Our attitudes toward money are shaped at an early age. Where we end up on the financial literacy spectrum often depends upon our parents’ feelings about the topic. Were financial discussions taboo in your family? Or were they treated as teaching moments? Here’s how my dad’s transparent approach helped mold me into the person I am today.
Lesson #1 – Budget for Large Purchases.
Looking back, you could say that I’ve always had an interest in personal finance. I remember driving home from cross country practice with my dad, and instead of rehashing how practice went, we’d talk about what it meant to refinance a mortgage. He even tried to teach me about home equity (back then that went right over my head). During my teens, my dad and I shared many open conversations about finances, and I know I’ve greatly benefited from his guidance.
Here’s a specific story that stands out to me. One weekend my dad came home with a beautiful wooden doorframe for the entrance to our patio. I remember him telling me that he could’ve gone to Home Depot months ago and purchased the door on credit. Instead, he saved money every month until he had enough to pay for it out of pocket. My dad went on to explain that he can swipe his credit card and buy lots of stuff, but a credit card shouldn’t be considered “free money.” It’s actually money you owe and must quickly repay. This was my first life lesson on budgeting for large purchases, credit card debt and the importance of living below your means.
Lesson #2 – Set Goals.
I was a very curious kid. My dad talked to me about personal finance because I asked about it. Sometimes I got a little too curious, like when I found my dad’s personal notepad and couldn’t resist reading it. I stopped when I saw my dad’s salary goal for the next year. I wished I could un-see it. I felt I violated his personal space. However, this turned out to be another important lesson for me—don’t settle and just accept the status quo. Set goals and strive to improve!
The life lessons with the door and the notepad came full circle much sooner than I would’ve expected. During junior high and high school my best friend and I ran our own landscaping company. Living in the Chicago suburbs, we enjoyed an especially profitable business during the winter months. The first generation iPod Touch came out in September 2007 and I desperately wanted one. So, what did I do about it? I found a small box and wrote “iTouch Money: $299” on the lid and set aside my share of landscaping profits. By February 2008 I was the proud owner of an iPod Touch!
Lesson #3 – Be Realistic, But Never Give Up on Your Dreams
I’m the second oldest of four. My dad is a salesman and my mom worked hard to care for our family of six. Sometimes money could be tight. I can recall a few occasions where my dad sat the family down and told us Christmas might look a little different that year or shared that we had to scale back on trips to Sam’s Club. He ran a transparent household. When it came time for college, my siblings and I each knew how much our parents had saved to our 529 accounts. My dad made it quite clear that once the 529s ran dry, we were responsible for the remaining college costs. He also reinforced the financial wisdom that incurring debt at a young age was undesirable.
I was absolutely adamant about going to school out of state. I applied to a bunch of schools and ran the numbers with my dad. I knew that attending our community college was the most economical route but not being able to attend a college of my choice left me feeling devastated. There went my big college hopes and dreams! I’m not kidding when I say that after this discussion, I mowed my neighbor’s lawn, crying the entire time. Then, something totally unexpected happened. To make a long story short, I interviewed for a full-tuition, out-of-state scholarship and won it. That made my college choice easy and put a smile on my face!
Family members, teachers, and many others begin to shape our attitudes toward money at an early age. If you find yourself in the presence of your financial role model this holiday season, don’t forget to tell them “thank you”! Thank you, Dad!