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5 Lies Your Parents Told You

Mom and Dad were right a lot of the time: Scratching only makes it worse; high school's not the end of the world; and that style (whatever "that style" was in your day) isn't flattering, even if all the popular girls are wearing it. But they got a few things wrong, too -- your face didn't stick permanently in that expression, and your eyebrows did grow back. Eventually.

Some lies were told out of necessity, others out of ignorance, and a few were simply sins of omission. As adults, we learn to separate fact from fiction and laugh about it over Thanksgiving dinner.

Still, some false kernels of wisdom passed down the family tree could be stunting your financial growth to this day. So settle in for some regression therapy as we identify the little white lies from your tender years that you need to let go.

"Don't cry at the checkout counter." Actually, go ahead and unleash the tears. When you let yourself feel the physical loss of spending money (actually taking cash from your wallet and handing it over to the clerk), you're more likely to make better decisions about what you buy. Credit cards -- like Vegas gambling chips -- on the other hand, remove the emotion from the transaction. And numb spending leads to dumb spending.

"Money doesn't buy happiness." Oh yes it does. You don't need a behavioral economist to tell you that a raise or unexpected windfall puts a kick in your step. But you should consult a scientist to measure your buzz. We consistently overestimate (or don't accurately remember) how joyful something makes us feel. Studies show that once you're financially stable (meaning you can cover your bills and still have some fun money left over), extra financial padding has only a limited and rapidly diminishing effect on your overall happiness. But making the pursuit of wealth one of your top goals in life will more likely lead to depression, anxiety, and stress.

"Everyone is not staring at you." Well, maybe not in that way. But acquaintances and strangers are sizing you up all the time. It's not your jeans or prom date that they're judging, but your banking, driving, renting, and health habits. Employers, insurers, landlords, credit card companies (as well as the IRS, DOJ, FBI, and other acronym-happy entities) regularly pull your consumer files. Luckily, you don't have to read the rumors about yourself on a bathroom wall. You are entitled to see your consumer disclosures (there could be as many as 14) for free once a year. The September issue of GreenLight has your contact list ("Free Rap Sheet Rundown" -- If you're not a subscriber, take a free 30-day trial for access to all the back issues).

"You'll never be sorry if you play it safe." No dad in history ever said, "Let 'er rip" before handing Junior the keys to the car. But he'd have done his progeny a favor if he gave that advice about money. It's true that gambling and uninformed risk-taking is bad for your bottom line. But so is playing it too safe with your money. If you stash your cash in the mattress, sure, it'll still be there years later (provided mom didn't find your hiding place). But its buying power will be severely hampered. Historically, inflation runs between 3% and 4%, meaning the spending power of that cash kitty you hid your senior year in high school will be cut in half by your 20-year reunion.

"Soda and cigarettes are bad for you." Physically, yes, but the companies behind these products -- PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP  ) and Altria (NYSE: MO  ) -- have provided a healthy kick to shareholders by paying handsome dividends over time. If you had plunked down $1,000 in each when Duran Duran was topping the charts in 1983 (and were mature enough to defer taxes), you'd have nearly $150,000 today. Want to profit from all those vices your elders said to avoid? Altria is the Vice Fund's top holding, alongside other "sin stocks" such as British American Tobacco (NYSE: BTI  ) , MGM Mirage (NYSE: MGM  ) , and Boston Beer (NYSE: SAM  ) . (Note that the fund's expense ratio is a bit steep for this Fool's blood.) You can appease that nagging guilt with some socially responsible investments, such as the Calvert Social Index Fund, Domini Social Equity Fund, or PaxWorld Balanced Fund. Unfortunately, the rub with many such investments is the higher-than-average fees they charge investors to buy into them. That exposes yet another white lie -- nice guys don't necessarily finish first (financially, at least).

Your parents obviously did a great job raising you. (You're around to read this, right?) Now it's time to fully take the reins of your finances and show Mom and Dad that their kids can teach them a few things, too. For more straight talk about money and money-saving tips, click here to check out GreenLight today. A trial is free for 30 days, and there is no obligation to subscribe.

Dayana Yochim's eyebrows grew back quite nicely after that junior high incident, thank you. She now counsels fellow Adult Survivors of Childhood on all things consumer finance for Motley Fool GreenLight. Take a free one-month trial for access to the GreenLight blogs, back issues, money-wrangling tools and more. Dayana does not own shares of any company mentioned in this article.


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