10 money lessons from mom

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Think mom didn’t teach you anything about money? Maybe you simply weren’t paying attention.

Improve your money skills
Just in time for Mother’s Day (don’t-forget-to-call/visit/send-flowers), here are 10 choice “momisms” you might remember, and the ways her advice can improve your money skills:
10 choice ‘momisms’
  1. “Have a place for everything, and everything in its place.”
  2. “Don’t be late.”
  3. “You can do anything if you set your mind to it.”
  4. “Know your own value.”
  5. “Do your homework!”
  6. “Practice, practice, practice.”
  7. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
  8. “Take your time, and check your facts.”
  9. “Be yourself.”
  10. “There’s more to life than money.”

1. “Have a place for everything, and everything in its place.” Ever tried to balance your checkbook or pay the bills when you can’t lay your hands on one all-important piece of paper? And when are those bills due, anyway?

Organization is “very important in your financial life,” says Douglas Borkowski, director of the Financial Counseling Clinic at Iowa State University. In his family growing up, “mom and grandma were the ones who kept things organized,” he says.

2.“Don’t be late.” Mom was probably talking about school, but the rule applies to money, too. “You’d better pay your bills on time,” says Les Kotzer, attorney and co-author of “The Family War: Winning the Inheritance Battle.” Otherwise, you face increased interest rates, late fees and all kinds of financial penalties, including a damaged credit rating.

3.“You can do anything if you set your mind to it.” It’s a fact: Set a goal and write it down and you’re much more likely to attain it. (Think of it as jotting down directions to a place you’ve never visited.) It works the same for financial goals.

When it comes to income, debts and savings, “you have to know how the pieces fit,” says Borkowski.

4.“Know your own value.” Financial adviser Kathleen Miller gave her daughter the same advice she gives her clients: Make a net worth statement every year.

On one sheet of paper, tally what comes in and what goes out. Include assets (what you own) and liabilities (what you owe).

It’s a great way to take a yearly snapshot of your financial life, says Miller, head of Kirkland, Wash.-based Miller Advisors, a fee-only financial planning firm. And it doesn’t require any special math know-how.

Save the sheets from year to year and you have a “financial diary,” which is “a real good way to have a very, very quick review,” she says.

5.“Do your homework!” Whether you’re looking for the best interest rate for your savings account or trying to find out if that investment tip is everything it’s cracked up to be, doing your homework is still important.

It also puts you in control of your finances, says Kotzer. By doing your own research and getting educated on topics that concern you financially, “you’re not always dependent on what others are telling you,” he says.

6.“Practice, practice, practice.” Want to stay home with the kids? Great move. But keep your skills sharp, just in case. “Over 50 percent of first marriages end in divorce,” says Miller, author of “Fair Share Divorce for Women.”

“Maintain your skill levels and connections because it’s so hard if you have to get back in,” she says.

7.“Don’t be afraid to ask for help.” Whether it’s getting a great haircut or planning your retirement, there are some situations in which it pays to hire a good professional.

Kotzer remembers his mother’s rule: “Certain things you do on your own; for others, you hire experts.” Unfortunately, he says, “we’ve become a nation of do-it-yourselfers.” As a result, he says, we’re “not utilizing experts who can make our lives easier.”

There are “a lot of people who are missing out on a lot because they’re not getting proper advice,” Kotzer says. “Take advantage of someone else’s years of education.”

8.“Take your time, and check your facts.” Mom may have been talking about your math homework, but chances are this is one lesson she wanted you to take outside the classroom, too.

“In relationships or in money, it’s so easy these days to con people,” says Miller. Smart consumers “have to read the fine print,” she says.

Taking your time to make a smart decision, or a time-out from making any decision, is a good strategy to keep from getting scammed or talked into a less-than-advisable situation.

“There are a lot of things you learn as you get older,” says Miller. “One is that you can take a little time to make a decision.”

9.“Be yourself.” Remember all the times you asked to do something because “everybody else is doing it”? Chances are mom tried to get you to think for yourself. In an era of commercials, text messaging, cell phones and the Internet, adults and kids are continuously bombarded with information and images of what everyone else is doing, selling, buying or consuming. That can have huge financial implications as you try to balance immediate gratification with long-term goals such as education and savings.

“Try not to be so influenced by the media and all the other voices, and try to take the time and listen to your own voice,” says Miller.

10.“There’s more to life than money.” More than anyone, moms know the importance of an extra dollar or two. At the same time, they also know what’s really valuable.

Kotzer remembers one elderly woman who came to him shortly before she died. Her biggest worry: Her two kids weren’t speaking to each other. She gave Kotzer an envelope and asked him to call a meeting between her son and daughter after she’d died to reveal the contents.

A short time later, Kotzer did exactly that. In the envelope was a collection of photos from when the kids had grown up together. There were shots of them arm in arm, on the way to school, playing, laughing and hugging. Along with it was a note from their mother, reminding them how much they loved and cared for each other as children and young adults, and telling them to look out for each other now. The last line brought the two grown siblings to tears. She wrote: “I’ll be watching you.”

Says Kotzer, “She brought the two kids together with her words.”

Written by
Dana Dratch
Personal Finance Writer
Dana Dratch is a personal finance and lifestyle writer who enjoys talking all things money and credit. With a degree in English and writing, she likes asking the questions everyone would ask if they could and sharing the answers — along with smart money management tips from the experts.