Studies show girls aren't exposed to financial literacy as much as boys. Luckily, these money-maven moms all had...girls.

By Mia Taylor
March 09, 2021
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Plenty of our own mothers are family-famous for the nuggets of wisdom and advice they've doled out during every stage of our lives—from our most formative childhood years to early adulthood and well (well) beyond. Where would we be without Mom guiding us on everything from the importance of eating broccoli to the fact that, even during life's most daunting or discouraging moments, this too shall pass? Well, it turns out many of our mothers' financial advice is just as sage as the rest.

Though, study after study reveals some slightly unfortunate truths on this front: girls are not exposed to financial literacy growing up nearly as much as boys are. And furthermore, as adults, women would rather talk about nearly anything, even their own death, before they talk about money.

It's time to change that. Because knowledge is power. And as a U.S. Bank survey points out, men are good at building wealth, in part because they talk about it with each other, sharing their financial ideas and insights. 

With all of these thoughts in mind, and in honor of Women's History month, we asked women to share in their own words the number-one money lesson passed down from their mothers. The answers were informative, heartwarming, and enlightening. Here's some of the best financial advice provided by moms from all walks of life.

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lauren-anastasio
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1 Lauren Anastasio, CFP at SoFi

“Make sure you're part of the money decisions in the household.”

When my parents got married, it was almost a certainty that the husband would manage the finances and make all the money decisions. When my mom married my dad, she was young, and my dad was much older and established, and she didn't think twice about taking his word for things.

All of the bills came to my dad and he paid them out of his checking account. My mom had some of her own money, but always assumed he had everything taken care of—the lights never went off, they were able to go on vacations and buy nice things, she always assumed he was very skilled at managing money.

However, at retirement age, she realized they didn't have any savings. The very small amounts they each had saved in retirement accounts was gone quickly and my dad had always been relying on his ongoing ability to work and optimism when it came to the value of their home.

She was absolutely blindsided and looked back at all the big decisions they made, like paying for my college education and buying a new home just years before retirement, and was so angry that she wasn't "in the know."

She has stressed to me that it doesn't matter who makes more...but what is an absolute necessity is that BOTH partners know where they stand.

Tonya Graser Smith
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2 Tonya Graser Smith, Attorney and Founder, GraserSmith

"Live within your means."

My mom encouraged living within your means and not comparing your life or circumstances or material things to anyone else's.

Don't live your life trying to keep up with the Joneses, because you will never be satisfied—and besides, appearances don't always reflect reality.

That person driving a Honda just might be a millionaire. Be comfortable with yourself. Then be yourself.

Tremaine Wills, MBA, CFEI
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3 Tremaine Wills, Founder and CEO, Mind Over Money

"Income before expenses."

When there's an opportunity to generate income or spend money, choose to generate income. I have carried this with me to ensure that I'm intentional about increasing income and not allowing lifestyle creep to increase my spending at an accelerated rate.

My mom taught me this when I was a teenager, but I didn't fully recognize the seed she planted until my early 20s.

I started working at 16 and spent summers participating in internships at NASA, instead of taking the summers off like most of my peers. In addition to working at NASA, I learned to braid hair and earned money this way as well. I would spend many weekends braiding hair instead of spending the entire day with friends. I did go out in the evenings or when I didn't have appointments, but when given the opportunity to hang out with friends and go shopping or go to the movies, I would always make sure that I didn't cancel client appointments or commit to hanging out during the times when I might normally get an appointment to earn income.

I learned that the choice to earn income before spending it on fun is vital to remaining disciplined. My mother's advice has also made it very easy for me to analyze my time to see what activities are driving revenue and which are costing me money.

Patricia Roberts
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4 Patricia Roberts, Author and COO, Gift of College, Inc.

“Always have some money in your own name.”

One of my mom's top money tips was to always have money set aside in one’s own name regardless of relationship status. 

My mom unexpectedly became a solo head of household when my dad disappeared, abandoning her with four children and a home that was about to go into foreclosure.

Having been a homemaker at my dad's request with no income of her own, and no savings or credit in her own name, (which was somewhat common for women in the 1970s), it was challenging for her to suddenly be in a position of having to support a family of five, although she managed to do so. 

While also having jointly held accounts, having money held independently in my own name has provided an enhanced sense of well-being and independence through the years. It was one of many valuable money tips from my mom.  

Amanda Beard
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5 Amanda Beard, Olympic Gold Medalist and Co-Founder of Beard Swim Co.

“Think of money as a key that opens the door to certain kinds of experiences.”

Around the age of 15, my mom told me: “Think of money as a key that opens the door to certain kinds of experiences and if you want those experiences, you need to get to work.”

So I worked my butt off, and my life has been pretty awesome as a result. Before buying anything, I usually ask myself the following: does this purchase allow me to do something I want or need to do? If the answer is yes, then the purchase is justified. If not, then it goes back on the shelf.

As a parent, I try to showcase my mom's philosophy as often as I can and hope that it rubs off in a way that's just as meaningful for my kids as it has been for me.

Sharene Wood
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6 Sharene Wood, President and CEO of 5001 FLAVORS; Harlem Haberdashery & HH Bespoke Spirits & Beverage

“Always have at least $20 on you.”

My mom always told me to make sure I never left the house without at least $20 on me. She really kept repeating that throughout my childhood. Put it in your pocket, in your sock, or your shoe.

I was a freshman in college working in midtown and realized when I checked my bag that I’d left my wallet at home and didn’t have any money. Luckily, I realized I had $20 tucked in my shoe underneath the insole, like my mom had always insisted I have.

Moms are always looking out for you even from the past.

Tracy Holland
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7 Tracy Holland, Co-Founder and CEO, HATCHBEAUTY Brands

“Don't negotiate against yourself.”

Let the person you're negotiating with put their offer on the table first so that you have a place to start from.

Women tend to have an "is this OK?" mindset with regard to money, which ends up downplaying or reducing their worth.

Instead, say, "How much would you pay?" or "What do you have in your budget?"  

I learned this tip from my mom in the third grade when I was 8 years old. My parents were getting divorced and my mom was selling the family home. When a potential buyer did a walk-through with the real estate agent, my mom said she wouldn’t sell for less than X amount. By putting that number out there, she inherently told them what she would take, instead of letting them come back with the best bid.

I learned this tip the hard way from my mom’s disappointment in the outcome of her own experience. Sometimes the best lessons we learn are experiences we witness and never want to repeat.

Colleen McCreary
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8 Colleen McCreary, Credit Karma Chief People Officer and Financial Advocate

“Some of the best places to save money are our day-to-day go-tos.”

My mom taught me that you can save a lot of money by looking at your daily expenses, like the money you spend at the grocery store, or the pharmacy, or on clothing. There are a handful of seemingly small changes that can end up saving you in a big way over time.

For example, no matter where you’re buying clothes, whether your wardrobe needs a refresh or you are back-to-school shopping, buy clothes only in two or three colors that can mix and match together and use a few accessories to add some flair.

You can wear certain pieces more often if they are similar colors. My family did this when I was a kid and we had a limited budget. My mom would have a certain amount, about $50, for me to buy all the school clothes I would need. We'd go to Kmart and purchase as much as possible in the same two colors, usually starting with army green. 

And she reminded me that no one will know if you bought something new or secondhand, especially with clothing (for babies, kids, or yourself), handbags, cars, accessories, and sports equipment. You can save a ton by buying secondhand. 

Sheba Zaidi
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9 Sheba Zaidi, Co-Founder of Mahara Mindfulness

"No matter how much (or how little) money you make, always put aside some money to donate to causes you care about."

My mother taught me that money is an energy loop: the more you give, the more you live from an abundant space, the more comes back to you. 

This tip has proved useful to me in life because it was a constant reminder that wealth is a mindset, and no matter how much more I wanted to accomplish financially, there were always people less fortunate that I could help. It allowed me to see money as energy, and live from a constant place of gratitude.

It is also the reason that when I launched my latest business, Mahara Mindfulness, my co-founder and I made sure that we had a charitable component baked into the sale of our products.

My mom has always set an example of charitable giving. And when I started my first company, she made a point of proactively bringing this tip up—and to date, she still does. Just last week she mentioned it to me again, and I always honor it for myself.

Alicia Sanchez
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10 Alicia Sanchez, Founder Dear God Are We There Yet Volunteer Community

“Always have money to buy something that makes you feel good.”

Growing up, my mother always wore the brightest most amazing red lipstick. Maybe it's a Latina thing, but it didn't matter where she went, she had her red lipstick.

I was about 8 years old and I saw her open the lipstick case, and she had a bill folded inside. I was like, why would she hide that?

My mami said she actually got this from her mother. She would always put money in the lipstick case that represents her beauty, money for herself and for me, as her daughter.

My mother said no matter how old we get, how busy we are, and how much money we have or don't have, we should always have beauty money to buy ourselves something that makes us feel good, and share it with another woman.

Sometimes we feel bad as mothers spending on ourselves, but we shouldn’t. I always have a beauty budget.

Michelle Stansbury
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11 Michelle Stansbury, Founder and CEO of Penguin Public Relations

“Be a prolific budgeter.”

When I was young, my mom was a career waitress. She would bring home her tips in cash and every week would sort the cash into coffee cans—10 percent into long-term savings, 10 percent into short-term savings, 10 percent to charity or church.

Even though our family income was much lower than most other families around us, because of her careful budgeting, we never felt "poor" or ran into any financial crises.  

She was also able to help put me through an expensive private university (Duke) without incurring any student debt. So after I graduated into a top tier job out of college (Abercrombie & Fitch corporate headquarters), I was able to start saving significantly on my own.

For me, I wasn't just saving money to save money, I was budgeting in order to take a year off from working to travel around the world. Thanks to the lessons she taught me, after two years working, I had saved up enough to leave my job and travel.

With still more careful budgeting (and the occasional waitressing gig!), I turned one year traveling abroad into three and a half years exploring the world.

When I returned to the United States, I put that meticulous budgeting to use once again as I started my own business. Now, seven and a half years later, I run a thriving business of my own that, like my mom's running of the household, has never been brought down by any financial crisis, even the difficult pandemic we've dealt with the past year.

Jaleh Bisharat
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12 Jaleh Bisharat, Co-Founder and CEO, NakedPoppy

"They can take anything away from you—your money, your home, your material goods. Anything. Except what's in your mind.”

The single most important piece of advice my mom gave me about money is even more remarkable for the fact that I grew up in Iran in the early 1970s.

"They can take anything away from you," she said. "Your money, your home, your material goods. Anything. Except what's in your mind." 

Well, in 1979, our family did, in fact, (unbelievably!) lose everything in the Iranian revolution. But armed with this advice, I was maniacally determined to get an education so that I'd always be able to replenish whatever I might lose and continue to support myself.

I've never stopped trying to improve what's in my mind.

My second piece of advice: always assume you're going to have to stand on your own two feet financially. For me, these life lessons have naturally helped me to earn, save, and carefully plan how I spend my money.