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Go, Girl: The Money Messages that Shaped these Leaders

By Vanessa McGrady

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Much of what shapes people comes directly from the words and actions their parents impart to them when they are young. Financial lessons are no exception; in fact, money attitudes and behaviors sink in before kids even reach kindergarten, according to a University of Michigan study.

That’s why parental modeling of good money management is important at all stages of childhood — especially for girls. Research shows that, in addition to a well-documented wage gap, women feel less empowered than men do when they think about their finances. And in the workplace, if an employee is, say, less assertive when it comes to negotiating compensation, that could result in leaving thousands of dollars on the table over the course of a career. 

On the upside: Globally, when women are empowered to work and earn their own money, they can grow entire economies. And it can pay to bet on their success. Women-led investments and startups tend to get less upfront funding, according to a 2018 research study by Boston Consulting Group; however, those businesses generated higher revenue than startups founded by men.

In honor of Mother’s Day, Life and Money by Citi spoke with leaders of organizations that empower women and girls to find out what wise words these women want to pass on to their children, and the valuable money lessons they learned from their own moms.

Make decisions from your heart

My mother passed away, but she's still very present in my life and in my mind and in my heart. One of the many things she instilled in me was to look at all of my small decisions, which add up to the larger decisions around spending and saving.

My mother helped me to realize that every time I bought something, I was taking money out of my fund to buy a car. But I also wanted to go on a school field trip for the debate team; it was really important to me. I ended up getting a beat-up yellow [hatchback]. That's all I needed, nothing fancy. And I also ended up going on the trip, which, in many ways, was much more important and more memorable than having a new car.

Eventually, that process helped me puzzle through how to buy a house. Where I live now isn’t walkable to a coffee shop or cute neighborhood, but I have a beautiful garden and it's really peaceful. There's a trade-off.

One of the messages we talk about at WriteGirl is about making decisions from your heart — checking to see if it feels right in terms of who you are and what you want to achieve in the world.

— Keren Taylor, executive director of WriteGirl, a creative writing and mentoring organization that promotes self-expression among at-risk teen girls. Over 18 seasons, WriteGirl has maintained a 100% success rate in helping its seniors graduate from high school and enroll in college.

Early entrepreneurship

As a small child, I clearly remember not having money to buy my mother gifts for her birthday or Mother’s Day. I was in grade school when I made a conscious decision to learn how to earn cash. I became an expert babysitter, car washer and yard-sale dealer. This early entrepreneurship gave me the power and the money I needed to give gifts to the people I love.

I have shared with my daughter the importance of having her own sources of income and the power to decide how to use it. My husband and I consciously role-model for her ways to be transparent with money and how to use money in a way that supports our family, our community and our values. Separate bank accounts also require role-modeling on how to build trust and mutual respect with a partner and how to negotiate and collaborate.

Elizabeth Vazquez, CEO and Co-Founder of WEConnect International, which connects women-owned businesses to buyers in 100-plus countries and with purchasing power exceeding $1 trillion.

Value for the money

In high school I wanted a very expensive purple bicycle and saved like crazy for it. I could have bought another one that was way less expensive, but didn't, and I didn't regret it. Today, I’m always looking for the best value for the money. I have passed that on to my children, and I'm passing it on to my grandchildren.

At Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, we're teaching teenage girls the skills they need to become social advocates and do community building and social action work. One of the components of the program is to give them a budget, so that they can learn the importance of being a leader. Their spending is for their community. They've got to decide: “What is the problem I want to solve? How realistic is it that I can solve it given this budget?” Then determine what are the costs, how to control costs and stay within a budget to reach the maximum number of people possible. And, if they don’t have enough money, how can they use their own skills to raise more?

Every girl growing up today should feel like she has the decision power over how she's going to be earning her own money, and spending her own money and saving her own money. She shouldn't be afraid of those decisions.

— Sheryl Olitzky, co-founder and executive director of Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom. Through 150-plus chapters in the U.S. and Canada, the organization promotes peace among Muslim and Jewish women and girls and encourages social action.

Spend wisely

My mom went to nursing school as we were growing up. She then went on to work nights every other weekend for 27 years in a convalescent home. She was very supportive of me, and taught me a lot about work and money.

When I am faced with a financial opportunity, I ask myself the same questions she asked herself: “Is this a priority for my health? Is this a priority for my education? Is this a priority for my family?” For example, she cautioned me about spending a paycheck all on clothes when I worked in a clothing store in high school. I did find a happy medium — on special discount days, employees received 25% off any outfit we chose to wear out of the store, so I layered up: Two turtle necks, a sweater and jacket, a skirt or pair of pants. And when I arrived home, my mother just laughed. She appreciated my effort to heed her advice and spend wisely.

My daughter, Ginny, just finished her doctorate in nursing, and is she's getting married soon. She put together this very detailed budget for her wedding and for the events, and has line items attached to everything, which I know comes directly from my mother and me. Right now, Ginny’s weighing whether to provide limos for the bridal party or a photo booth. At this point, the photo booth is winning.

— Leslie Mancuso, CEO of Jhpiego, which helps communities around the world develop their health-care infrastructure to sustainably improve medical outcomes for women.

Charge your worth

I teach my children to save as much as possible, but to also go into life with an abundant mindset: charge your worth, grow your wealth unapologetically and live your dreams! I also want them to understand that money is not evil; it is the source of lots of good things. If good people control the wealth we can make so much of a difference.

I also want to pass along to them the power that comes with wealth. With more money you are able to support local businesses, eat sustainable food and create a powerful life for your loved ones. Creating more abundance and charging your worth gives other women business owners permission to do it too. I always hear women say, “I am not in it for the money,” or, “It's not like I need to make a million dollars, I just want to make a difference.” You can do both. Maximize the difference you can make in the world by creating and welcoming wealth.

Aria Leighty, founder and president of The MOB Nation, a nationwide network of companies owned and run by moms intended to promote growth and education among its 8,900 members.

Vanessa McGrady writes about personal finance, health and feminist parenting; she is also the author of ROCK NEEDS RIVER: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption (Little A). She lives in Los Angeles with her daughter and their maltipoo.

The content reflects the view of the author of the article and does not necessarily reflect the views of Citi or its employees, and we do not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in the article.