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Financial gifts for graduates

Mom's money lessons

Lioness_and_cub_2_1 It's that time of year, much to the delight of the greeting card and floral industries, to let Mom know that you care.

Yes, deeming something "official" does tend to make us a little lazy. We follow the conventional route of announcing our affection and then don't worry that much about Mom for the rest of the year. OK, you might be a better child, but most of us have a bad habit of taking our mothers for granted.

So maybe it's not such a bad idea to have one special day that forces us to tell her we love her, even if it means padding the bottom lines of corporations that depend upon our emotional inarticulateness.

Some of us will spend a lot on Mom this weekend. Others not so much. In most instances, Mom won't care as long as we remember.

Pondering the spectrum of Mother's Day gift possibilities got me thinking about moms and money. Our attitudes about cash develop when we're young, and since mothers tend to be our primary life guides during these formative years, I started remembering the financial lessons my Mum taught me.

Some were obvious, like when she put her foot down regarding some purchases. Other monetary instruction was a bit more subtle. Regardless, I got the messages loud and clear.

So with Mother's Day upon us, here are five of my Mum's money lessons that I'm still using after all these years.

1. Know exactly what you're willing to pay.
Everything has a cost. Sometimes it's not much. Sometimes it's a lot. Either way, you need to recognize it and make sure what you want is worth it.

Now Mum didn't get that specific about this financial analysis when I was a youngster. Rather, it came up one Christmas when my younger brother and I, being normal kids, were asking for everything under the sun. Our lists were out of control. And why not; it was Santa's problem, right?

According to my mother, no; it was my folks' problem. Santa, she informed us, sent them a bill each January. The jolly old elf does bring the goodies, but she and Dad had to reimburse him.

Maybe I was just gullible, or maybe Mum just laid it out so logically, but I believed her. I mean, I had seen the television ads. While I believed in Santa, I knew he didn’t conjure up all those toys at some snow-bound workshop. So Mum's story made sense.

And it made me evaluate what I really, really wanted and what I could live without each December. That's a good lesson for adults to keep in mind year round.

2. Don't chase trends.
OK, let's all say it together: "If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you, too?"

Whose mother hasn't asked them that? When you're young, dealing with all that peer pressure, you're thinking, "Damn right! Point me to the edge!" But deep down, you knew that you probably didn't want that record album (yeah, vinyl; I'm that old) or whatever else it was that all your friends (every last one of them, I swear!) had.

In a couple of weeks, the next big must-have thing came along. And you were able to live without it, too, weren't you?

Even as adults, or maybe more so since we now are in charge of our own money, it's very easy to make impulse buys of items that soon turn out to be useless. Sure, we deserve to treat ourselves now and then. But we'd all waste a lot less of our hard-earned cash if we just remembered that we don't have to have every single thing that's hot at the moment.

3. You can have too much of a good thing.
Ready for another audio flashback? "Don't you already have one of those?"

Admit it. Your mom asked this question, too. It's sort of a companion to lesson number two, but applies to everyday wants as well as the latest fad. Do you really need 10 pairs of jeans, at least all right now? Or five sets of golf clubs? Or a dozen pair of black shoes?

OK, maybe you do need all those shoes.

The key here is to recognize whether you have an obsession that's costing you way more than it should.

4. Creativity costs less and is worth more.
The credo in our house was "Bake it or make it, then take it." In essence, if you need or want something, rather than purchase it, look at whether you can fashion a substitute yourself.

In addition to saving money, you'll be proud of your self-sufficiency and know it's a quality product because you did the work. If it's a gift, your personal touch, topped off by delivering it yourself, will make it that much more welcome.

And remember, this approach made Martha Stewart a billionaire.

5. Doing your best pays off.
As a kid, you probably rolled your eyes when you got this lecture. It usually was delivered around report card time, in the hopes that your next one would include a bit more of the letters at the beginning of the alphabet.

Yes, it does sound a bit naïve and cliché. But you've probably discovered that a good work ethic does indeed produce some actual financial rewards. Even in cynical 2006, most jobs are based on merit, as are the raises that come after you're hired.

If you're doing slipshod work, at best you'll just slide along never getting ahead. At worst, you could be out of work entirely.

And that situation creates a money lesson nobody wants to learn.

Mom_tattoo_small_1 Mother's Day origins: You can read about the history of this holiday at About Women's History and 123Holiday. Both sites assure us that the day was not the brainchild of a junior marketer at Hallmark.

Tax breaks for Mom (and Dad, too): I got an e-mail from my tax blogging colleague William Perez, who helms About Tax Planning, with a good reminder for all parents. The tax code, notes Perez, offers several ways for moms and dads to reduce their IRS obligations.

The child tax credit could knock $1,000 off your tax bill for each dependent child.

With the dependent care tax credit, you'll get a little help from Uncle Sam in paying someone to watch your youngsters while you're at work.

If you adopt, be sure to claim the adoption tax credit, which could provide you with more than $10,000 to help cover some of the costs of adding to your family.

More on these breaks and other tax joys of parenthood also can be found in this story.

Photo of lioness and her cub is courtesy of South Africa Tourism.


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IRS Tax Attorney

'Before you buy anything, think of how long and how hard you'd have to work to earn that much money'. my mom gave me this single piece of financial tip. thanks for this article. help alot.


I stumbled across your blog while I was in the process of doing some online research. These are very good suggestions, to which I would add that a gift is usually better appreciated if it's something the RECIPIENT would like, rather than something the GIVER likes.

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