Knowledge Bank

3 money lessons a professional investor taught her kids when they were growing up

The Miletti family.
Courtesy Ann Miletti

Americans are more uncomfortable talking with their kids about saving for college, debt, and saving for retirement than they are talking about climate change or politics, according to T. Rowe Price’s annual Parents, Kids & Money survey.

That’s unfortunate, because parents are the No. 1 money influence for their kids—and your childhood influences how you think about their finances later in life.

If your mom’s a professional investor, though, it can be more natural to grow up talking about money. Here are three of the best financial lessons two Milwaukee-area siblings learned from their mother, Ann Miletti, a portfolio manager with Wells Fargo Asset Management.

1. ‘Do you love it or do you just like it?’

The mall was a pretty good place to learn some valuable lessons about money for Samantha Narloch (née Miletti), now 26, and Ryan Miletti, now 29. Samantha now works in marketing while Ryan works in the tile and grout repair business.

As the siblings recall, their mom taught them the “Love It method” to decide what to buy—or skip—while shopping. And resisting the urge to make impulse purchases is something they still think about today, whether shopping or investing.

“She would ask, ‘Do you love it or do you just like it?’” recalls Samantha. “If you love it, it’s probably worth buying, but if you like it, it may be worth waiting.”

2. ‘Don’t invest in something you don’t understand’

The “Love It method” also helped when Ryan began investing in the stock market about five years ago. “The biggest thing I got from my mom is don’t invest in something you don’t understand,” he says. “I make sure I’m passionate about what I’m investing in.”

3. ‘There was money to spend for yourself and money to save’

As a new mom, Samantha says “saving is where my mind goes” these days, and another lesson from childhood helps. When she and Ryan received money for a birthday or holiday, it was divvied up based on how it arrived, rather than the amount. If they got cash, they could use it to buy whatever they wanted. If they got a check, their parents deposited it in a savings account.

“We knew there was a distinction: There was money to spend for yourself and money to save for when we needed it,” she says. “To this day, I think about that distinction with money that comes in, whether it’s from work or gifts or otherwise—how do I split that so some goes into saving?”

Mom’s take: ‘We felt the burden of a lot of debt early in our lives’

Putting checks in the bank may sound like an intentional plan to teach the kids about budgeting, but it was driven by necessity, their mom, Ann Miletti, says.

“We had no money to put aside for them for college and I was panicked,” she tells Grow. “I thought we could afford these kids and I realized we can’t afford their future.”

Money wasn’t discussed in Ann’s home growing up, and she wanted to start the conversation when she became a parent. But it wasn’t her career choice as much as an experience with major medical debt that influenced how she approached conversations about finances.

“We felt the burden of a lot of debt early in our lives,” Ann recalls of her mid-20s when she was newly married. “It was very, very, very stressful.”

As the kids got older, Ann had specific lessons she wanted to pass along, like understanding the responsibility that comes with credit cards and why it’s so important to start saving early for retirement. But the most important lesson she and her husband wanted to teach their kids was much simpler: “Money can’t buy happiness.”

Even thinking back to the early years of her marriage—and the more-than 10 years it took to pay off that debt—Ann says: “I often told the kids when they were young all the way until now: ‘I can’t say we’re any happier today.’”

But it does make her happy today to hear how her money lessons resonated. When the kids were younger, Ann was the primary breadwinner, since her husband was a stay-at-home dad, and she traveled a lot for work.

“I had a lot of guilt that I wasn’t around more and that I missed a lot of things,” she says. “I didn’t want to talk about work that much when they were young, so I found other ways to talk about things without talking about the stock market.”

‘Never, ever be afraid to ask questions’

Even if you don’t have a professional investor in your family, Ann says there are simple ways to improve your financial literacy. You can read about what’s happening in the market or read quarterly reports from companies, for example. Even watching what’s happening at businesses you frequent can be really informative for how stocks perform.

While Ryan took an early interest in investing and asked a lot of questions about it, that wasn’t the case with Samantha. So Ann took a different approach with her daughter: When she and Samantha were at the mall, they analyzed what was happening at particular retailers—were the clothes on trend? were there a lot of shoppers?—and then checked to see how that correlated to the company’s stock performance, she recalls.

“Hopefully people get comfortable learning a little bit at a time,” Ann says. “People don’t give themselves as much credit as they’re due.”

More broadly, Ann says it’s important to keep asking questions until you understand anything money-related—something she encouraged her kids to do. “It’s your money and you should never, ever be afraid to question anything, no matter how crazy it might be to someone else,” she says.

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