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9 Money Lessons from Mom that Financial Experts Swear By
In today’s world, teaching children sound financial habits is no easy task. So this Mother’s Day, let’s give credit where credit’s due:
Here’s to all the women who have equipped us with the knowledge and skills we need to live healthy financial lives!
In appreciation, we spoke with financial educators and entrepreneurs who fondly recalled the money lessons they learned from their mothers and grandmothers. Several others spoke about the lessons they’ve passed down to their own children.
Do you have a favorite piece of financial wisdom from the women in your life? Here are the lessons that these experts learned, and now teach.
1. Look At Your Finances Head-On
According to Brynne Conroy, the owner of award-nominated women’s finance blog Femme Frugality, the best money advice is to look your finances square-on at all times. Don’t shy away from the frightening aspects of personal finance. Rather, embrace them.
“When your money’s bad, it can be very tempting to put your head in the sand and ignore it,” Conroy said. “But doing so will only compound your problems over the long-term.”
“Believe it or not, keeping tabs on how bad things are can be a positive, stress-relieving practice,” she said. In fact, “[w]hen you know where you stand, you can make a plan to make things better.”
2. Prudent Money Management
Deborah Sweeney, the CEO of MyCorporation.com, recalled the best money lessons from her mom, “a diligent worker and contributor to [her] family when [Sweeney] was growing up.”
Sweeney praised her for the meticulous money management she witnessed throughout her life.
“She believed in paying off all credit cards the month in which the money was spent,” she said.
Sweeney also credited her with an ahead-of-the-times embrace of technology.
She “was also an early adopter of online bank[ing] and helped our family track expenses and income and speed up the way we paid checks and deposited money,” she said.
3. Model Money Behavior
Mothers aren’t the only ones who know best—look to grandmothers for decades’ worth of accumulated wisdom. And that’s whom Karen Ford, a financial coach at Money Matters, received her best advice from.
Ford’s grandmother knew that kids would learn how to handle money from someone, so it’s best that their role model is you, the parent.
“It’s your responsibility to teach them,” Ford recounted.
Instead of allowances, Ford suggested paying children a commission.
“Associate work for money,” Ford said of her grandmother’s advice. “If you work, you get paid.”
Also, be sure to model good behavior.
“Teach by example because more is caught than taught,” she said.
4. Knowledge is Power
Jacqueline Gilchrist, the manager of personal finance website Mom Money Map, also received some of her best advice from her grandmother, who understood the value of knowledge.
“My grandmother would often tell me to always keep learning,” said Gilchrist. “She would say that no one can take away your knowledge” and that it’s “the most powerful tool you have for any future endeavors.”
Though Gilchrist’s grandmother never specifically mentioned personal finance, her advice was applicable to all areas of life.
“When I've had financial struggles, her advice is in the back of my mind,” she said. “I would read and consume as much information as I could to analyze the situation and get on the right side of it.”
Last year, Gilchrist’s family lost a portion of their household income when she went on maternity leave. Following her grandmother’s advice, she began researching how to save and make more money. After reading Robert Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad Poor Dad,” she learned that her family could use their home equity to buy a rental property.
“Now we have regular rental income, which has helped tremendously!” she said.
5. Live Below Your Means
One critical money lesson that Valerie Lobas, a mother of three and founder of the Thoughtful Neighbor blog, observes is living below her means. She teaches her three children that an emergency fund and managing their expenses is key to being prepared for the worst.
“So many families these days have credit card debt to fund purchases and vacations they can't afford,” she said. “I want my kids to learn to plan for the long-term,” adding that “[u]nexpected expenses come up all the time, so you need to be financially prepared for it.”
Lobas gave a recent example: one of her family’s cars died unexpectedly even though it was only six years old. They purchased a new car, but fortunately didn’t have to stress about it.
“We have a healthy rainy day fund set up for emergencies just like this one,” she said.
6. Value Saving and Education
A growing number of 20- and even 30-somethings rely on their parents to provide financial support. For Kateri Turner, mother of two and financial advisor for the Government Employees’ Benefit Association (GEBA), teaching children the value of saving and limiting debt is critical. She offered tips on how to encourage healthy financial behavior.
“As a mother of two sons who are now in their 20s, I first encouraged saving through the typical policies of requiring my sons to put half of their birthday money into a savings account, matching savings contributions made from first jobs’ paychecks, etcetera, but have continued it with my husband by offering a more grown-up “parent matching strategy.” Under this strategy, we match any amount our sons put towards loan repayment and/or ROTH IRA contributions each month. This encourages our children to keep making savings and debt payoff a priority; gives them an introduction into how 401k plans work and how valuable the “free money” they offer is; and, in our own interest, is manageable because their limited amount of extra income means that the matching amount never gets too large.”
Turner also stressed the importance of making children feel invested in their education.
“A solid education in either a degree program or a direct-to-work certification will likely set the foundation for the best income potential, so it’s paramount to instill this value. To instill it, I recommend that parents don’t simply foot the bill for all education expenses but rather ensure their young adult has some level of “stake in the game.” Before they set off on an education program, have a talk with your child about what is expected of them financially (loans, work, grades to maintain scholarships, etc.) and what you can contribute. Many parents will co-sign a college loan, but be aware that deferring both principal and interest until graduation can often nearly double the amount that you owe. I recommend that the child takes responsibility for making the interest payments from day one. This will get them in the habit of paying off debt quickly while keeping the loan repayment more reasonable.”
Finally, Turner suggested that children learn how to maintain a budget.
“I have found that a 50-20-30 budgeting method can be a straightforward budgeting guideline that sets young people up for a successful transition.
- 50 percent of take-home pay is designated to “needs” (rent, food, transportation, basic utilities of electric / water only, and minimum debt repayment).
- 20 percent for “savings” (includes retirement and additional debt repayment).
- 30 percent for “wants” (cable, wifi, eating out, vacations, gym, etc.).
“It can be difficult for a young adult to meet all basic needs using only 50 percent of their take-home pay, but this is where they learn to make choices. Any overage in the 50-percent category should come from the 30-percent category. For example, a new car payment that puts “needs” at 55 percent requires sacrificing something in the “wants” category to bring that down to 25 percent. If the young adult lives at home for a while, then modifications must be made so that the 50 percent category goes directly to savings and debt repayment, or perhaps some expense in the form of “rent” given to parents for suitable redistribution later. It definitely should not go toward the latest gaming ware or an extravagant car payment.
“With all of the above, it’s important to remember that sometimes young adults are much more receptive to hearing this advice, like all advice, from someone other than their parents. I am often asked by clients to meet with their adult children to help explain budgeting, 401ks, investments, employee benefits, etc., and I think it really helps to provide both a professional and parental perspective!”
7. Instill Work-Life Balance
Debra Benton, an executive coach and president of Benton Management Resources, Inc., credits her mother with teaching her how to achieve a healthy work-life balance.
Before “bring your child to work” days were a thing, Benton tagged along with her mother, who was a business owner in the ‘60s. Her mother would say, “I want you to learn how to make a living but also how to live.”
“For example, we’d go on buying trips together and she always added a day for a fun event in whatever city we were in,” Benton said.
Her mother included every family member in her work activities. She was a pro at incorporating a fun element to reward the children for their contribution—no matter how small.
“If we checked into a hotel she would ride on the luggage rack with the luggage—for fun,” Benton recalled. “If it was Halloween, she’d wear fake teeth to meet a client.”
Benton even saw her mother sell one of her products to a police officer during a traffic stop. And she carried her enjoyment of life to the end.
“On her deathbed, her final words were, ‘this sure was fun,’” Benton said.
8. Experiences Win Over Possessions
We’ve all heard the old adage that experiences are more valuable than material possessions. But in a money-driven society, sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that often the most cherished memories can’t be bought.
Veronica Hanson, a mother of two young girls and owner of Vacay Visionary, said that her favorite money advice is to value experiences over possessions.
“There is a generation of people who were taught that the person that accumulates the most toys wins,” Hanson said, adding “[b]ut my experience has been that objects can be a burden for family members after you pass away.”
She elaborated on this point.
“Experiences, on the other hand, are priceless and truly make life worth living,” she said. “My husband and I take our daughters on trips any chance we get. Everyone at their birthday parties knows not to get them toys, they either get clothes or activities. This year they received things like a membership to the science museum, gift certificates to paint pottery, a knitting set, slime making kit, and spending money for their birthday trip to Paris.”
9. Value Yourself
Hanson gave valuable advice for those earning money, too: your income should be based on the value you provide, not the hours you put in. She cited her non-traditional entrepreneurial career path as the eye-opener that taught her that the value of her time shouldn’t be measured based on an hourly rate. Instead, she views her income as based on her value to another person or company.
“You will never get ahead in this society of income inequality by accepting a job that pays you by the hour,” she said. “If you get paid by the hour and you have to pay childcare by the hour, a housekeeper by the hour, an electrician by the hour, a yard crew by the hour, etc., there will never be enough left over for you at the end of the day.”
Here’s to all the women who have served as providers, mentors, friends, and—last but not least—financial educators! Happy Mother’s Day!
Debra Benton is ranked as one of the top executive coaches in the world, is president of Benton Management Resources, Inc., and author of 11 books including her latest from McGraw-Hill titled, The Leadership Mind Switch: Rethinking How We Lead in the New World of Work (June, 2017).
Brynne Conroy is the owner of Femme Frugality and the author of The Feminist Financial Handbook, which has been called "revolutionary" and "a unicorn among finance books.” Her work revolves around succeeding financially despite systemic oppression.
Karen Ford is a master financial coach, public speaker, entrepreneur, and author at KarenFord.org who has coached people with a variety of money issues; from just $500 in debt to $800,000 in debt. She has coached folks with up to 86 credit cards and taught them how to pay down and pay off those credit cards in record time.
Veronica Hanson is a serial entrepreneur who works to live not the other way around. After studying psychology and considering law school she decided corporate life was not for her. She has spent 13 years building a successful network marketing team aimed at empowering women. Now she runs a side hustle vacation rental out of her personal family home. In her first year, she generated $41,331 of extra revenue for her family. She couldn’t keep her new income source to herself, now she shares her secrets with clients around the world. Her e-course Homeowner Hustle teaches regular folks to make money off the existing home they already own. The parent company for her e-course, Vacay Visionary, encourages people to live their best life now, not next year when things “will be different.”
Valerie Lobas is the founder and chief blogger of the Thoughtful Neighbor, parenting and wellness blog. She’s a project manager by day with three kids ages 3 to 10 from the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. She loves outdoor sports, gardening, yoga, and summer shandy.
Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com which provides online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, startup bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent services, DBAs, and trademark and copyright filing services.
Kateri Turner, CFP®, ChFC®, ChFEBC, Financial Advisor, GEBA. Turner joined GEBA in 2016. As a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER professional, she is well versed in all aspects of personal finance. She is licensed for the sale of investments, insurance, and long term care. She believes that it is important to take a holistic approach to wealth management that includes savings, investments, insurance, retirement income, estate planning, and tax diversification. She enjoys assisting members who are retiring, but finds great joy in developing long term financial planning relationships. She is also a military spouse who recently moved from Williamsburg, VA, back to the Annapolis area to be closer to family and friends. She likes traveling and watching Navy football.