Hero Images / Getty Images

Debt Management

Money and credit lessons learned from mom


A mother’s spending habits leave an indelible impression on kids. Here’s how mom shaped the financial lives of 10 people.

The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of our partner offers may have expired. Please review our list of best credit cards, or use our CardMatch™ tool to find cards matched to your needs.

Whether you’ve recognized it yet or not, your mother’s financial habits almost certainly left an impression. At an early age, too.

According to a December 2017 study, “Spendthrifts and Tightwads in Childhood: Feelings about Spending Predict Children’s Financial Decision Making,” kids between the ages of 5 and 10 have already absorbed their parents’ economic attitudes and actions.

Mothers tend to have a particularly intense impact, though, says Doria Lavagnino, co-founder of CentSai, the financial education platform that delivers lessons through storytelling.

Mothers often spend the most time with their children, instructing them both verbally and through example.

“For instance, when moms take kids to the grocery store, look at the prices, compare and then decide what’s affordable, they’re giving daily lessons using a real-life approach,” says Lavagnino. “Oftentimes we don’t realize how much our mothers have actually taught us about money.”

To celebrate our mothers’ contribution to our financial well-being, here are 10 financial lessons gleaned from mom:

1. If you can’t pay for it right away, don’t put it on a card.

Nicole Cueto

Nicole Cueto (right).

Nicole Cueto, a public relations professional, says the lesson she learned from her mom is that if she can’t pay for it, she shouldn’t put it on a card.

“She was young when she had me – just 19 – and didn’t come from a lot of money,” says Cueto. “My mom didn’t want us to struggle as she did. All her friends were out buying frivolously, but her priorities were different. She wanted to instill financial sense in us.

“She said, \u2018If you don’t have the money for it now, don’t try to find a way to buy it because you’ll end up paying double for it with the credit card. You have to pay for it all at the end of the month.’

“She was always advocating for us being responsible credit card users. I take that with me. Sometimes I don’t heed her advice, but when I find myself in the position of too much on my card, I think, \u2018Darn, Mom was right!’”

2. Don’t count your financial chickens before they hatch.

Chuck Casto

Chuck Casto

“My mom would always tell us to not spend money until it’s really in the bank,” says Chuck Casto, a marketing entrepreneur. “She said, \u2018If it doesn’t come in like you think it will, you’ll spend more than you have and end up in debt.”

Her pragmatism was due to being born in the middle of the Great Depression and growing up in a family of struggling Yugoslavian immigrants.

“Money was tight for her until she married a guy who went to Princeton,” says Casto. “Then she had an upper middle-class life, but she kept her values, which she passed on to her children.

“Today, as an entrepreneur I can get excited after a great meeting, but I hear my mom’s voice warning me, \u2018Don’t count your chickens before they hatch!’ It’s kept me realistic. I thank her for that.”

3. Always have a stash of cash.

Paulana Lamonier

Paulana Lamonier (left).

“One of the biggest and most valuable money lessons my mother has taught me is to have cash on hand,” says Paulana Lamonier, a multimedia journalist with the Evangelical Crusade News Network. “Even if it’s just a spare $20 tucked away in your glove compartment in your car, it’s important to have for the simple fact that you never know when an emergency comes up.”

As Lamonier points out, even in this electronic payment environment not every establishment accepts plastic, and ATMs aren’t always available.

“One of the habits my mom instilled in me is make a trip to the bank at the beginning of the week to withdraw the amount of money I need for the week, just to refrain from using my cards and to take account of my spending,” says Lamonier.

4. Know what’s important – and money isn’t always it.

Alex Furmansky

Alex Furmansky (right).

Wanting great wealth and a successful business are fine goals, but leave it to a mother to remind a child – even a grown one – about priorities.

“I learned from my mom that money is secondary,” says Alex Furmansky, founder and CEO of Budsies, a custom stuffed animal company.

Furmansky pitched his company on “Shark Tank,” and received an investment offer from Kevin O’Leary. Furmansky turned it down. O’Leary wanted to price the toys outside the means of the average family, and based on what his mother taught him, that didn’t feel right.

“She has always let me know that there are much bigger and more important things in the world than money. In business it’s always a great reminder,” says Furmansky.

“She said, ‘If you don’t have the money for it now, don’t try to find a way to buy it because you’ll end up paying double for it with the credit card.'”

5. Be financially independent.

Paige Arnof-Fenn

Paige Arnof-Fenn

“My mom did not work outside the home and my parents divorced, so she had very strong feelings about her kids never depending on a spouse,” says Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder of Mavens & Moguls, a marketing consulting firm. “It was very hard for her to get any credit once she was on her own.”

As a result, Arnof-Fenn’s mother raised her daughters to establish a career, open credit cards in their own names, and live within their means by bargain shopping and clipping coupons.

“She told me to negotiate for a good salary and ask for promotions,” says Arnof-Fenn. “It has served me well. She taught me to stand up for myself and be prepared.

“When I had doubts at work, mom would always say, \u2018Don’t give up; give ’em hell!’ She was like Vince Lombardi. It’s probably not a coincidence that I went to Stanford for my undergrad, then Harvard business school. She died eight years ago, but she could have been a strong CEO if she was raised in more modern times.”

6. Save for the things you want.

Danielle Desir

Danielle Desir (right).

Danielle Desir, is a travel finance strategist whose The Thought Card blog helps people finance their vacation dreams.

“My mother taught me to work toward multiple saving goals at the same time,” says Desir. “While paying off $63,000 of student loan debt, I also saved for a down payment on a house and traveled six times a year.”

Desir was able to do it all by following her mom’s instructions: Move back home to avoid paying rent, then work and use the income to delete the student loans while also allocating a portion for everything else she really wanted.

“My mom was invested in my journey,” says Desir. “When I felt defeated, she talked me through it. As a single mother, she was very savvy and resourceful. She knew how to get things done, and that trickled down to me!”

“My mother taught me to work toward multiple saving goals at the same time. While paying off $63,000 of student loan debt, I also saved for a down payment on a house and traveled six times a year.”

7. Live simply and charitably.

Amanda Ponzar

Amanda Ponzar (left).

“Mom raised us to know that we were put on this planet to make a difference and be generous,” says Amanda Ponzar, chief marketing officer for Community Health Charities. Her mother’s dedication to helping those less fortunate was instrumental.

“I’ve worked for nonprofits for over 10 years now,” says Ponzar. “Just two weeks ago, our children joined us to pack meals for hungry children in need. This is a legacy that my mom passed down to me.”

Her mother also showed Ponzar how to manage money, and explained that she paid their credit card bills in full every month. “There were no fancy cars, houses, jewelry or name-brand items,” she says. “We lived very simply but comfortably, we had what we needed and she taught us to be grateful. Because of her, I am responsible with credit. I’m not in debt, so I can give more back, just like mom.”

8. Manage your money to live securely and adventurously.

David Rosen

David Rosen (right).

“My mom raised me on her own in Brooklyn,” says David Rosen, a successful New York real estate agent. “She always lived within her means, but budgeted for a healthful and adventurous lifestyle.”

Rosen soon adopted his mother’s strong work ethic and can-do attitude. “When I turned 11, with her encouragement, I got my first job as a bus boy at a restaurant,’ says Rosen. “I recall getting my first credit card at the nearby Citibank, which helped pave the way for my first mortgage, which I achieved when I was 24 years old.”

Rosen went on to amass quite a bit of real estate, and he and his mother are well off financially.

“Today, I am debt-free and bought my parents two cars and a couple of European vacations,” says Rosen. “I’ve also been able to pass along this knowledge to my own clients on how save for big time purchases, such as a first apartment and house. It’s nice to be able to reflect what I’ve learned from my mom into my own work endeavors.”

9. Resilience pays off.

Adam Davis

Adam Davis

“My poor momma worked several jobs just to get by after her and daddy divorced,” says Adam Davis, a former police officer and author of “Behind the Badge.” “But her attitude was always, \u2018You\u2018ve just got to do what it takes to survive,’” says Davis. “She made a lot of sacrifices for me. We stayed with my grandparents, and she cleaned other people’s houses.

“I always wished momma didn’t have to work so hard, but she did what she had to do, financially.” Somehow, despite the hardship, his mother always remained kind, gentle and giving.

“As a child you’re impressionable and that has stuck with me for the rest of my life,” says Davis. “If she could work that hard and still be loving, I could do it, too. She had faith in God, but wouldn’t sit back and say a prayer and hope for something better. These are core principles I take with me today, because of my mother.”

10. Create good credit by paying on time.

Carol Gee

Carol Gee

“With good credit, you can have whatever you want,” is what Carol Gee’s mother often told her. Gee, a writer living in Atlanta, asked her mom how to get it. “Her reply was, \u2018Pay all bills on time.”

It’s true that payment history is the weightiest credit scoring factor, but Gee discovered that her mom’s advice is universally applicable. “When I got married, I tried to instill in my husband the importance of good credit. It turned out I was better with money and payments than he was, and I got it from my mom.”

If you haven’t considered all the ways you learned about money and credit from your mother, do it now, encourages Lavagnino: “She made it all real for you, by telling stories of her own life. You observed the way she worked, shopped, saved and charged. That had an indelible effect.”

Consciously or unconsciously, you gained knowledge, so if you’re making savvy financial decisions today, you may owe your mom a debt of gratitude.

See related: 6 money experts share dad’s best credit advice, Poll: Mom matters most in shaping our financial habits

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

What’s up next?

In Debt Management

Shopping for a new credit card? Don’t overlook smaller banks

In the market for a new credit card? Consider cards from smaller banks – fewer fees, low APRs, decent rewards make them a real option.

See more stories
Credit Card Rate Report
Cash Back

Questions or comments?

Contact us

Editorial corrections policies

Learn more