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Best Money Lessons from Mom by MoneyWatch Staff | May 3, 2010 |

The phrase “lessons from our mothers” tends to conjure images of sappy Hallmark cards or self-righteous Smith College seminars. But maybe “London School of Economics” should be added to that list. Researchers have found that women handle 75 percent of family finances, and buy or influence 80 percent of all consumer purchases in the United States.

So in honor of Mother’s Day, we decided to pay tribute to our own mothers by sharing the smartest pieces of financial wisdom we received from mom. We also want to hear the best financial advice you got from your mother.

Susan Otter
Lesson: Shop around.
“My mother has never been taken in by a loss leader; the store just took the loss. When we shopped for groceries, we’d hit at least three stores in the neighborhood, picking up the best-priced items at each place. My mother instilled the comparison-shopping lesson in me so early that dad still remembers his surprise when, at all of 8 years old, I berated him for trying to buy cereal at Sloan’s. “Dad, we get cereal at A&P!" I said. “We buy bread and milk here.”

Eric Schurenberg, editor-in-chief, CBS MoneyWatch

Lorraine Schurenberg
Lesson: The little silver coins are actually worth more than the bigger ones.
“My mom gave me this essential knowledge so I wouldn’t be scammed by the older kids on the lunch line. But it also illustrates a key concept economists call ‘the money illusion.’ Dimes, nickels, dollars, drachmas: They’re only worth what you can trade them for.”

Ali Rogers, blogger, CBS MoneyWatch
Lesson: Work hard till you’re 40 ...
“My mother was born in the 1930s, so she was truly of a different generation. It was expected that she would support my dad through graduate school, but truly radical when she went to law school in the late 1950s. She went to Indiana University law school, class of 1961, and the dean of her law school came up to her one day and said, ‘I can’t believe that I had to let you into this class; you’re taking a place a man could use to feed his family.’

“Well, she used the place to feed her family, becoming first a successful lawyer and then a judge — I remember well the day she became the first elected woman on the state Court of Appeals. All throughout her career my mom would tell me: ‘Work hard until you’re 40, because that gives you a strong base to work off of, and after you’re 40, you get a little more tired.’

“Of course she didn’t retire until she was in her 70s, and even now she will stop to hear a case or two.”

Rachel Elson, managing editor, CBS MoneyWatch

Gail Elson
Lesson: Outsource.
“When my dad was alive, he thought he should do everything himself – so every spring, we spent weekends on end with the dining room table buried in tax paperwork. After he died, my mother started hiring an accountant, and I’ve done the same since I was in my early 20s. Sometimes your time is just worth more than the money you wind up paying.”

Allan Roth, blogger, CBS MoneyWatch
Lesson: Buy things when they are on sale.
“In March of ’09, the stock market had a half-off sale and investors sold their stocks and stock mutual funds. Now that prices have nearly doubled, investors are getting back in the market. In investing, we buy high and sell low.”

Ilyce Glink, blogger, CBS MoneyWatch
Lesson: Common sense is money sense.
“According to my mother and grandmother, there’s no great money magic. You have to use some basic common sense when making money decisions. In my family, spending more than you had was never an option. You had to make the numbers work even if it meant living at home, not eating out, not owning or driving a car, and not taking fancy vacations.”

(For more lessons from Ilyce Glink’s mom, see her Mother’s Day post: ‘5 Money Lessons My Mother and Grandmother Taught Me.’)

Steve Vernon, blogger, CBS MoneyWatch
Lesson: Spend less than you make, and make your spending count.
“She’s also giving our family a living lesson about staying independent and involved in her later years. She’s 89 years old, still drives, grows some of her own food, is active with all of her extended family, sends and receives e-mails, still lives at the family home, and still handles all her finances.”

Kathy Kristof, blogger, CBS MoneyWatch

Fran Kristof
Lesson: It’s not about you.
“The first time I had to go to a business conference, I remember telling my mom how much I was dreading it. It was awkward. I didn’t know anyone. I’d be stuck in a hotel with a bunch of strangers for days at a time. Torture.

“Mom almost came unglued. ‘It’s not about you,’ she said.

‘Not only was my thought a selfish one that she considered completely beneath me; she also assured me that “if you stop thinking about yourself, you won’t feel uncomfortable.’

“‘Stop thinking about you; think about how you can make other people feel comfortable and welcome and you’ll end up feeling comfortable too,’ Mom said.”

“I went to the conference and noticed lots of people standing by themselves looking just as lost as I felt. With my mother’s words rattling through my head, I squared my shoulders and walked up to one of them, hand extended. ‘Hi. I’m Kathy. How did you end up here?’ By the end of the evening, I had met dozens of people by just saying hello. By the end of the conference, I was introducing my new friends to more people I’d recently met. And now, some 15 years later, I’m a former president of the group — the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. And some of the members — many of whom I met by sticking out my hand — are among my best friends.”

(For more from Kathy Kristof’s mom, see her Mother’s Day post: Mother’s Day Lesson: Only Buy What You Value.’)

Jill Schlesinger, editor-at-large, CBS MoneyWatch
Lesson: The best retirement plan is to find a job that you love and to keep doing it for as long as you can.

Christopher DiLella, associate producer, CBS MoneyWatch

Pat DiLella
Lesson: Money isn’t everything.
“Growing up, my mother often traveled three or even four consecutive days a week to her offices in New York, Arlington, and Philadelphia. Yet she somehow always found the time to be at every recital and extracurricular activity my brother and I ever did. (When we appeared in a regional theater production, for instance, she made it to all 20-plus performances.)

“From her I learned that there are more important things in life than money. She also taught me how to make a priority of the things that do matter most – like family.”

Nelson Wang, senior editor, CBS MoneyWatch

Gloria Wang
Lesson: Have a sense of proportion.
“I think the best thing that my mother taught me about money was a sense of proportion when it came to spending vs. saving, in contrast to my father’s rather ascetic tendencies. ‘Spend a little, save most’ was typically her advice when it came to what to do with a sudden windfall or raise — and it’s a philosophy that’s held me in good stead as I’ve gotten older.”

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