Every summer, my mother and I go out for lunch. I say this as if I don’t live with her, and see the woman almost every day of my life. I do — and I love that. But once a year, we get dressed up, go to our favorite restaurant in the middle of a weekday, when it is super empty and quiet, and drink wine outside and eat delicious food and talk about life. We talk about everything, from family stuff (the drama never ceases!), to boy stuff (there’s a boy in my life, guys — a freaking boy!), to money stuff (i.e. her having it, me struggle bussing). My mom is a wonderfully brilliant woman all the time, but if you get one or two glasses of white wine in her, she’s an unstoppable force.
After hours of eating olive-oil-soaked bread (honestly, what did we do as humans to deserve bread?) and listening to the woman across from me spit truths about my flailing career as a confused 20-something, I began thinking about all the little nuggets of wisdom she’s given me over the years — most of them being financial.
While I’ve always been someone who had a good handle on my academics and my personal relationships, money is something I’ve always struggled with. I’m good at making it, and pretty good at saving it — but I’m terrible at spending it. I will either a) clutch something in my paw for 45 minutes standing ten feet from the checkout while anxiously deciding if the purchase is worth my money, or b) spend it so quickly and recklessly that my credit card statement becomes a chaotic, blurry list of Shit Mary Never Ever Needed. My mother is the one who took me aside at age 20, when I spent the summer staring pensively out the window because I felt so broke and had too much money anxiety to spend a single penny on gas to get to a location other than my home, and told me I needed to get my shit together. She validated my pretty strong savings habits, but also reminded me that having a stacked account at the expense of enjoying my life was a waste of time. She taught me that saving to the point of deprivation and then binge-spending was a stupid way to live. She also taught me how to do taxes, how to start saving for retirement, and how to squeeze the most financial aid out of my university. Everything I am today, financially, is due to the advice of my mother.
This got me curious about what kind of financial guidance other young people are getting from their parents. Besides full-on parental funding, many twenty-somethings might be, like me, working for their money themselves, but also benefitting greatly from the wisdom their moms and dads offer. I started asking around — and this is what everyone had to say.
1. “Mine is super easy – start saving for retirement young. Especially if you want to be self-employed, like both of my parents are. Shit gets really expensive when you run your own business — you have to try extra hard just to stay afloat sometimes, and contributing to any sort of retirement fund feels impossible. My mother had me start contributing to an IRA when I was only 19. It is seriously the thing I am most grateful she taught me. She doesn’t want me to end up in middle-age feeling like I’ll be working forever because I have nothing saved for retirement.” — Kyle
2. “The best advice I got about money was actually from my grandfather. He once told me ‘Instead of saving money for your future, save it for your kids and grandkids.’ Although I know not everyone wants kids, so maybe this isn’t applicable to all people, I really want to have a family and although it’ll be nice to save for my own future and retirement, it also would be really nice to leave something for my loved ones someday. It is kind of morbid. But it definitely motivates me to work hard and save money.” — Dan
3. “I used to be super wrapped up in money, even when I was like, 18 years old and just starting college. I was so stingy and anxious and obsessed with working hard and saving diligently, etc. It was honestly exhausting and it made my relationships stressful because I never wanted to spend anything and got so anxious when I did. My mom once told me that 18 is probably the best time to be a little more loose with my money, since someday, I really wouldn’t have the privilege to be that way. She said to go out and buy dinner, say no to a babysitting gig once in a while, splurge on concert tickets I really wanted sometimes. She didn’t urge me to go full ‘follow your dreams’ and blow all of my money on travel or anything. But she taught me that saving at the expense of my sanity and joy in life was really not worth it.” — Molly
4. “My parents actually gave me a lot of financial advice because my brother was horrible in the category. I think that the best financial advice my parents ever gave me was keep track of your spending by watching your bank account, open up a quicken account to mark your purchases, and to always have an emergency savings account to fall back on.” — Carolyn
5. “My mom always told me that money is your friend. She said you can do whatever you want with your money, and if you take care of your money, your money will take care of you. Save it up – that’s what you do.” — Maggie
6. “My parents told me I should save. There will come a time where you’ll be in a hurry, or whatever… and you’ll need it. That’s basically it.” – Ben
7. “My dad says a lot of thing about money, but one of his best is ‘pay yourself first.’ Preservation of Capital is incredibly important. So put money away and ‘pay yourself’ before you go buy stuff. He also told me that learning how to invest is key and that savings accounts are essentially useless. You’re better off putting the money into something that might grow.” – Sam
8. “I don’t remember who told me this, but I got it from someone. When it comes to any purchase that isn’t absolutely necessary I wait one day for every $100 it costs and I ask myself if I really actually need it each day. If the answer is yes at the end I’ll buy it without any second thought or remorse. This has helped be avoid a lot of frivolous purchases.” — Drew
9. “I honestly can’t say I’ve ever gotten money advice from parents. I kind of raised myself. Indirectly, I learned from them that it is important to guide your children financially. Everything I do now is for my kids, and I plan on teaching them what I know.” — Ashley
10. “My parents kind of always raised me to believe that experiences like travel are what I should save my money for, rather than brand name clothing or any other expensive items.” – Lizzy
11. “You don’t have to hold on to every penny, but always put some away in your savings account.” — Michael
12. “My grandparents gave me a lot of savings bonds, which taught me early how useful saving money is later in life. When I was old enough and having a hard time paying for college, I was able to use that money they’d put away for me and it just helped so much.” – Sara
Mary is the summer Media Fellow at The Financial Diet. Send her your summer intern stories (your lessons, failures, triumphs and good advice) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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