Money Lessons I Learned From My Dad
Before I became a dad, Father’s Day was more about hurried shopping trips to find a grilling gadget, tacky tie, or useful tool to stick in a gift bag with a funny card to show my dad that I appreciate him.
(Always at the last minute because these holidays have a way of sneaking up on me. Every single year. Why is that?)
But once I had kids of my own, Father’s Day became a time to reflect on the gifts that my father gave to me. No, not the birthday or Christmas presents that, let’s be honest, my mom probably picked out and wrapped, but the life lessons he taught me either through specific instruction or through leading by example.
He’ll probably never read this because I don’t think he knows what a blog is, but I wanted to share a few things he taught me about money. Appreciation is better than another grill brush anyway, right? Let’s hope so, because I haven’t started shopping yet.
Life Lesson #1: Understand Value
My dad taught me to take care of the things you have. Cords to appliances were always wrapped nicely, tools were always put away, and maintenance mattered.
He often related the story of a man going door-to-door looking for donations. He stopped at a house and, before he rang the doorbell, overheard a man in the backyard scolding his son for leaving some nails out in the grass. “These nails are rusted now and aren’t nearly as useful!”
The man at the door thought that this was probably an exercise in futility—to ask for a donation from a man who cared about a few nails. He rang the doorbell anyway and the man ended up giving the largest donation he had ever collected.
It turns out that by taking care of his possessions and being mindful of the value of items, the man could afford to be generous when it came to the things that really mattered to him.
Life Lesson #2: Learn to Work
My dad taught me to work. (He may claim he didn’t succeed in this. He doesn’t read the blog, remember? Or listen to podcasts. Or watch YouTube videos. Note to self: ask dad what he thinks I do for a living.)
When I was 12, I was tasked with mowing our half-acre yard. Our lawnmower wasn’t the self-propelling kind—it took some heave-ho pushing–especially for a 100 pound, 12-year-old kid. The lawnmower was a beast to push. I probably looked like those guys cruising on their choppers, with their arms up high, while mowing with that thing. But infinitely less cool, I’m guessing.
It took me about three and a half hours to do the front and back yards. I would always put it off, which only made things worse because the grass would be so much longer and thicker. The grass catcher would be heavy and I had difficulty dumping the grass into the bins. I had an even harder time dumping the bins full of grass into our mulch pile in the very back of the yard.
As time passed I became taller and stronger, and the work gradually seemed easier. By the time I left home I could finish both yards in an hour, did a better job, and enjoyed the entire process. To this day, I love mowing lawns. That arduous chore turned into a bigger lesson about the value of labor.
Life Lesson #3: Read to Learn
The first personal finance book I read was The Richest Man in Babylon. I devoured it. I don’t remember how old I was—probably a pre-teen.
When I was 14, my dad gave me a book from a talk show host that was starting to make his mark, named Dave Ramsey. The book was Financial Peace and I loved it. I credit that book’s principles with keeping me out of debt all these years, and the early exposure to personal finance through reading led to not only a lifetime of fiscal responsibility, but also a rewarding career that has enabled me to help others.
I’m thankful to my dad for recognizing good principles and passing them on to me at an early age.
Life Lesson #4: Provide for Your Family
My Dad’s an attorney (one of the nice ones, really!). He claims to have never really been book smart—but he made it through law school somehow, so that seems like a questionable assertion. Although he says he’s always had to work harder to be average than your average “average guy”, I don’t buy it.
So where do my dad’s smarts come from? His dedication to his family, and to doing what’s right.
He’s always been able to provide for us. As a kid I was blessed by the fact that I never once worried that there wasn’t enough money for food, shelter, and clothing (though maybe not the exact clothing I wanted, like Air Jordans, but I always had what I needed).
My Dad worked so that we had all the things we needed. He openly states that he’s never really enjoyed being an attorney, but doing that job provided for his family and, in that, he found his purpose. Shifting your perspective from what you want to what you can do with what you have can offer a whole new view.
Life Lesson #5: No Freebies
When I was very little, maybe six or so, my dad taught me to play chess. I don’t remember when it was exactly but I do remember lying on my stomach staring at the board...and being beat time and time again. Not just beat—slaughtered—in very few moves sometimes. The man showed me no mercy.
However, when I was 14, we were on vacation and I beat him...three times in a row. It rattled him good and I still relish that moment. That victory was a thousand times sweeter since it was so hard-earned. He beat me at chess again and again and again and again for the next eight years or so, but those games taught me the value of persistence and the importance of resilience. I would have never won had I quit trying.
I haven’t kept track of our overall lifelong record, but he’s winning.
So, he may not read blog posts I write or let me win at chess, but my dad has given me a lifetime of lessons, support, and opportunities to grow through the years, and when I think of raising my own children, and the type of people I want them to be, I realize what a valuable gift that was. Thank you, dad!
And I hope you like the grill brush I got you. Or that I’m going to get you. Soon. Like, now.