In this week's column, I'd like to pay a personal tribute to my mother, Irene Bodnar, who passed away last week.
I have a lifetime's worth of wonderful personal and family memories of Mom. But over the years I've also written about her in this column.
"Renie" was a saver, an investor and a bargain hunter. And she was also a money-smart grandparent who taught sound financial values to my three children and helped them learn to manage and appreciate money. Passing along some of her ideas is a fitting way for me to kick off Financial Literacy Month.
When our children were young, Mom would send a birthday check (which we deposited in the bank), along with cash equal to each child's age. She knew that kids would have more fun with cash, and she wanted them to make their own decisions about how to spend or save it.
When they got older, she gave the kids (and us) the option of cashing the checks. "Dear Claire," she once wrote to my daughter. "This check is for your birthday. Have Mommy buy something for you, or you can save it to put in your billfold. Daddy can change it all into ones."
Our custom of depositing checks in the bank had some unexpected (and humorous) consequences. When Grandma gave my son John two crisp $50 bills for his eighth-grade graduation, he wasn't quite sure how to spend them. "You can always put them in the bank," Grandma told him. John was dumbfounded. "You can put cash in a bank?" he replied.
Like all grandparents, Mom loved to buy gifts for the kids. But she didn't go overboard, and they didn't take her generosity for granted. She and I always discussed major purchases beforehand, and she never bought anything that was too big, too pricey or otherwise over the top.
Instead, she was always on the lookout for unique gifts that would surprise and delight the kids as when she gave Claire a set of paper dolls, customized with Claire's own photo.
Some of the purchases my children remember most cost barely anything like the jelly cookies from the Blue Bonnet bakery that were always waiting for them when they came to visit their grandparents in Pittsburgh. Or the envelopes stuffed with clippings about the Steelers and Penguins that Grandma would send the kids (she turned them into lifelong fans).
And she was a stickler for having the children write thank-you notes. She saved this one, written by John in 1994: "Dear Grandma: Thank you very, very much for looking for my Penguins jacket. I especially thank you for going back and getting the jacket for the sail price. That was good because it saved me some money."To echo my son, Thank you, Grandma, very, very much.
Janet Bodnar is deputy editor of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine and the author of "Raising Money Smart Kids" (Kaplan, $17.95). Send your questions and comments to [email protected]