Four Financial Lessons My Mom Taught Me

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there!  Mothers are the first personal finance experts that children will learn from.  The advice you give (or don’t give) your children can set them up for a future of financial freedom or can leave them with money trouble when they grow up.

Luckily for me, my mom gave me really good advice as I was growing up, and I still (sometimes) listen to her advice as an adult.

Lesson One: If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it.

As a child, I was always asking for things.  Can I have $20 to go to the movies?  Can you buy me this toy?  Will you take me shopping for new clothes?  I got my way a lot of times, but was also met with a big, fat, “No!” sometimes.

We ordered a pizza once a week, and occasionally went out to dinner, but those things were a special treat.  My mom would tell me that we didn’t have the money to do certain things, so we wouldn’t do them.  As an adult, I have learned to quiet the urge to spend.

Lesson Two: Don’t take on a lot of student loans.

My mom works at a college, so I was lucky to receive tuition exchange when I went to college.  Basically, if you got accepted into a college from the participating list, and applied for tuition exchange, you could get around $20,000 a year (it’s probably more now) to help cover the cost of tuition.

When I was applying to colleges, I got into five schools with my top choice being a private liberal arts college that participated in the tuition exchange program.  It should have been a no brainer, but being an indecisive 17 year old, I visited and considered all the schools I got into.  It turns out that state schools are very expensive if you don’t live in the state (I’m looking at you, California). I got a comparable deal between a state school and the private school that was my top pick, and went with the private school.

With tuition exchange, a legacy grant (because my Grandmother attended the school), and help from my parents, I only had to take $10,000 out in loans.  I have some friends who took out $100,000+ in loans, and are not working in a field that’s even remotely related to what they studied in college.

I could go on and on about how I think college is unnecessary for a lot of people, and how trades are undervalued in our high schools, etc., but I’ll save that rant for another day (which is funny, coming from a teacher).  The main point I’m trying to make is that my mom warned me about taking on too much college debt.  I listened to her advice.

Lesson Three: Join the retirement system.  

As a twenty year old college student, probably the last thing I was thinking about was retiring.  I mean, I didn’t even have a full-time job yet!

I worked as a camp counselor in the summers at a camp that was run by the state.  We had the opportunity to join the state retirement system, and my mom encouraged me to do so.  It was a very abstract concept to me then, and seemed like I would never see that money again, but I joined it.  If I worked for the state in the future, I was already in at an earlier tier of membership.

Fast forward to over a decade later.  Boy, am I glad I joined the system when I did!  I joined the teachers retirement system, and was able to roll my state workers retirement membership into it.  This means that I am in the teachers retirement system at an earlier tier status.  Basically, the earlier you can join any retirement system, the better the benefits will be.  If I teach for a full 30 years, I will receive a pension that’s about 60% of my highest salary.

Lesson Four: Set up a Roth IRA.  

My mom has been bugging me for years to set up a Roth IRA, and I finally did a couple years ago.  When I was only making $34,000 a year and paying off debt, it was hard to find the extra money to contribute.  When I started my new job in 2015, and starting earning a lot more, it was easier to come up with the $458 to contribute each month.

We only started seriously saving for retirement a couple years ago, but I’m definitely glad that we started.  As the saying goes, the best time to start saving for retirement has already passed.  The second best time to start is right now.

Other Lessons

My parents showed me that you don’t have to be high earners to live well and save for your future.  Both of my parents are in their late sixties and are still working, but they have a plan for their retirement.  My mom is starting to cut back her hours, and my dad is looking to cut back soon, as well.  I don’t think my dad will ever stop working all together, but that’s because he enjoys helping people.

I continue to talk to my mom about money, and she continues to put her two cents in.  When I’m stressed about how expensive our house is turning out to be, she reassures me that it is a good investment to own a house in this area. As my interest in personal finance grew, I started giving her advice, as well.

I am very grateful to both of my parents for the advice they gave me, and opportunities they afforded me.  I hope that someday I can repay their generosity in one way or another.

Did your parents give you any good financial advice?

Illusion of Scarcity Worksheet (PDF)

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2 Comments

  • My mom was also a proponent of #1 and #3. She was from another generation than your mom (she’d be 89 now) and was fairly ignorant of IRAs, etc. But she invested in her govt job’s retirement plan and received a pension. Not bad for a woman who never went to college. Both my parents are gone and didn’t get to enjoy their retirement very much. I’m glad your mom is cutting back on her hours.

    • That’s good that your mom invested in her job’s retirement plan. Plenty of people don’t even do that! My parents are almost 70, so I hope that they retire soon and can enjoy their retirement for many years to come. My mom said that they got a late start with saving for retirement, and she didn’t want me to make the same mistake.

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