On the Money: If Mom taught you about money, thank her

2013-05-12T00:00:00Z On the Money: If Mom taught you about money, thank herGail MarksJarvis Chicago Tribune / Mct Arizona Daily Star

You probably didn't find a Mother's Day card thanking your mom for helping you figure out how to handle your money.

Some of the typical messages I saw lately involved thanks for giving warm hugs, being understanding and showing strength. But if I had my way, thanks for money advice would be among the valued Mother's Day messages, because studies show that too many Americans are seriously deficient on money basics.

Consequently, adults end up buried in debt without any idea how to escape, and 53 percent of Americans are estimated to go into retirement without enough money to keep up their preretirement lifestyle.

In part, children miss the basic lessons about money because many parents aren't sure themselves. Money has been described as the last taboo, a topic supposedly more difficult to breach now than sex.

And the struggles of the past few years left many a parent reluctant to tell children that they worried about how they would save the family home or how they would pay for college.

But if your mom shared some of those struggles or helped you see how to avoid them, thank her.

Women report in many studies that they feel less confident about finances than men, yet in a TD Bank survey, the majority of mothers said they take all or most of the responsibility to teach children about money matters.

A study by Fidelity Investments found considerably more mothers than fathers discussing money with their children. About 64 percent of mothers said it was easy for them to have conversations with adult children, while only 54 percent of fathers showed the same level of comfort.

Mothers also seem to be thinking ahead about the inevitable issues in life that their adult children must prepare to handle. About 70 percent of mothers said they've had comprehensive discussions with adult children about covering living expenses in retirement, while only 55 percent of fathers had done so.

The comfort is interesting since other studies show that women particularly are unsure of themselves with investing.

According to a recent Allianz survey, 77 percent of married women said they depend on their husbands to invest money. Perhaps it is their insecurity with such matters that has motivated them to try to get their children thinking earlier about it.

If, for example, your mother has told you to be sure to get every penny of free matching money from a 401(k) at work, she's done you a great favor. A person who earns $50,000 annually in his or her 30s and takes advantage of the 3 percent matching money from an employer should amass more than $200,000 by retirement from the free money alone. And since only 13 percent of Americans feel very confident that they will have enough money for retirement, Mom perhaps appreciates the significance of getting every drop of free money and the ease of building it up by starting with small savings on a first job.

For example, investing just $25 a week in a stock market fund on a first job, and adding a little from every raise through life, should get an individual about $1 million by retirement. But if you wait until your 40s to start investing, it will take about $300 a week to get that $1 million.

While your mother might not have walked you through investments, she would have done you a favor if she urged you to save a little money from each paycheck so you'd have an emergency fund. You should also commend her if she offered rules of thumb like keeping your housing expenses below 30 percent of your income, keeping monthly college loan payments no greater than 8 percent of your monthly take-home pay, and keeping car loan payments at 10 percent of your pay and extending no longer than four years.

Moms tend to be pretty skilled at stretching a buck. After all, Allianz found that although they aren't comfortable with investing, they tend to be the person in the family who manages the household finances, making sure that the money going out the door to pay for bills is no greater than the money coming into the household. And if she has told you to always save 15 percent of your pay, with 10 percent going to a retirement fund starting with your first job, she's set you up well. Thank her.

Gail MarksJarvis is a personal finance columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of "Saving for Retirement Without Living Like a Pauper or Winning the Lottery." Readers may send her email at gmarksjarvis@tribune.com

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