Saving money is child's play when your mom is a financial columnist

Posted: Jun 04, 2006 12:01 AM

Because this is the column's second anniversary, I wanted to try something different. I asked my two children, Caitlin and Benjamin O'Shaughnessy Bigelow, to share what it's like to have a mom who writes about stuff that most kids couldn't care less about.

For those of you who are curious, Caitlin is finishing up her junior year of high school and Ben is an eighth-grader.

Here's what they had to say:

One of the big benefits to having Lynn O'Shaughnessy as our mom is, of course, that she handles all our finances. We don't have to worry about our money going into hot individual stock picks and we don't have to fret about our mom selecting the wrong mutual funds for our college accounts. Mom has also made sure that our money isn't sunk into the type of investments that would charge you more than you'd pay for a kidney on the black market.

Sometimes our mother's work overlaps into our lives, which can be helpful, but other times it's, well, annoying. About a week ago, for example, Ben came home excited about a stock project that he and his classmates had started at school. The kids each got an imaginary $10,000 to spend on whichever stocks they wanted. At the end of a month, whoever has generated the most earnings will win.

This project collided with our mom's financial beliefs and violated one of her cardinal rules, which she quickly pointed out. "Well, Ben, investing in individual stocks is a complete shot in the dark. If you're picking stocks, you may as well throw darts at a newspaper's stock listings. The results should be about the same." Hey, thanks, Mom!

Living with our mom also means we are survivors of plenty of excruciatingly boring dinner-table conversations. We've heard Mom express her outrage at such dubious investment products as equity index annuities and the financial industry's moral lapses. And apparently there are many.

A conversation that we remember most vividly occurred at the home of Susanna, an old family friend. We were looking forward to an evening full of delicious food, warm company, and an intensely competitive game of hearts. But Mom launched into some extended financial topic, which eventually forced us to zone out. Mercifully, the conversation finally veered in another direction when my mom and Susanna started talking about the latest cartoon contest in The New Yorker, which is my mom's favorite magazine.

Another important lesson that my mom instilled in us at an early age was to be frugal. Ben and I have saved most of the money that was given to us. We've stashed away money with the fiery passion of a thousand burning suns. We can only recall suffering from buyer's remorse once, many years ago. When we were at Target one day, we spotted a huge spiked bouncy ball that cost $11.99. Needless to say, the ball wasn't all that exciting or amazing once we got it out of the store. What do you do with a giant spiked plastic ball?

Through our mom, we've also learned that there are millions of ways to save money every day. Our mom is the consummate bargain shopper. She is rarely interested in a sweater or a pair of jeans at Macy's unless it's been marked off at least 60 percent. I remember when I was younger all my friends brought individually packaged chips for lunch. Mom packed ours in plastic sandwich bags. When we complained, my mom explained to us that it was much cheaper to buy big bags of chips and pack it ourselves. I suppose we begrudgingly agreed with her.

I am pretty sure if you are a regular reader, you've heard our mom's "grate the cheese yourself" argument. Over time, you will save a lot of money if you buy a block of cheese rather than the grated stuff - which doesn't even taste as good. She believes you should stay away from just about any food that's prepackaged, whether it's lettuce mix, carrots sticks or Lunchables. My mom would say, "Why not save yourself some money on groceries and invest it in a retirement fund?" Sometimes we wonder, "Why not save some money and put it aside for a fun vacation?"

Another advantage to having a mom who is a financial columnist is that Ben and I both have Roth Individual Retirement Accounts. With his earnings from soccer refereeing, Ben opened his account before I did. He reminds me every time we get our statements that he has more cash in his account than I do.

He also likes to check his account online to see how much he's worth. My mom showed him how to use online financial calculators, so he really likes to project how much money he'll have when he's 65 and how long it will take to become a millionaire. I'm positive that very few teenage boys have this hobby.

Ben and I promised Mom on Mother's Day that we would help her and our dad around the house more this year. Does writing this column count?

Thanks, kids, for writing such a great column. To show my appreciation, you won't have to do the dishes today.