Money Lessons From Mom

As it turns out, your mom was right.

Many of us grew up hearing the same advice from our moms: Don’t play in the street, brush your teeth, and always wear clean underwear.

It turns out that some of mom’s best advice for a good life can also translate into smart money management.

In honor of Mother’s Day, here are three mom-inspired lessons that can be helpful in managing finances, as well as in other areas of your life.

“Just because your friends are doing it doesn't mean you should.”

Your mother may have been thinking about smoking cigarettes or driving too fast when she said this, but the principle also applies to spending money. If your friends are racking up credit card debt on weekend trips, happy hours, and fancy evenings out, you don’t have to join them. If your neighbors buy the brand-new car you always wanted, but keeping up would mean cutting back on your savings or retirement contributions, you shouldn’t do the same.

Mom taught you early to stand up for yourself and say no to peer pressure — and heeding that lesson as an adult with finances will serve you well. But you may also do a better job meeting your financial goals (such as paying off or avoiding credit card debt) if you associate with others who have similar goals.

“From a psychological standpoint, most people end up adopting some of the same good and bad habits as the people who they spend most of their time with,” says Chuck Mattiucci, senior vice president at Fort Pitt Capital Group, a wealth management firm based in Pittsburgh, Pa.

“If all of your friends spend frivolously and don’t save or stick to a budget, you may end up adopting the same characteristics. However, this is where self-discipline comes into play; a disciplined person can overcome all of the temptations and commit to a budget and good financial decisions. I would never tell a client to end a friendship but most of us tend to gravitate toward others with the same interests, goals, and drive. Therefore, you may end up moving on from these friendships at some point anyway.”

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

Maybe your mom wanted to make sure you knew you weren’t getting your allowance if you didn’t complete your chores first. But eliminating the expectation of free handouts is an important financial lesson, too.

In fact, every financial transaction includes a tradeoff: You trade your work for a paycheck and your money for groceries.

Even when something appears to be free, there are usually strings attached. For instance, you potentially could get thousands of dollars in student loan debt forgiven through programs like Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) or Teacher Loan Forgiveness.

While these programs can be great ways to lower the cost of student loan debt, they require long-term commitments of your time: To receive PSLF, you must work 10 years for a government or nonprofit organization, and to receive the teacher loan forgiveness, you must work five years in a low-income school. In return for the time spent, some of your student loan balance may be forgiven — but you also give up the potential for higher earnings or other career opportunities that could have been available elsewhere during that time, says Rebekah Barsch, vice president of planning at Northwestern Mutual.

“It’s never too late to do the right thing.”

When your library book was two years overdue or when you waited two months to return the eyeshadow you “borrowed” from a friend’s purse, your mom probably wanted to teach you that even when delayed, the right thing is the right thing.

The mantra holds true for your finances, as well. Maybe you’ve gotten off track, racking up credit card debt or putting off saving for your eventual retirement. But “it’s never too late to get on track financially,” says Bob Gavlak, CFP® and wealth advisor with Strategic Wealth Partners in Columbus, Ohio.

“Starting to work on your financial success today is far better than waiting until tomorrow, next week, or next year,” he explains. “Even though you may not be exactly where you had hoped, you can always put a plan in place to understand what the best route from today can be. That will help to put you in a better place tomorrow than you may be in today, regardless of your age or current financial situation.”

So if your financial situation isn’t exactly something to write home about, take the time to sit down, set goals, and make a plan to reach them. Changing course is never easy, but it’s also never too late to get on the right path. Go make your mom proud.