I was privileged to grow up with a mother who told me at every turn that I could be whatever I wanted to be. I could tackle any job, make as much money as any man, and control my own financial future if I was smart about it. Our families are often the first place we start to learn financial habits, so it can be helpful to reflect on these beliefs that underpin our perceptions of money—many times, for the rest of our lives. My amazing mom imparted a few key money lessons that still shape me today, and hopefully they will help you too!
1. There is no Prince Charming.
Perhaps there’s a prince and maybe he’s perfectly charming, but you shouldn’t count on him to fund your life or be the only one who handles financial issues. My mother taught me early on that it was incumbent upon me to understand financial basics—and to set myself up for a stable future regardless if I had a partner to share that future with.
In practice that meant her encouraging me in my early 20’s to save money and buy a house on my own, because in her view, there was no need to wait until I was married to make investment decisions. While admittedly it was a bit of a stretch at the time, but taking that risk truly paid off in the long run.
2. Money isn’t scary.
I’m a banker and an economist at least in part because my mom is in finance. I was taught early on that money and numbers were nothing to be afraid of and that personal financial skills could be learned just like anything else you would need to know while growing up! She led by example, sitting at our kitchen table on Sunday nights with her checkbook register and calculator in hand, cranking away at bills and deals for her clients.
Even as a single mom when things got tricky and when there wasn’t quite enough to go around, money wasn’t a topic to be avoided. It was a problem to be solved and a resource to secure just like any other challenge in life. This lesson helps me remember that money isn’t everything and it doesn’t have to be the intimidating issue we often make it out to be.
3. Save for big purchases.
Credit cards were few and far between in our house and if you wanted a fun trip to summer camp, you saved your pennies for it! My mother taught me the value of being very thoughtful in distinguishing between want and need and exercising patience when thinking about making big purchases.
More than just being aspirational about our goals, she also encouraged her kids to talk and plan for how to actually make them happen: “So how much do you have to save per week if you want to go to camp in June?” I learned that taking tactical steps and breaking the action into manageable pieces is how you achieve long-term goals.
4. Start planning for retirement now.
I landed my first “more than an intern” job at 20 and was over the moon to bring home a paycheck that had some actual heft to it. But the celebrating was short lived as my mother asked, “Did you sign up for their 401k?” I remember being baffled. Retirement? Who was thinking about a 401k! I just started working.
But in that moment she taught me that the early years in our careers are really the very best time to start saving for retirement, even if it’s a small amount. The magic of the time value of money means that early small efforts payoff in large ways down the line—you’ll be very happy you made the effort even ten years from now!
5. Keep your own emergency fund.
My mom bucked a bit of tradition and kept a personal account that she maintained her entire marriage, even when us kids needed new shoes or the roof started leaking. Its value certainly changed over time, but it was one of the things that helped her find courage and confidence to make it on her own when the difficult time came to raise her children by herself.
While we never want to have to think about challenging issues and hope they don’t happen to us, having our own personal financial security (whatever that may look like for you) can provide a sense of freedom and comfort knowing you always have your own resources to depend on.
6. Know your market value.
There was no tiptoeing around money in my mom’s eyes! When she knew I had a performance review, the question that followed was if I asked for the raise. If I didn’t, or even worse, if I didn’t think I deserved it, I earned myself a fun few minutes of talking through different ways to approach my boss and make the ask. She was always sure to add with that the expectation and reminder that I certainly wasn’t better than anyone else, but that I should always expect to be paid fairly for excellent work.
7. Sometimes, you buy the shoes.
Once on a trip with my girlfriends, I texted my mom a picture of a pair of gorgeous shoes I was mulling over, but really hadn’t planned on splurging on. She called back immediately saying, “Those are beautiful and you’ll be very mad at yourself tomorrow if you don’t bring them home.” This sentiment was a huge surprise from my conservative, money-minded mother!
It was comforting to know that even though she so greatly valued financial responsibility, there were times where she could feel justified by being a little bit out of bounds. So my advice? Not every weekend, but for the most part if you’ve saved, planned, and been thoughtful about your finances…..sometimes, you buy the shoes.