The fact that parents exert a powerful influence over their children’s money habits has been well-established, but a new survey suggests it’s moms, not dads, who are the true guiding force: 26 percent of respondents in a CreditCards.com survey named their mothers as the person in their family who had the most influence over what they know about handling finances. (Fathers came in second at 21 percent.)
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Younger respondents were most likely to pick their moms as their top financial influencer, with about half of them saying so. As people get older, their chief influencer appears to shift to other family members, especially spouses. Among the 65 and over crowd, about 19 percent named their significant others as the main person affecting their financial habits, with just 13 percent choosing their mothers.
The reason for moms’ power likely comes from the fact that children spend so much time with them, especially while shopping, says Ben Woolsey, director of marketing and consumer research for CreditCards.com. “Family dynamics have changed over the generations, but it is still a constant that kids spend more time around their mothers. They get hauled around to the grocery store, the drug store, and they see financial behavior modeled even if it’s not talked about,” he says.
Indeed, that is what Woolsey himself experienced as a child. “I was the youngest, and my mom dragged me everywhere. When we got our first credit card, she made a big deal about how we have a great credit rating and we always pay it off each month. I picked that up, and I’ve never revolved a balance in my adult life,” he says. (See also: Parents Give Kids a Shocking Amount of Money.)
Fathers play an important role too, he adds, and a significant chunk of survey respondents did select their dads as the primary money influencer. Families vary greatly, of course, and in Woolsey’s family, his father was the chief breadwinner even though his mom paid the bills. Woolsey went to his father for advice on big ticket items as he got older.
When respondents were asked to name the person who exerted the most influence over major purchases such as homes and cars, spouses were the most common answer at 37 percent. Moms and dads came in second and third, respectively. Again, age played a big role, with mothers being the biggest influencers for the 18 to 24 group and then spouses slowly taking over among the older respondents. (For the 65 and older group, grown sons and daughters also played a role.)
All that influence underscores parents’ power—so how can they wield it wisely? Woolsey says that since it can be hard to break out of inherited bad habits, parents should pay extra close attention to the behavior they’re demonstrating. “Whether you’re carrying big credit card balances or using expensive forms of credit, it can affect your children. They might gravitate towards payday loans or expensive credit accounts, and it can become a bad cycle,” he says. He also advises parents to start talking about money early on. “Try to match up behavior with lessons, because kids can see through hypocrisy,” he says. Modeling good behavior is even more important than talking about it, he adds.
Parents who feel like they need help themselves can find plenty of support online. Sites such as Mymoney.gov, AmericaSaves.org, ING Direct’s Planet Orange, and SchwabMoneyWise.com are designed to help parents educate themselves and their children about money. Allowances, while somewhat controversial, can also be a valuable learning tool. Alisa T. Weinstein, author of Earn It, Learn It: Teach Your Child the Value of Money, Work, and Time Well Spent, recommends connecting allowances with tasks related to various careers.
Meanwhile, grown kids can’t continue to blame their parents for their money problems forever. Being aware of your own programming can help create new habits, Woolsey says. In fact, older survey respondents were more likely to name themselves as the person who had the most influence over their money habits. Among those 65 and older, almost 1 in 4 respondents named themselves as influencer-in-chief, while only 5 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 24 gave that answer. Self-responsibility, it seems, is a trait that comes with age.
Kimberly Palmer (@alphaconsumer) is the author of the new book Generation Earn: The Young Professional's Guide to Spending, Investing, and Giving Back.