Kimberly Palmer is a mom on a mission. A money expert as well as the parent of two young children, she views attention to a family’s finances as vital as that yearly checkup for kids.
Palmer, who for a decade was senior money editor at U.S. News & World Report, offers advice in her book, now out in paperback, “Smart Mom, Rich Mom: How to Build Wealth While Raising a Family.” We spoke with the author to learn more about her perspective and for tips on becoming more financially savvy.
Why did you write a book specifically for moms?
Kimberly Palmer: I have written about money for 10 years. I’ve always noticed since becoming a mom that so much of the advice aimed at us is all about coupon codes and discounts and saving small amounts of money. It’s always bothered me. I felt there was a big, gaping hole of money advice for moms that misses the bigger picture: the more important things we do to save and invest for college and retirement, and taking out insurance policies to protect our families, and asking about workplace opportunities like flex spending accounts that can save hundreds of dollars a year. I want people to focus on those bigger wealth builders.
In your book you mention the need for women to take control of their finances.
KP: As moms we’re so busy, and it’s making sure we prioritize and put our effort and our time into things that can pay off later. If you look at research and surveys, in a lot of cases women hand over control of investments and savings to their partners.
This is a big problem because chances are that at some point we as moms will be solely responsible for our family finances due to life circumstances like divorce and women tending to outlive husbands. We should embrace that now so we’re ready for that and we’re prepared for life’s twists and turns. I’m a huge advocate of moms knowing where the money is and how it is invested.
Do you think some women are just happier handing over that responsibility?
KP: We are busy and we have a ton to do and it’s not that we don’t want to, it’s just easier. I admit in my book that I did not even have the password to our Excel spreadsheet that has all our accounts listed. I realized this is a huge mistake. I need to not only have the password, but also to have the spreadsheet on my computer, too. Yes, it is hard. It’s another thing to add, but it is crucial to the family and it could determine whether or not you are protected in the case of something unexpected. It’s as important as taking your kid to the pediatrician for a yearly checkup and making sure you are taking care of your own health.
You mention the need to set an example for our children, especially daughters.
KP: Our kids are watching us so closely. Even if we are not talking about money, they see how we handle it, how we interact with it. One fact that is disturbing: a T. Rowe Price survey showed that boys say they are better with money and more comfortable with money than girls. Even at a young age, there are these gender differences. Moms have a huge role to play in counteracting this tendency.
What if the dad is the one working and the mom is home with the kids?
KP: That does not mean moms can’t show that they need to know how to think about money and talk about it. The mom can explain at the grocery store — “Let’s compare these prices.” We can say, “We are not going out to dinner so we can save for vacation.” Just talking through the choices, making it transparent — it teaches them so much.
What is the biggest money mistake new moms make?
KP: Spending so much money on setting up the nursery and [following] all the baby guide lists. I made this mistake, too, as a new mom, but the baby is not noticing the clothes he or she is wearing and how well you decorate the nursery. Instead, put $500 into a college savings account the year your baby is born.
What was the most surprising thing you discovered during your research for this book?
KP: One of the facts from the research is that you can really pinpoint the cycle of a gender difference when it comes to money. From childhood, boys and girls already report feeling differently about money. Then you can trace it to their 20s, where by then men are earning more and investing more than women. Then by the time they are parents, that explains why there is such a difference as to why men are so often managing the money and why they are making those decisions. It’s a cycle we need to break.
Building wealth is such an overwhelming topic; some people might just want to ignore it.
KP: My advice it is to break it down step by step and do one small step at a time so you are slowly working your way to where you want to be.
What’s a good first step for parents?
KP: Open a 529 account for each child you have. By just opening that account and saying every quarter you are going to try to put in whatever you can afford — $50, $200, whatever you can manage. If you slowly build it, it will help you so much when they are ready to go to college. Starting when they are young can pay off big time.
It can be hard to save even a small amount.
KP: However small it needs to be — just get that account opened. Then it doesn’t even have to be from your budget. Maybe a family member asks what your child wants for Christmas or a birthday and maybe they will want to put $100 into that account. When you have that account open, you have that opportunity. Family members like knowing they are contributing to that future need. It can be a win-win for everyone.
In your book you mention having a “rich life.”
KP: It’s about so much more than money. The times I feel the richest have nothing to do with checking my bank account. I have negotiated the flexibility I need at work. I made the choices to give myself a free afternoon to spend baking with my daughter. It’s all about making choices that let you live the life you want to live. It’s so much more than money. At the same time, it goes back to money — if we make smart choices about money, then we can have that free afternoon with our kids. It gives us that power.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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