Jeff Brown PERSONAL FINANCE
"What? You think money grows on trees?"
"I don't care who started it!"
"Would you jump in a lake if he told you to?"
With Mother's Day behind us, many of us were reminded of all those pearls of wisdom our moms picked up, presumably from their moms, and passed on to us.
It was all for our own good.
And although the childhood transgressions that triggered these Momisms are long in the past for most of us, Mom's guidance is still pretty useful. In fact, the folks at Money Management Inc., a nonprofit credit counseling service in Houston, recently wrote me to point out that the Sayings of Chairman Mom have lots of personal-finance applications. So I'm stealing their idea.
With that one about money not growing on trees the pocketbook implications are obvious.
But then there is: "I don't care who started it!"
Oh, if only we'd been taken that one to heart during the late '90s! Just because everyone else was throwing money at stocks like a bunch of drunks, why'd we have to play monkey-see, monkey-do?
How about: "Would you jump in a lake if he told you to?"
I remember hearing that one a few times. Usually, it meant I'd let a little friend lead me across a busy road or something. A few decades later, it could have applied quite nicely when Wall Street analysts were egging us on in the dot-com boom.
"No dessert until you finish your dinner!"
In the personal finance biz we say, pay yourself first, meaning: Meet your savings goal every month before throwing money away on … whatever.
"You don't always get what you want."
No, Mick Jagger didn't make that up, he just added the melody. Translated to adult life: You want to retire at 55? Get over it! The way stocks are going, you'll be 70 before you're as rich as you were at 50.
"Don't put off to tomorrow what you can do today."
Mothers borrowed this, probably without realizing it, from Lord Chesterfield, the 18th-century British politician. It applies to finances just as well as it does to everything else. Specifically: Rebalance your portfolio, set up an automatic savings plan, write a will …
"Do as I say, not as I do."
This is a sneaky one. Moms use it to cover their little inconsistencies and hypocrisies. At the same time, it makes them look candid, which reinforces their authority.
In the same vein, let me confess that I'm not as religious about filing a new W-4 each year as I ought to be. (That's the form that determines how much tax is withheld from your paycheck.) And I don't actually know the exact return on every one of my investments. And I don't always pay off my entire credit-card balance during the grace period. And I did buy a new truck a few years ago after telling everyone to buy used.
But you should do as I say, not as I do.
Most of us also experienced Momisms that were less universal, more likely to be tailored to our individual behaviors — but drummed into us with the same relentless repetition.
"You always wear your helmet, don't you?"
I heard this one through my 20s and 30s, long after my legal childhood had ended, every time I uttered anything to do with my motorcycle. But it worked — I always obeyed, not counting that one afternoon in South Dakota after downing a few bee … (Well, never mind. Mom might read this.)
Translated to the personal finance realm, wear your helmet means to have cash on hand to cover six months' expenses, spread your money around a lot of different investments, buy life insurance if you have kids or a stay-at-home spouse.
Jeff Brown is a business columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.