Today’s post was inspired by a question from Jean Chatzky on Twitter this week.
Read on for a lesson for all parents.
First some background. I’m incredibly proud of my Mom. She grew up on a farm in Ireland and was very bright at school. My grandparents were unable to afford for her to continue at grammar school so she was sent to secretarial school and graduated at 16. If my Mum has any regrets, I think it is that she didn’t have the opportunity to go to college. I know it meant a lot to her when I graduated – the first person on both sides of my family to do so.
At 16, she headed over to England and lived in a home run by nuns in London. She found work as a secretary and also worked as an usher in a London theater.
At 21, she married my Dad and had my brother a year later, me three years after that and my sister nineteen and a half months after me (yes, I was very aware of that gap as I tried to claim big sister privileges in my childhood!). She gave up paid work when my brother was born to take on what I think is the hardest job of all: rearing a bunch of small children, on a budget.
When my sister started Kindergarten, Mom started working four days a week in a financial services firm, analyzing the stock market. After a year or so, she switched to an accounting firm and studied at nights to become a tax accountant. I have a memory of overhearing her tell someone about being nervous about going back to work after 10 years out of the workforce. I knew it was a big deal when she got that first job, but it’s only now that I fully appreciate how hard that must have been.
Some of my clearest memories of Mom are of her at the kitchen table studying these big text books night after night. When she wasn’t doing that, she was reading the Financial Times, monitoring the stock market and picking stocks. And when she wasn’t doing that, she was balancing the family books in this huge, old-fashioned ledger. She still does this today.
From this, I developed the understanding that personal finance was something women did. It wasn’t something reserved for men and it wasn’t something to be afraid of. I assumed that the day would come when I would be engrossed in the newspaper finance pages every day. I remember very clearly that I expected to be good at this as Mom was obviously good at it.
From my Mom, I learned to avoid debt (in fact, I absorbed the idea that this was a Very Bad Thing) and to budget within my means. I learned to work hard and to reach for success.
Unfortunately, I somehow failed to learn the idea of paying yourself first and automatically saving something from every pay check. I simply spent what I had. I didn’t learn about compound interest.
We never sat down and discussed the stock market, personal finance basics or why she read the finance pages. I asked her about this recently and she said that I had never shown any interest. And right there is my lesson for parents:
Children won’t always ask you for advice or ask questions about personal finance. We lecture and advise them on so many other aspects of their lives that I think they just expect that these lessons will be coming. They do want to know about this stuff. Not always at the time you want to share it. But don’t wait for them to show an interest.
Meanwhile, my Mom and I are making up for lost time and we’ve started having really interesting discussions about personal finance. She’s shared with me her investment philosophy (she picks managed mutual funds, I’ve opted for a Vanguard Target Retirement fund). I talk with her about our financial plans and seek her input.
I’m also keen for her to share her knowledge with our sons and suggested to her that she gives T some shares for his 10th birthday. It’s not as simple and it’s more expensive than I thought to do this. But we’re figuring out a way to make it happen. (I’d welcome suggestions from readers.)
I’m looking forward to my children having conversations with her about the stock market, absorbing her knowledge and deepening their relationship with her over a shared interest.
There’s no such thing as a perfect parent but I’m incredibly grateful that I got the Mom I did.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!
Readers: what did you learn from your Mom about personal finance?