According to a Standard & Poor Financial Literacy survey, in the United States – the largest economy in the world – only 57 percent of American adults are financially literate. That puts us 14th globally.
A good place to start improving financial literacy and financial outcomes is at home. Seeing as 61 percent of caregivers are women, mothers can play a significant role in educating their kids on money matters. A survey by CreditCard.com found one in four U.S. Adults with children under 18 say their parents never taught them about money as kids. However, research shows teaching kids about money from a young age can cause positive outcomes later in life.
What are the consequences of a lack of personal finance knowledge? Poor credit scores, high debt levels, limited employment opportunities, and financial losses. The National Financial Educators Council found in 2020 financial illiteracy cost the U.S. an estimated $415 billion – $1,634 per person.
In honor of Mother’s Day, we spoke to 17 women at the forefront of personal finance to see how lessons about money from their mothers shaped their philosophy on finance. They share topics ranging from how to use a credit card to how to the importance of having an emergency fund.
1. Jennifer Jackson, Millenial Transition Coach – The Adulting Academy
The most valuable piece of money advice my mother ever gave to me was to “get the extra guac.”
My dad and I were very frugal growing up; however, my mom was the opposite. One day at Chipotle I was going back and forth with myself whether I should pay an extra dollar to get guacamole on my burrito bowl.
She looked at me and said, “Jennifer, get the extra guac.”
She was often the voice reminding us to live in the moment and to get what you want. I think this is important because there are so many messages encouraging people to save and sacrifice the now, but more than ever, especially in the pandemic, we are reminded that life is short and sometimes we only have right now.
It has helped me remind myself that while it’s important to plan for the future, don’t forget about the present. Get the extra guac.
2. Brooklyn Lowery, Senior Managing Editor and Credit Card Expert at CardRatings.com
The best money “advice” my mom gave me was making me responsible for my “other” expenses while away at college.
My parents paid for food, housing and tuition, but my entertainment, toiletries, gas money, clothes, etc. were my responsibility. It required me to have a part-time job and taught me about creating a budget, paying taxes and living within my means, while still having a sort of safety net in place.
I believe it helped me truly understand the value of money and the concept of “when it’s gone, it’s gone” instead of “when it’s gone, buy it anyway and figure out how to pay for it later.”
3. Daniella Flores, Software Engineer and Founder of I Like to Dabble
When Daniella Flores turned 16, her mother took her to the bank, where they opened her account.
“She let me know the importance of spending money mindfully,” says Flores, founder of the blog I Like to Dabble. But her mother wasn’t a miser, either.
“She is not the most frugal person,” Flores says. “She likes to be comfortable and really likes fashion and accessories.”
That’s OK, because Flores also says, “She is the most financially savvy person I know!” Her mother sticks to a budget and sets priorities.
Best tip from my mom: “Save your money now so you don’t have to catch up later,” Flores says. “But don’t deprive yourself. You can buy the things that you want and matter to you and still save money.”
4. Barbara Weltman, Founder of Big Ideas for Small Business
Barbara Weltman’s mother has a piggy bank in the shape of a bowling pin.
“I would pay attention to what my mother called pin money,” Weltman, president of the consulting firm Big Ideas for Small Business.
“Pin money” is a term that dates back to the 1800s. It was used to describe a husband’s allowance to his wife so she could buy clothing and other items – like pins. But in Weltman’s family, times had thankfully changed.
“She used it to make stock purchases!” she says. The “pin money” also became a topic at mealtime. “We talked about business and money at the dinner table.”
Among those lessons about money from mom: “Take charge of your money and don’t leave it to others.”
This helped me establish my own credit (back in the day when credit usually depended on a spouse). And it made me vigilant about money in my business. While it’s great to have experts, such as CPAs and financial planners, to offer advice, it’s up to me to make money decisions and keep on top of things.
5. Jill Gonzalez, Communications Director and Financial Literacy Advocate at WalletHub
My mom taught me the importance of shopping around for the best deal.
I have fond memories of her clipping coupons every Sunday, gathering them into neat piles for each store on her list. At the time I thought it was some sort of soothing ritual, but now I know it’s because we simply didn’t have as much money as I thought we did growing up! Now it’s easier than ever to hunt for the best bargains online and compare different offers, from shoes to saving accounts. There are even apps that help do it for you. I like to think I use her “shop around” advice in other aspects of my life, too – maybe that’s why I’m still single.
6. Julie Smeltzer, Founder of Fab Working Mom Life
My mom taught me to use credit cards wisely.
Credit cards are to be used to build credit, buy all my monthly purchases on a credit card rather than a debit card, and always pay them off in full each month. That way, the credit cards help build my credit history and build up my credit score, without causing me to go into the horrible cycle of credit card debt. That means knowing my budget and not overspending. Splurges must be part of the budget too.
7. Whitney Bonds, Founder of Tried and True Moms
My mom always taught me (mainly in adulthood) when it comes to choosing any company, even down to my accountant, to never just go with the first person I find.
Always do my research and find multiple people before deciding who I should go with and choose them based on who can do the best job for me. And the lowest price is not always the one you should go with. Doing this has helped save me so much money. It takes a little more time, but so worth it in the end.
8. Brie Weiler Reynolds, Career Development Manager and Career Coach at Flex Jobs
My mom gave me a great piece of financial advice when I first started my career that I’ve been trying to follow (with varying degrees of success) ever since.
Live off your first salary.
Meaning, that as you progress in your career, you’re hopefully going to see raises, bonuses, and promotions that will increase your base salary. But you shouldn’t increase your expenses to fit your increasing income level. Instead, try to keep your main living expenses (housing, food, etc.) within the bounds of the lowest amount of money you ever made. Everything else you earn can be put towards savings, travel, emergency funds, retirement, and other expenses that aren’t directly related to your daily living.
9. Marguerita Cheng, CEO of Blue Ocean Global Wealth
Marguerita Cheng’s father fled Communist China and arrived in the United States with $17.
My mom lost her father when she was 10 years old. She shared how difficult it was for her mom to raise four kids as a widow. Her mother was a secretary who “knew how to make a dollar stretch. “
The most valuable tip my mom shared with me was to live within my means.
“My mom was a frugalista before it was cool,” says Cheng, CEO of Blue Ocean Global Wealth, an investment advisory firm. “She taught me that life is about choices. Don’t try to keep up with Joneses and delay gratification. It was ingrained in me since I was little, like preschool age. They told me money is a tool and you need to use it wisely. I always remember my mom making a grocery list – you go there and you buy what you need.”
Cheng taught those lessons about money to her own daughter.
“My daughter opened an IRA once she graduated from college and started her first job,” Cheng says proudly. “I’m just taking the things my parents gave me. I’m just taking it and elevating it.”
She stressed the importance of not incurring debt to buy things I can’t afford or don’t need just to impress people.
10. Michelle Petrowski, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® and Certified Financial Planner® at Being in Abundance
My mom’s best piece of advice was to save ahead for random variable expenses—so my monthly expenses were about the same amount each month, so that I could estimate savings each month, know what was available for extra spending, have the full amount when the bill was due (and not pay interest), and have less financial stress.
11. Sami Womack, Money Coach and Founder of A Sunny Side Up Life
I learned most of my money lessons through my parents’ mistakes. They weren’t perfect with money and filed for bankruptcy when I was four years old.
“However, this hardship served as an amazing lesson to me, and eventually I vowed to never repeat their mistakes with my own money,” says Womack, founder of A Sunny Side Up Life, a finance blog. “I’ve now passed these lessons about money down to my own daughters in hopes of gradually improving each generation’s relationship with money.”
Womack has also passed down a positive lesson from her mother: budgeting. “I remember her sitting down to pay bills,” she recalls. “I remember her having the notebooks everywhere with the numbers – and wondering what it was.”
Womack has made sure her daughters know exactly what budgeting is.
12. Anna Yen, Financial Wellness Expert and Chartered Financial Analyst – Family FI
The lesson I learned from my mother was:
The less you need to spend, the more you’ll earn.
My mom taught me to live simply. She learned how to be frugal from her own mother, who experienced wartime scarcity. We used everything until it could no longer be used, and we tried to only spend money with purpose. My baseline level of necessities has always been pretty minimal. The less money I need to spend, the further I can stretch the money I have.
13. Lauryn Williams, Certified Student Loan Planner® and Advisor at Student Loan Planner
Don’t be hasty with big financial decisions.
Mistakes can be costly, and my mom told me not to act and then regret a financial decision, because once the funds have left your pocket, you should not expect to recoup them but instead work for new dollars. She said take my time to think about things before taking action, and that has always stuck with me.
14. Meagan Landress, Certified Student Loan Planner® and Advisor at Student Loan Planner
Honestly, the most valuable piece of advice my mom gave me was to be my own financial security – she always wanted me to be a financially-independent woman, free from financially relying on a future spouse (or anyone for that matter).
This lesson was instilled in me very young because my dad passed away suddenly when I was younger and he was the breadwinner for our family of five. My mom didn’t “need” credit, consistent income, employer benefits, money management skills… until she did.
15. Eden Ashley, Creator of Mint Notion
The most valuable piece of money advice my mom gave me is to track your spending.
Growing up, I always remember seeing my mom write down each time she spent money. She would write down the date, the store name, and the amount in her expense tracker. When I asked her why she does this, she told me that it’s important to know where your money is going.
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I began to fully understand the importance of tracking your spending and how it can be a great way to keep your finances organized and keep yourself accountable.
Since I started following my mom’s advice to be diligent about tracking my spending, I’ve been able to find ways to save money by eliminating wasteful spending, reduce impulse buying, and avoid debt.
16. Steffa Mantilla, Certified Financial Education Instructor® – Money Tamer
My mom taught me the value of having an emergency fund right from the start.
In our house growing up, whenever something unexpected broke, she’d mention how we’re able to pay for the repair out of the family’s emergency fund. She explained how it didn’t make sense to wait for an emergency to happen before saving for it, because by then it’s too late.
This helped me because it was one of my first savings goals after graduating college. While other people were financing furniture for their first apartments, instead, I was making do with what little furniture I had and saving two to three month’s worth of expenses.
This has helped me numerous times over the years after my computer crashed or my car had a mechanical issue. If I didn’t have an emergency fund, these situations would’ve been far more stressful.
17. Shweta Lawande, CFP® Analyst, Francis Financial
The first and most important money tip I received from my mother was to spend below my means. I saw it in the way my parents were careful about their spending, and when I got my first credit card in high school, my mother told me that it is strictly to be used for expenses that I couldn’t cover with cash. Each monthly payment had to be made in full; carrying a balance of even $1 would’ve been unacceptable. That lesson put the fear of debt in me, and I’m forever grateful!
18. Jennifer Doss: First-class mom
When Jennifer Doss turned 16, her mother made her an authorized user on her credit card. “She wanted me to have something for gas money and emergencies,” recalls Doss, an analyst for Cardratings.com, a credit card ratings site.
But it was more than that.
Doss and her mom sat down each month to review the credit card statement – and ensure the entire balance was being paid off.
“Once I became an authorized user, I felt like I was contributing, which was fun,” Doss says. “As a teen, I felt empowered – like I was contributing to finances.”
And she was. By paying off the balance each month and racking up reward points, Doss says…
“I can remember our family taking a trip to Hawaii, and we were able to use points to upgrade to first class. It was my first time traveling first class!” But thanks to her mother, it wasn’t the last.