Consider this job posting:
"No degree or prior experience required; salary and hours non-negotiable; no paid benefits; lifelong tenure.”
Would you be surprised to learn than 85 million Americans now hold this position?
Their job title is Mom.
Mothers give up a lot for their jobs: their waistlines, sleep, the backseat of their cars, years of peace and quiet. They’d even give their lives. Take the example of the mother who lay down in front of her unattended car rolling downhill with her twin-daughters strapped inside. Many moms hearing that story probably found such an extraordinary action completely understandable.
Fortunately, a mother’s mettle is rarely put to the test by runaway cars. A more frequent challenge for moms is watching their kids rolling toward financial trouble. Mothers too often become the human “speed bumps” in such cases, putting their own resources between their children and bad credit or joblessness.
Certainly one of the best ways to honor moms this Mothers’ Day is to recognize their willingness to make such financial sacrifices, but at the same time, doing what is necessary to prevent them. It means asking moms to do both more and less for their kids: more financial education and empowerment; less sacrifice of their own financial well-being.
So what can Mom do to improve her own financial situation and that of her children at the same time? It depends on the ages of her kids:
Pre-schoolers: Cultivate the early awareness of money by giving your four- or five-year-old a small allowance. Explain that money has various uses – for spending, saving, or giving – and reinforce this concept by designating three jars or piggy banks for these purposes.
Elementary schoolers and preteens: Open up a no-fee, minimum balance savings account for your child and make an event out of taking money from the savings jar to the bank. Alternatively, you can set up an online account which your child can review as it grows with periodic deposits and interest.
Log on to moneyasyougrow.org – a website created by the President’s Council on Financial Capability – and let your child click on his age group for age-appropriate lessons that you can do together.
Let your kids carry small amounts of cash, rather than prepaid cards or debit cards, so they learn what things cost, and master the mathematics of transactions.
Teenagers: Open a discount brokerage account for your teen’s birthday or holiday gifts, and let her choose a few stocks of interest, or find a balanced mutual fund that features some popular “names” such as Disney or Apple. Encourage your adolescent to read the relevant annual report or prospectus, and discuss with you her buy or sell decisions.
Teenagers should have an allowance for personal items such as clothes, eating out and entertainment, and be taught how to budget these funds. Mint.com or other money-tracking sites are a great way to combine the teenage passion for digital information with needed financial education. One credit card, jointly held with you, can build your teen’s credit history, but make sure payments are timely so as not to impair his credit score.
If your teen works, it’s a great time to set up a ROTH IRA with some or all of his earnings as a first lesson in long-term savings. It’s time, too, to introduce the tax requirements of reporting income and withholding taxes. Encourage him to fill out a paper 1040 which you or a professional can review, and then allow him to put the numbers in electronically. The thrill of getting most of the withheld taxes back as a refund within days can make tax filing fun, rather than a drudge.
College students and young adults: Introduce your children to your financial advisor and accountant, and ask these professionals to spend an hour or so providing some basic counsel on investing, money management, and taxes.
Make sure your young adult regularly requests his credit report at annualcreditreport.gov and reviews it for accuracy.
Get your college-bound student fully engaged with the finances of higher education by researching and comparing both the costs and benefits of his or her college picks. If you will be financing tuition, a car, or a rental deposit, create a contract with your child stating your expectations and any repayment terms that must be met. Be sure to specify what will happen if these terms are not met.
Adult children with kids of their own: At this point, you must respect their independence and financial choices, even those you consider ill-advised. If you offer help, consider paying for a CFP® professional to guide them out of trouble, rather than you using your own resources to make things “all better.”
As for those grandchildren, consider setting up 529 college plans. You can read why I believe these plans are the perfect savings vehicles for grandparents at here.
Taking action on any one of these ideas, let alone trying them all, clearly involves a lot of effort and patience from already task-burdened moms. It may even require some mothers to become financially literate along with their child. So why offer these ideas for Mother’s Day – the one day each year when mothers deserve a break from to-do lists? Because one of greatest satisfactions of motherhood is having a child become a financially responsible adult who can stand on her own two feet.