A Salute to Money Smart Moms

Today's mothers are in a perfect position to share their experiences in the workforce and as investors.

Mother and son looking at device at home
(Image credit: Getty Images)

To celebrate Mother’s Day, I’d like to pay tribute to mothers everywhere who pass on smart financial habits and sound values to their children. In fact, it’s often moms who take the lead in teaching their kids about money. Dads are more likely than moms to say they feel uncomfortable about having money talks with their children, reports the 2020 Parents, Kids & Money Survey from T. Rowe Price.

Why are mothers more likely to talk about money with their kids? Possibly because they spend more time with their children running errands and piloting the carpool—convenient opportunities to talk about everyday finances in a low-key setting. Today’s mothers are also in a perfect position to share their own experiences in the workforce and as investors. It’s im­portant for your kids—especially your daughters—to know about work you do outside the home, how you balance work and family life, and how you save and invest for future events, such as college and retirement (see How to Raise Money Savvy Girls). And kids are never too young to learn, as long as you teach them in an age-appropriate way.

My friend Mary has taken this to heart. An interior designer who prefers to work as an independent contractor rather than an employee, Mary started passing along her en­trepreneurial spirit to her 13-year-old daughter, Ruby, when Ruby was only 8 years old and had set up a stand selling extra plants that had sprouted in her mother’s garden.

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Inspired by her early success, Ruby has been working at a local farmer’s market since she was old enough to understand and handle money. “She meets people, learns how to make eye contact and does math on her feet,” says Mary. With her money, Ruby is expected to buy the extra things she wants while Mary takes care of her needs. She also saves half of what she earns, and every six months she and her mother transfer her savings to a custodial brokerage account that’s invested in a mutual fund.

Mary invests in a couple of rental properties, and Ruby knows that tenants pay rent to live there. Mary hopes that when Ruby eventually taps her own savings, she uses it “to purchase an asset such as real estate rather than a liability like a car.”

A personal note. I have a special interest in teaching kids about money, because I’m the author of Raising Money Smart Kids. While I was working on the book, I used to bounce ideas off my own three children as they were growing up. They’re all married now, and I asked them what they learned as kids that has stuck with them as adults.

“One thing you taught us was that money should always be part of the conversation so that you’re never afraid to deal with it,” says my daughter, Claire. “This comes up with me when I do our taxes every year.” For son Peter, “giving money at church was a big thing that made an impression on me. I got used to the expectation that you contribute each week, even if it isn’t a lot, and I still do.”

It’s heartening to know that my kids are passing along the lessons they learned to their own children. “We were brought up knowing that money has value beyond buying ‘stuff,’ ” says Claire. “We knew it also paid for things like our education, vacations and everything else we did. Thirty years later, we can see that it pays for you to have a nice retirement. This is something I’m trying to make my kids realize and think about.”

When son John’s 5-year-old daughter, Sullivan, received a $50 check for her birthday, John’s wife, Sara, suggested that he take Sullivan to the bank to put $40 into her college fund and keep $10 cash to buy something special. Says John, “Sara asked me, ‘Wouldn’t your mother agree with this plan?’ ” Yes, I would!

Janet Bodnar

Janet Bodnar is editor-at-large of Kiplinger's Personal Finance, a position she assumed after retiring as editor of the magazine after eight years at the helm. She is a nationally recognized expert on the subjects of women and money, children's and family finances, and financial literacy. She is the author of two books, Money Smart Women and Raising Money Smart Kids. As editor-at-large, she writes two popular columns for Kiplinger, "Money Smart Women" and "Living in Retirement." Bodnar is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University and is a member of its Board of Trustees. She received her master's degree from Columbia University, where she was also a Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Business and Economics Journalism.