6 Practical Money Tips from Mom

Make Change Staff

We get a lot from our moms: unconditional love and support, our stunning good looks and quick wit, and sage advice that sticks with us long after we’re out of the house.

Over the years, our moms have had a lot to say about life, love, and money. Whether it was a lesson in being generous or the importance of always, always buying on sale, our moms have always had our backs. This year, Make Change’s personal finance writers took some time to reflect on the biggest nuggets of financial wisdom passed down by our moms.

It’s OK to buy what you really want, but save up first

I loved video games as a kid—still do—and I would beg my mom to take me to Toys ‘R’ Us to stare longingly at Super Nintendos and Sega Saturns (showcased behind glass, of course) at least once a week. We’d go, I’d play the minute or two worth of demos on each system, and we’d leave. I wasn’t going to ask my single, incredibly hard-working mom to drop $300 to $400 so I could play Duke Nukem 3D—at least not directly.

While I understood how hard my mom worked to take care of my brother and me, I was also a bit of a deviant little bastard and I came up with a brilliant plan. One day, I asked my mom for her signature on a blank piece of paper. She said something sweet and mom-like along the lines of “You want my autograph, honey?” and complied. As soon as I got her signature, I wrote a “contract” stating that I would get a $10 allowance per week for life. I presented the contract to my mom, told her it was legally binding, and promptly hid it in a specific Superman comic book that only I would be able to find.

Crazy thing was, she started giving me $10 a week. And I saved for months to buy my own Sega Saturn. At the time, I thought I’d won out on that deal but looking back, I realize that my mom knew how badly I wanted that system and she knew if she set aside $10 a week, I’d keep saving it all to reach my goal. Today, I still save for everything I really want, even if it takes months. – Craig Donofrio

The little things mean the most

The most valuable money lesson my mom taught me is generosity. No matter the occasion, she always finds a way to go the extra mile, whether it’s sending a personal card for someone’s birthday, bringing flowers when visiting, or showing up to someone’s house with a dessert. From her, I learned that you don’t have to spend a ton to show people you care. The little things matter. Whenever I find myself following in her footsteps in these ways, I’m really grateful for her example. Being generous in authentic, personal ways always feels deeply rewarding and feels like money well spent. — Casey Hynes

Always pay yourself

I remember falling asleep to word processor key strokes as my mother wrote papers; she earned her master’s in social work on nights and weekends when I was in third grade. Several years later, she began working on her second bachelor’s degree in art. Going back to school with young children is never easy. Her commitment to taught me an important money lesson—never stop investing in yourself. — Kate Dore

 You’re in charge of your own financial destiny

I grew up in a single-parent household and my mom worked two full-time jobs to make sure the bills were paid on time, every time. It wasn’t always easy, but she always managed. Growing up that way, I learned early that handling my finances would be 100 percent up to me—and that wasn’t a bad thing. Since I never assumed anyone else would be responsible for my financial well-being, I didn’t shy away from taking charge of my money and making financial planning work for me. – Jackie Lam

You don’t need everything you think you do

It was back-to-school time and I’d made a huge list of clothes and accessories I absolutely had to have before the school year started. Looking back, I didn’t need most of the things on the list. What I already had was still in perfectly good, or even new, condition, but at the time nothing could have convinced me I didn’t need a complete wardrobe. That year, while shopping with my mom—giant list of “must haves” in tow—she finally looked at me and simply said, “You can’t buy everything.” It was then that I realized what she really meant: I was constantly wanting something, and I would never be able to fill that insatiable need, so I should just stop trying. Funny how moms have a superpower to make such a huge impact with such a small statement. – Zina Kumok

If you want something, make it happen

My mom has a unique combination of unlimited optimism, steady determination, and pure, unrelenting stubbornness. If she wanted something to happen—especially if it was for my sister and I—“no” just wasn’t going to be a suitable answer. She’d tell me again and again that if I wanted something bad enough, I just had to find a way to make it happen.

Growing up, it was mostly my mom who made things happen for me. She’d come up with a plan A, and a plan B, and a plan Z if she had to. Whether it was ridiculously expensive art supplies, or somehow miraculously finding a white turtleneck at 10 p.m. on a Wednesday so I could join an Ace of Base cover band for the school’s talent show (yeap, that happened), or convincing someone to hire me, if it was going to better my life, my mom pulled it off.

When I first started looking for a career, I knew I wanted to be a journalist. Problem was, I also wanted to eat, and I hit the career market right around the time print media hit the skids. I probably should have jumped off that sinking ship, but I just kept hearing my mom, “If you want something, you just gotta make it happen.” So, I stuck with it, going through plan A, and plan B, and right on to plan Z before I figured it out—and I got the career I really wanted. – Angela Colley

Extreme distressed property investing

This lesson comes from my grandmother, Elizabeth (or Betty as we called her). In 1981 at 68-years-old Betty took a trip to Greece to visit friends on an island and disappeared for a few weeks. When she reconnected with my mom, Betty announced she’d “bought a ruin.”

This is the ultimate example of what we’d call “distressed property investing” today.  The ruin was on an island called Alonissos. Until the late 1980s, the house had no electricity and limited clean water. One taxicab serviced the upper village, so Betty would walk the 1-mile goat path up from the neighboring port town of Patitiri to her ruined village.

My uncle, a former columnist himself, once wrote that the island village was so small you could send a postcard from the United States to “Betty, Alonissos, Greece” and you would be sure it would arrive. (Many subsequent postcards from readers proved his point.) But Betty lived there happily every summer until her death in 2002.

The fact that my grandmother camped out–with no electricity and barely any water–for three months at a time, from age 68 well into her 70s, has always impressed me. The fact that she lived on Social Security during those years and that Greece was so cheap she actually saved money has always impressed me as well.

The original ruin, now fixed up and with plentiful running water, is an island paradise today. My family and I will visit this summer and we will toast Betty’s distressed property investing skills.– Michael Taylor