6 terrific things my mom taught me about money

Jen A. Miller and mom

Mary, my mom, is an excellent lady. She's smart, kind, independent and good looking (though I'm partial to the last one since I look just like her).

She's also very smart about money, having worked in the financial services industry since the mid-1990s, which is also when she became a single mom.

I'm lucky in that she started passing that knowledge on to me from a young age, even if I didn't always follow it. At least not right away.

So in honor of Mother’s Day 2012, I’d like to share the six most important things about money I learned from my mom.

Lesson 1. ”Bank it!” Every time I told my mom that I'd gotten a bonus, a tax refund or a raise, the first thing out of her mouth was always "Bank it!" Being told to put my little windfall into savings wasn’t exactly the advice I was looking for. “Why can’t I go buy something fun?" I'd ask. But it was the right advice.

Lesson 2. ”Get the boring mortgage." When I started hunting for a house, my mother told me I should pay for it with a plain old vanilla 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage. This was during the go-go days of the housing bubble when every lender was pushing “creative financing” that was outrageously reckless. But thanks to my mom, I avoided my own personal financial crisis by rejecting 0% down, adjustable-rate mortgages.

Lesson 3. Boring is good in other ways, too. I drive a 10-year-old Honda Civic, not because I love the car, but because it's reliable and paid for, so I can save more money instead of making a car payment. I have an aggressive investment portfolio to match my young age, but I still have a lot of money socked away in a savings account just in case I need cash. Even the house I bought with that vanilla mortgage isn't fancy. It's small and something I can more than afford. It's not sexy money, but given the roller coaster of the past few years? My mom was right. Be boring.

Lesson 4. "Invest in yourself." When I was on the fence about getting my master's degree, my mother encouraged me to do it, especially since I could finance the then-small, in-state tuition with low-interest government loans. She took college night classes but never earned her degree. So if there's anything you want a parent to push on you, it's affordable education, which she did. I'm not saying a master's degree is necessary for everyone, but I know I'd never have become a writer without it.

Lesson 5. "Invest in your future." I don't know of many parents who are telling their 22-year-olds to open a 401(k) plan. But my mom knew that saving for retirement is a lifelong endeavor best started young. I wish I had taken her advice when I was 22 instead of 29. She was right. I could have had a little bit taken out of my paycheck, or dropped a couple hundred bucks a year into a Roth IRA once I was self-employed. I'm in great financial shape now, but I'd have had a much better jump if I'd just listened to my mother.

Lesson 6. "Saving for college is a retirement problem." I learned this lesson when I was picking between two colleges. I chose to attend the one that offered the most financial aid, because I knew that every dollar my parents spent on my education was one less dollar they’d have for retirement. Although I had a lifetime to pay back student loans, my parents had only a few years to rebuild their savings after a difficult divorce. I know that, if I ever have children, my retirement will always come first.