Why Your Mom Is Bad for Your Money

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There are all kinds of moms in the world. Mine is so thrifty that I was strictly ordered not to check up on her via her cell (her only working phone) during the Sandy cleanup until after 6 p.m. because she doesn’t want to use up her minutes.

Many of my friends have the opposite kind of moms … ones who actually encourage the spending of money, like some kind of unholy combination of irrepressible gal pal and deeply entrenched authority figure.

I suppose I should refuse to make fun of moms, now that I am one … but now more than ever I’m amused by the annoying habits that are bound to inspire my own daughter’s future personal essays (“I was five before I realized you could buy brand-new clothes directly from Target!”). 

Speaking to friends*, I found that indeed, while we all have wildly differing matriarchs, we also share a common problem: Even the most well-meaning moms can blow holes in our wallets, sometimes in outstandingly creative ways. We asked these friends to detail how a well-meaning mother has sent them into the red.

Have your own stories of an expensive mom? Please share in the comments!

Going Out on the Town

“If I go shopping with my mom, I have to triple my budget because she’ll say, ‘That looks so great on you, you’ve got to buy one in every color!’ Except the color she calls ‘poison green.’ She hates green. So of course I also have to buy it in green.”
- Vanessa

“I love going out to lunch with my mom, but I have to factor in double the budget because there’s no way I’m letting her pay.”
- Kasey

“Au contraire, I love going out to lunch with my mom, but I have to factor in the fact that I’m going to have to bring cash to sneak onto the table to double her measly tip!”
- Alyssa

Staying In

“My parents have moved in with me for the duration of the Sandy cleanup. I love having them here, but my mom’s an interior designer, and she’s already planning a complete overhaul for my kitchen. It’ll look so great, but oh, my God, the money…”
- Candice

“I rented a small storage unit before the last time my super-snoop mom visited. I didn’t need her poking through my bills for unsuccessful fertility treatments, tax forms, and birthday cards from my dad, signed by my stepmom. Once I had the extra space I couldn’t give it up, and have been renting it ever since.”
- Lucia

RELATED: How I Furnished My Apartment, In 12 Steps and With No Money

Keeping in Touch

“I make a pretty good hourly wage as a consultant. Meanwhile, my mom thinks I don’t work, because I have a home office. Every time she calls in the middle of the day to find out why her wireless internet won’t connect, I ask her why she won’t call my brother, and she says, ‘I can’t call him at work!’ I should send her a billing statement.”
- Melissa

“When I was living in Ireland, my mom very kindly sent me American peanut butter (which isn’t available there), but it was the kind I hate. I didn’t eat it, but the homeless shelter was happy to get it. The problem was that she insured it, so I had to pay 30 euros (about $35) in taxes for peanut butter I didn’t even want!”
- Adrian

  • Robin

    My Grandparents were  depression era people who zealously guarded money and rarely threw anything out.  They never bought new clothes, cars, traveled etc. If you bought them something nice, they would return it and get the money.  My mom rebelled and was a total opposite. I think I am somewhere in between the two!  

  • http://twitter.com/SenseofCents Michelle

    My mother was definitely horrible for my money situation. I made a whole post and tons other on her and the situation. She conned me when I was younger into signing my inheritance (after my dad passed away) to her, even though they were divorced and he strictly said to give any to her.

    She’s all about spending money now and doesn’t even care about retirement.

    http://www.makingsenseofcents.com/2012/04/my-dumb-inheritance-decision.html

    • http://profiles.google.com/amythek Amy K

      Oh my gosh, Michelle, that’s such an awful story. I’m sorry! I purposely stayed away from painful tales like this because I wanted the article to be lighthearted, but I have friends who have been through similar situations — one was contacted by a collection agency, which was her first inkling that her father had taken out several credit lines in her name and defaulted on it all. 

      I can’t say more here, but I want to suggest you read “Why Is It Always About You? The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism” by Sandy Hotchkiss. VERY good strategies for dealing with the narcissist in your life. 
      http://www.amazon.com/Why-Always-About-You-Narcissism/dp/0743214285Contact me directly if you want to discuss more. 

  • kmaxson

    My Mom is the most amazing woman I have ever had the honor to be around but she’s terrible with money. She never learned to budget and she overspends on stuff she doesn’t need so everytime I talk to her she is complaining how she doesn’t have any money to cover her rent or some other bill. I try to limit myself to helping her out only in emergencies but she’s my mom, I can’t let her go without electricity. It’s gotten to the point where I sometimes screen her calls when it gets to the end of the month because I know she’s going to ask me for money. I constantly have to budget at least an extra $300 to $400 for a weekend visit and I recently graduated from college so that is no chump change for me.

    This year, I bought all of her Christmas presents for her and then patted myself on the back for expecting as much and budgeting for it. It doesn’t matter how many budgeting books or “we have to talk” situatuations we have, she hasn’t learned a thing. But she’s my mom and I love her so I budget a small portion of my income to helping her out because she may be awful with her finances but I don’t have to be.

    • Punkin

      I have had similar experiences with my Mom and I like what you say — that just because your Mom is bad with her finances, you don’t have to be.  I try to show up for my Mom when she needs help and I do end up spending a lot of money sometimes.  But I am changing my ways.  I want to be morally supportive for her and help her make the best choices for her life, and not reinforce her bad decisions

    • http://profiles.google.com/amythek Amy K

      well, there’s a difference between making sure she has electricity and making sure she can give out xmas presents. I’d let her know you won’t be doing THAT next year. Essentials only. 

  • Linna

    I have to praise my mom for being so frugal and for really making ends meet and supporting two kids through college when there were times when there was barely enough money to put food on the table. I think because I grew up with not a lot, now that I’m working, I have learned the value of saving for things that I want (vacation and travels) as well as for important long-term goals (retirement and a house). That’s not to say that I could be saving more, because I definitely can, so I hope to continue to look to my mom for not needing physical material things to bring joy into her life.

  • Melissajurist

    I understand that you could be speaking about only one type of family dynamic, but it is also gender bashing.  I thought we have evolved past the “my mom caused…”

  • Punkin

    Wow, you all have such different experiences of your mom than I do.  Please let me preface this by saying I love my mom dearly. It’s just that she can be, well…. needy.  I am the oldest of three children in my family. My parents are divorced and my siblings live in far off cities and states.  I am the only child that stayed local. When my parents split, my mom had not worked in years.  She does not have any higher education.  The best job she can get is making around $15/hr.  Where we live, this is not much.  In the past year alone, my mother lost her job, divorced from her 2nd husband, had her house broken in to, and moved, just to name a few.  I love to help when I can, but a lot of the responsibility of doing so falls on me and financially, this is a strain on me.  My mother can also be entitled and she has a champagne taste on a beer budget.  Many times she wants to enjoy a meal out at fancy restaurants.  Rarely do I ever see her open her wallet, and I get stuck with the tab.  I did this for a few years. Recently, I had to have a “come to Jesus” meeting with my mom, and I explained that I was on an austerity plan, living within my means to get out of some serious debt.  Now, when she says, “oooh, we should go to this restaurant, or that restaurant”, I say, “Mom, how are we going to afford that?” Many times she says, “I don’t know” which is all the answer I need to not set foot into that place.  Now, I am happy to report that she is set up in a new job, her divorce is finalized and she is living in a new city that she loves in a new apartment.  In 2013, my goal is to focus out of getting out of my own financial mess.

  • amh

    eww–this post is a waste of space. 

  • WG

    This site is supposed to be about women taking charge of their lives and their finances. it is out of character for Learnvest to invite women to blame their Moms for their current financial situations. stick to what you do best. This was an unfortunate misstep.

    • Lafiestapr

      You can’t fix it and keep it fixed if you don’t know or acknowledge what broke it.

    • Punkin

      I disagree. For me personally, to take control of my finances, I had to delve deeper and take a good look at the situations I often placed myself in that would contribute to unhealthy spending habits. Unfortunately, my mother, again, while I love her tremendously, can be quite a drain on my finances. Part of taking responsibility for my finances has been learning to stand my ground with my mother.  Two years ago, if she had said, “oooh I want to go to this restaurant” I would have gone even if I couldn’t afford it – the child in me wanted to make my mom happy regardless of what the consequences would later be for my finances. Now, after going through the program with LearnVest, I have a heightened awareness around the triggers for my spending and the reality of my situation, and I ask more adult like questions like “How are we going to afford that Mom?” – all before stepping in the restaurant.  

    • Sflowers32

      I totally agree with you. I log on to read about strong, inyelligent ways women take care of their finances. Looking for weaknesses in one’s mother is neither strong or intelligent, nor is it proactive.

  • Guest

    I do end up spending more when I go visit my mom (or when she comes to visit).  I turned her on to getting pedicures, so now every time I see her, I’m expected to treat for pedicures.  I also treat when we go out to lunch, the movies, etc.  I don’t really mind this as my parents are currently retired and I have a bit of wiggle room in my budget to treat for things.  My mom has spent a lot treating me when I was a minor, so I like being able to give back.  However, I do wish that it wasn’t assumed that I would be picking up the tab.

    I love my mom a lot, and I learned a great many things from her.  Though budgeting wasn’t one of her strengths, I don’t feel as if this has affected me negatively.  I wish she didn’t live so far away, because now I want to go visit her!  I miss my mom!

  • http://twitter.com/KarenC_79 Karen C

    My mother is what I call a “hypocrite spender”. If I tell her that I bought a new dining room table or even a new bed for my son she tells me “well, must be nice to have money.” BUT, when I visit her, she shows me the new things she bought that cost easily double of the things I bought (this time she bought two $400 chairs with high backs). She told me she bought them because she thought they were “nice enough” but not great and that she was still going to keep looking for something “just right” for the spot the she bought those chairs for.

    At that moment I thought to myself what she always tells me when I buy furniture…but it’s my mom so I won’t say it out loud to avoid any potential arguments.

  • DenGal

    I’ve had to learn how to budget, pay off debts, everything to do with spending wisely as I can honestly say the only money habits I learned from my mom were bad ones.  My mom taught me to float checks, that available credit meant you still had money, and how to live paycheck to paycheck.  Since I moved out on my own I’ve had to learn a lot and still fight those tendencies.  Sadly, she has nothing in her retirement and can’t even save up $1000 for a down payment….no emergency fund or any savings of any sort.  I fear her retirement as she will be scrimping by on SS….and likely living with myself or my sister (I’m trying to plan for this by getting a house with a mother-in-law suite that I can use an income property until that time comes).

  • Ilana Moss

    Just like everything else, taking Mom shopping, out to lunch, or having her spend the weekend (or week) with us requires budgeting.  The problem is sticking with what we can afford when our emotional “buttons” are being pushed by the most powerful and influential relationship we will ever have.  

    I was heartbroken when my own daughter told me she turns to her Dad for financial advice, and that I cost her too much money – even after I saved her hundred of dollars petsitting and buying accessories for her guest bathroom (because I’m the one who uses it when I petsit, after all!).  Therefore, I’m taking these stories with a grain of salt.  I would like to hear Mom’s side of it.

    Will there be an article about the effect our Dad’s have on our money?  I hope so…

    • Mara

      they should do an article about dads :)

      • jadeplant

         no kidding!  i’m as financially responsible as i am (1) *because* of my mom and (2) in reaction to the careless, profligate spending of my dad.  let’s see some gender equity in assigning blame here!

  • Rachel L

    My mom is a Depression child. She is very thrifty and at 85, still trying to save. Like, she won’t pay the $28 dues to her synagogue Sisterhood because she needs it more. To be honest, that Depression frugality paid off and she has a nice nest-egg to take care of her now.

    My brother and I are planning to move her from FL (where neither of us lives) to MD (where I live). She is currently in an independent living facility. Her new home will provide care from independent living through comprehensive care. Mom keeps saying what a great deal she has now in FL. She keeps telling me she needs to save money. Exasperated, I asked, “What are you saving for, Mom?” She said, “My old age.” Really? Mom, this is it.

  • Mara

    my mom tries to convince me to take out a new card because payments are normal and I should take advantage of how easy is to get credit in this country.  She also calls me cheap for living frugally except that the only person I am not cheap with is her…sigh. He financial advice is “you got to act like  you have money and then it will always come your way.” :S

    • Mara

      I meant a new *car…but that reminded me that she always wants me to get the store card so she can save 20% in her purchase (she lives abroad)

    • http://twitter.com/SenseofCents Michelle

      Your mom sounds like mine.

  • Joanne P

    Well, I am a mom with a mother yet living, two grown and two preschoolers.  My mom does not encourage me to spend, and is extremely thrifty.  My deceased mother-in-law however did not understand limits and boundaries.  It caused problems in our marriage. 

    But, I have learned it is necessary to understand where our roots of understanding our spending habits come from, and learn and act on it.  We ultimately are responsible for everything we think, say or do, and we are not responsible for another person’s choices.  I did not learn this overnight and it has taken practice and time to learn to implement these thoughts and boundaries with the family’s spending habits. 

    She (mother-in-law) did not like it, and both she and my father-in-law criticized, interfered in our marriage, spending choices, and tried to separate and conquer by asking my husband and I separately for what they thought we should or should not do for vacations, spending, children spending, etc.  I am responsible to stick to budget for my own and my immediate family’s sake.  I learned it was their control and lack of control issues and I need to act like the adult for my family and not take the things personally while sticking to my guns and decisions.  It was extremely hard.  I learned the hard way I don’t have to let emotions  take over.  I wish I could say they let up, but I know we are not in debt other than our mortgage and have money in savings and for retirement.  It took my husband and I work to come to the same understanding and not accept the criticism and let it roll off as their issues and not ours.

    • Mara

      Thank you for your comment :)  It is true, it is hard to be strong under pressure because it is way easier to blame our spending habits on someone. It has taken me 10 years (since I live on my own) to stand strong on what I believe and it was difficult. I wanted to my parents approval so I shifted my views when they were around to please them and then I would blame them when in reality I was the one that did it.  

  • Jenn N Thomas

     I recently joined this website looking for help because I am working to become financially independent.  While I can see how this article may not be not helpful to some, I took something different way when I read the article title and opening paragraph.  I do not blame my mother for my current financial situation.  I have realized that since I have been saving some of my instincts are to go out and spend it on a new outfit, purse, makeup or shoes.  My mom has always and continues to indulge in retail therapy.  Suffice it to say that she has not been a good example as far as saving money is concerned.  Every time I go to visit she is showing off a new phone, new car lease, new outfits, etc.  It’s taken me ten years of being out of my home with my mother to realize that I don’t need the new phone, car, purse, new outfit every paycheck.  My mom has said to me a few times “I plan to rent forever and I have accepted that I will never own a house”.  I could not ever blame my mother for my shopping issues, she lives four hours away from me so we do not shop together often.  I do think that is where my shopping habit stems from and I often wish that I had a better example of parents who were financially independent as well.

  • Stephnickie

    This is one of the stupidest articles about money I have EVER read in my entire life, and I am sorely dissapointed to have read it on Learnvest. These are GROWN UPS hat are blaming their moms fpr heir own inability to speak up and say, “stop sending me peanut butter” or “i dont want that sweater in five colors”. these people’s problems isn’t spending habits, it’s the inability to grow up and speak for themselves. Pathetic.

  • I’d love you to write an article about the opposite: moms who pinch pennies so much that I have a complex at the age of 24. I have wildly erratic spending habits because I just don’t know whats worth it. I shop at good will but am tall and generally can’t find clothes that fit well. Now I’m spending money on tall clothes but feel guilty every step of the way.

  • ladycpa

    BOTH my parents were poor with money!  And that is partly why I became a CPA and am passionate about teaching young women (and young men) about finances.  YOU choose to take control of your finances.  At some point, you should grow up and take ownership of your life and stop blaming others, including your parents!  But many people don’t for a very, very long time.

  • Kim

    My mother-in-law bought cat food because it was on sale, and she had a coupon…now she’s looking for someone with a cat, because she doesn’t have one!  She does stuff like that all the time!

  • Holesh8

    My mother is always complaining I never give her a gift she wants, but she refuses to tell me what she wants, and even if I get it, she either returns it or regifts it…to me!

  • http://profiles.google.com/amythek Amy K

    yeah that’s me! 

  • Grace Y.

    It took one situation last year to realize my mom was bad for my budget when my mom called my husband to ask him if he could drive her to buy groceries.  He arrives, takes her shopping and when he finally gets home he tells me he spent over $400 in groceries plus whatever cash she had to add.  My fix from the point was (A) leave my bank cards at home and only take $20 just in case, (B) when she phones for him ask her why she needs to reach or speak to him and finally tell my husband under no terms he is to give up money.   I call it tough love.  It had to be done.

  • Christina

    Several years ago, I bought a house. After moving all my furniture from my apartment, more than half the house was empty. I loved it! 

    Of course, a couple months later, my mom came to live with me, and we HAD to go shopping. Next thing I know I am buying a second living room set (for the living room, since the old one was in the family room), a new dinning set (for the eat-in kitchen), extra furniture for our bedrooms (a bed and tons of closet space is just not enough), and don’t forget that the entire house had to be repainted in the right colors to match and art work need to be placed on EVERY wall! 

    Thousands of dollars later, I packing up my house and putting everything in storage. Thankfully, half of everything replaced the furnishings and appliances in her house, so I ended up with what I started with… .

  • kenwaykody

    My Mom is the most amazing woman I was younger into signing my inheritance (after my dad passed away) to
    her, even though they were divorced and he strictly said to give any to
    her.angrybird