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College 101: Buyer Beware

I’m worried about the way that my mother is with money. It’s not that she spends needlessly--in fact, it’s kind of the opposite. My mother is cheap. Ironically, her cheapness is really costing her!

My mother makes a habit of buying cheap stuff that breaks. She goes through cars quickly because she only buys clunkers, and the first time they break down they’re essentially totalled. She keeps getting herself into jams by putting off repairs to her house and then seeing problems turn into big, costly messes. What can I do to help my mom figure out that she needs to spend money to save money?

Your mother isn’t alone. In fact, many of us are handicapped by our monetary habits. Our “money story”--the way in which we experience money, often determined by our own personal history with it--can take the form of a “poverty mindset” that keeps us from spending money where we ought to. And, as the old saying goes, “there’s nothing more expensive than being poor” (or, in this case, acting like it): when we lack the funds to protect ourselves and maintain our valuable possessions, or act as if we do, then we expose ourselves to more risks and costlier problems.

You mother should, of course, take more care in researching what she buys. Searching for value is not the same as searching for low prices. There are plenty of resources out there to help her make intelligent purchasing decisions. She can find reviews and certifications from authorities like Consumer Reports and the Better Business Bureau. Even more information on products, reviews, and more can be found on Information.com. And myriad specialized sites deal with specific types of products and purchases.

Your mother should also stop postponing repairs and maintenance on her home, vehicle, and other valuable possessions--something that you clearly recognize. As you point out, postponing important maintenance and repair work can result in costlier problems.

But all of this is easier said than done. How can your mother actually change her attitude towards money?

It needs to start with her recognizing that she has an issue with money in the first place. Raise the issue delicately, but use concrete examples. Introduce her to the concept of a money story, and show her how hers is costing her the chance to build wealth.

From there, experts recommend that your mother catalog the ways in which her money mindset is hurting her. She should change the language she uses when she talks about money and take real, measurable steps to cut out wasteful money habits--which can, of course, include the ways in which she doesn’t spend! With a big realization and a few concrete changes, your mother may be able to change the course of her financial life.

“Frugality includes all the other virtues.” — Cicero

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