Check your inbox or spam folder to confirm your subscription.
Go to main Voices page »
My father was awful with money, and my parents had to declare bankruptcy. This has made me (and my sister) incredibly cautious about money and debt in particular. Ironically, my dad worked his whole life in the insurance industry, and part of being cautious for me is keeping up on insurance coverage—life, health, long-term care, disability, umbrella, you name it. I even had a disability policy that paid my mortgage when I had pregnancy complications.
My father was of the opinion that the stock market was a casino and you placed your bet and if you were lucky, you won. If unlucky, you placed another bet. His investing expertise came from his drinking buddies at the local VFW. Most of this advice was for penny stocks which in the 1980’s were traded on pink sheets. Dad was always changing penny stock brokers according to the latest from the pundits at the VFW. Dad at one time was a customer of Meyer Blinder of “Blind’em and Rob’em” fame. On one occasion, Dad invited me to go with him to the latest penny stock broker recommendation and we went to meet this man. I nearly tripped over the thickness of the wool carpeting in the office where this stock broker was located. While we waited for the broker to appear in his office, my father commented on how luxurious the furniture and appointments were.
I said ” Dad, who do you think is paying for all of this?”. Dad had no comment.
My father lacked the inability to pull the trigger on a financial transaction. My mother and he had blueprints drawn up for a house they wanted to build. This is back in the day when they were real blueprints, rolled up into a tube. They had the plot of land picked out. When the time came to get a loan to buy the land and obtain a builder’s loan for the construction of the house, he balked and would not commit. I found the blueprints when I cleaned out his garage after his passing.
Dad was convinced that the only way to get ahead was to have your own business because businesses scammed the government on taxes and he wanted in on that scam. Visiting the local donut shop daily led him to believe that a donut shop would be his ticket into owning a business. One Sunday, all four of us kids and Mom and Dad drove to Cheyenne, Wyoming to look at equipment from a donut shop that had gone out of business. The owner wanted $10K for the equipment, mixers, fryers, display cases, and all the stuff to open a donut shop. Again, Dad balked and would not commit.
I inherited some of that hesitation. When my wife and I purchased the home we live in today back in 1984, it sold for $72,500. A new development a half mile away had larger new homes with more modern floorplans selling for $100,000. I could not visualize making the stretch. Today our home would sell for $650,000. Not bad. Homes in the other development are selling for $1.5M.
So, the things I have learned are:
“Pay yourself first.”
Always put away a minimum of 15% of your paycheck (gross pay if possible).
At 66, after 10 years in the USAF (after 10 years of faithful service they take away your watch-no pension or 401K), then taking a 50% pay cut to get a job flying for American, then putting up with 32 years of the union having to fight through pay issues and AAL’s bankruptcy(just to get at our pension), and finally 42 years later I can say that Mom and Dad were absolutely correct. Glad I listened.
We now live very comfortably off just the dividends from our portfolio and what’s left of the “frozen-no COLA” pension. Comfortably waiting until 70 to take SS. Mom and Dad were absolutely spot on.
I now offer my parental advice to our kids after I finish explaining the advice from their grandparents: “Nobody cares more about your money than you do.”
My folks taught me the importance of keeping balances up-to-date. I still do a monthly reconciliation on our accounts. I verify that my Quicken account agrees with my Schwab account on a regular basis (don’t laugh, it is easy for them to get out-of-sync). I know how much I have and where it is going.
I just ask myself, “what would my father do?”… then i’d do the opposite.
Of all the financial education (formal and informal) I’ve received, my financial mentor (in spirit, now) remains my grandpa, who was a farmer with a 9th grade education. He paid off debt as fast as he could, kept ample amounts in savings, and never worried about money.
Live within your means and earn your living doing something you enjoy that you are good at.
My Dad told me to never use credit cards unless I had the cash to pay the balance off every month. I have never had credit card debt and never paid interest or late changes.
Simplify. Have a will. After my parents passed away, I spent a decade sorting out the financial messes they left behind with a total of over 50 accounts in between them.
I experienced something similar, but not quite as complex as yours. It took about two years as executor to address all issues that were left behind (including the need for substantial home repairs before it could be sold). I found financial records, stock certificates, and investment statements in the most interesting places.
Wow — 50 accounts. That’s astonishing. Sorry you had to deal with that.
Invest in your 401k!
This is mostly good advice, but some 401k’s have high fees and high cost fund options. In such cases it can be better to just invest enough to get any matching benefits, and use an IRA instead.
My parents are both savers, which is a great habit I observed and learn. My dad however only saves in cash, with zero understanding or how-to for investment. My mom knows a bit about investment by earning low/simple interest.
Pay off your mortgage as soon as you can so you always have a roof over your head.
When I received my first paycheck, my mother told me to pay myself first by putting some of the money into a savings account. Since then I have always done that. I’m grateful for that advice because there will always be a reserve, no matter how large or small, to help cover some of those unanticipated financial surprises.
I pretty much did the opposite from my parents. They were big spenders relative to their income, of course they had 5 kids for whom to provide. I have zero. They committed many of the mistakes the typical American did in the mid-2000s, which hurt financially.
Still, my mom was sure to keep a nest egg, and that has grown over the years. Their spending declined as the kids left the house and they were able to refinance their mortgage at a low rate recently. They also thoughtfully delayed Social Security to maximize that freebie annuity.
Now they are in good shape for the most part. As I get older, the more I realize that spending money on loved ones is good when done responsibly.
I used to think all discretionary spending was bad. As always, my folks are looking smarter the more I age!
Freebie annuity? And here I’ve been foolishly paying for it through my paycheck for decades.
Amazing how many children realize how smart their parents are as they get older and a little wiser themselves.
I am extremely fortunate to have the parents I do. They taught me to disregard the Jones’ and to spend according to our own family value system. Growing up, I was often embarrassed to be driving around in old cars that were the least bit sexy, and now understand how it was those types of decisions that allowed our family ski vacations and club soccer. They saved in all areas that didn’t align with our values and priorities so we could spend on the things that did, like fitness and experiences.
Neither of my parents were savers. I became a prodigious saver.
My father was a practical man who taught me many things about finance. My first hard lesson was when I found one of my comic books listed in a valuation manual as worth $50. I showed it to my dad and said, “My comic is worth $50!” My dad asked, “Do you know anyone right now who will pay you $50 for it?” I said no, to which he then said, sorry, but it was not then worth $50; it was worth whatever someone would actually pay me for it.