What My Mom Taught Me About Money

As Mother's Day approaches, it occurs to me that my mom taught me everything I ever needed to know about money when I was a kid.

What My Mom Taught Me About Money Photo (cc) by melissaroseb

This Mother’s Day tribute by Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson was originally published on April 22, 2011.

Over the last 30 years, I’ve read and written countless stories on money — making it, saving it, investing it, avoiding taxes on it, and using it for everything from buying a house to funding a retirement.

I’m a CPA (currently inactive) and have also earned licenses in stocks, commodities, options, life insurance and real estate. So I guess I’ve earned the label of financial “expert.” But as Mother’s Day approaches, it occurs to me that when it comes to establishing sound money management habits, it’s moms who are the masters.

To produce the following video, we collected sound bites from moms we’ve interviewed over the last several years. Has your mother told you similar things?

Now let’s sum up what those moms said, and I’ll add a little more about what I learned from mine.

Pinch your pennies

For many moms, paying more than you have to for anything isn’t just unwise, it’s completely unacceptable. Pay $5 for a fancy cup of coffee at Starbucks? My mom would no more do that than chop off her own foot with a dull ax.

One of my earliest shopping memories: I’m about 6 years old, standing in the checkout line behind my mom. I’m clutching some grocery item in one hand and money in the other so she can score extra stuff on a “limit-one-to-a-customer” deal.

When we’re young, we think they’re cheapskates. When we grow up, we marvel at how they were able to provide so much with so little.

Put something aside

Save just a few bucks every day, earn a decent return on it, and by the time you retire you’ll have an extra few hundred thousand in the bank.

A child of the Depression, my mom knew firsthand the expression “save for a rainy day,” because when she was a kid, it was pouring. So the minute I earned my first allowance, it was off to the bank to open my first savings account.

Neither of my parents ever made much money. My dad worked for the government, and my mom was a librarian. But putting my sister and me through college wasn’t an effort because they started saving for it the day we were born – literally.

Neither borrower nor lender be

Borrow to buy things that go down in value, like a vacation or clothes? Are you kidding?

Credit cards are for convenience and cash back, not keeping up with the Joneses. As far as my mom was concerned, the whole concept of borrowing money smacked of desperation and was to be avoided. It’s something you do when your back is against the wall, not when you happen to want something you can’t afford.

With the exception of a house or, perhaps in dire circumstances, a car, if you can’t pay cash for it, you simply don’t need it.

As for lending money to friends? My mother had a name for that: gifts.

Do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay

My mother came from a time when what you did was more important than the amount of money you made doing it. She would much rather see me poor than in any job that remotely involves taking advantage of other people or in any way compromising my values. In short, she’d rather see me happy than rich.

I spent part of my life as a stockbroker, earning multiples of my parents’ combined salaries. Did the money impress Mom? Not so much. What I’m doing now — offering honest advice and helping people with money problems — that’s something she would feel good about.

Your mom is one of the few people in your life who are more interested in your happiness than your wealth. Take a hint: She’s onto something.

Make your money work as hard for you as you do for it

My mom did more than encourage her kids to save — she encouraged us to make our savings work as hard as possible by earning every possible penny in interest. She shopped her savings rates every bit as hard as she shopped for groceries, clothes and everything else. She had no problem switching banks to get a higher interest rate, nor was she shy about asking her bank to meet or beat the offer of a competitor.

On the other hand, to my mom’s way of thinking, stocks are a trip to Vegas, only without the free drinks. On this we differed, since I’m a big believer in long-term stock investing. But that doesn’t mean she was wrong. I lost more money learning to properly invest in stocks (buy quality companies when they’re cheap and hold on till the cows come home) than my four years of college cost.

Stop patting yourself on the back and hug your mom

If you have a bulging bank account, work in a job you love, or otherwise find yourself in friendly circumstances, odds are you’ve kept most of the credit for yourself. But there are very few things any of us accomplish in life that can’t be traced back at least partially to the advice, counsel or indulgence of others. And for most of us, that list is topped by a mom.

My mother was Betty Johnson. She lived 79 happy, prosperous years, then died quietly while reading a book in her favorite chair on Dec. 7, 2004.

While that may seem a long time ago, she’s still with me. And now a little of her is with you, too.

Like this post? Forward it to your mom.

Stacy Johnson
Stacy Johnson @moneytalksnews
I'm the founder of Money Talks News and have spent the last 40+ years in the personal finance trenches. I'm a CPA, author of a few books and multiple Emmy recipient. I'm ... More

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