for trying to live beyond their means, some said.
Even people who thought there were legitimate reasons behind the disparity in credit history thought blacks should stop whining.
"African Americans are kidding themselves when they bask in their middle-class status," one reader said. "With reports such as these, and the huge wealth gap between blacks and whites . . . many of us still don't get it when it comes to managing our money."
Big Mama would have agreed, but because she knew what a lot of blacks know: that when we fall financially, we hit the ground harder.
Because of this, my grandmother operated in a disaster-ready mode. She always prepared for the worst financially. "You never know when things are going to get bad," she said. Growing up, I thought my grandmother was just being a pessimist. Now that I have my own family and bills, I know she was being financially savvy.
Despite all her tribulations, Big Mama had "good" credit by anybody's standard. In her entire life, I don't think she ever paid a late fee. My grandmother managed to make ends meet by following some simple rules.
For one thing, she saved a little from every paycheck every week of her working life. And she didn't dip into that savings to make up for overspending the week before. That money went untouched until she retired.
My grandmother believed credit should only be used for emergencies and very large purchases--such as a car or house. "If you don't have the money today, what makes you think you going to have it next month?" she lectured.
Big Mama believed in giving, but not until it hurts. If a relative needed some money she would slip them some cash, but not if it meant her own bills would go unpaid.
I learned about another one of her little money rules the hard way. After graduating from college, I asked my grandmother if she would co-sign a loan so I could buy a car. It wasn't an expensive car, just a basic Ford Escort. It didn't even have air conditioning.
"Child, have you lost your everlasting mind?" she said, in what turned into an hour-long lecture about the dangers of co-signing. "You ain't going to mess up my credit. You better go out there and catch you a bus until the bank says you can get credit on your own."
I caught the bus until I could stand on my own creditworthy feet.
I still believe it's vital not to dismiss the reasons blacks are having credit problems, particularly when it's the result of discriminatory lending practices. But Big Mama was right about doing what it takes to get by.
Excuses, even good ones, don't pay the bills. There are a lot of people who need to develop the habits that helped my grandmother maintain "good" credit even during difficult times.
Just before she died, my grandmother left specific instructions and money to pay off any of her outstanding bills.
Even in death, Big Mama didn't want to be seen as a deadbeat.
Michelle Singletary's column appears in this section every Sunday. While she welcomes comments and column ideas, she cannot offer specific personal financial advice or answer detailed questions about individual situations. Her e-mail address is singletarym@ washpost.com. Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.