I won't be able to be with my Dad today, but it won't be because I won't be thinking about him. I am in Rio de Janeiro attending the Argentina vs Bosnia World Cup game in the famous Estadio do Maracana. The trip is the culmination of 4 years of planning and saving, but that is neither here nor there. I am sure I'll post more about that later. Today, I want to pay tribute to my dad and to all dads out there, intentionally or not, who helped prepare us financially for our lives ahead.
My dad was the first of his family to go to college. His education was disrupted like so many of that era. He enlisted in the Air Force where he served his country, and when he was honorably discharged, he went back to school. He completed his degree in electrical engineering and went to work for a telecommunications company. Just to comprehend how different it was back then, his first career job was his last career job. He stayed with that company for well over 30 years! You don't see that very often anymore. Unfortunately, loyalty it seems has become more nostalgia than reality these days.
I don't remember many "father to son" convesations about money. I am sure there were some brief discussions here and there along the way, but I don't have any memory of any one lesson that was passed on through lecture. What he did do was model good financial behavior and it stuck. So much of our beliefs, values, and behaviors about money are a result of the modeled behavior of those around us, something that all of us parents need to remember. Our financial behaviour has consequences far beyond the balance sheet or credit report.
Suffice it to say, I love my dad and his influence is still exerted upon me to this day. However, this space is not the best place for sentimental gushing, instead I wanted to share five financial lessons (there are others) that I learned from my father. Lessons observed more than heard, values practiced for a son to see and applied to his own life.
If you can't afford it, you don't buy it- Now I realize this is not reveloutionary, but it is obvious this is a lesson that is failing to permeate the American psyche. Dad was never embarassed to simply say, "we can't afford it." The way I saw it as a child, Dad didn't care about brands, he cared about value. If a brand brought value, great, but my parents never spent money on status. My parents lived below their means. They didn't leverage their lifestyle. If they couldn't afford it at the time, they waited until they could. I don't pretend that it was easy, but being mature enough to accept there are things not financially viable at the present was huge modeled behavior that shaped me more than I could ever express.
- You don't need a new house just because your can afford a bigger payment- I like saving money as much as the next guy, but I get amused how people fixate on cost cutting items that in reality have very little impact on one's financial life but give hardly any attention to the things that really matter. I loved the way Michael Kitces said it one time, "The Road to Financial Success is NOT paved with coupons!" My parents did not succumb to zip code envy. They picked a house that met their needs and we stayed put. Even as some of their friends "traded up" they knew that a home is more important than a house. Could they have afforded a larger mortgage payment? Sure, but why pay more just because you can? It is ridiculous. You want to have financial independence? Start with re-evaluating your housing costs.
- A college education was the expectation- Both my parents were the first in their family to receive a college degree. My parents experienced the value a college educaton first hand. Dad didn't come from a family of means, in fact, they were poor. His dad was a share cropper, boot legger, preacher, machinist, cab driver, you name it, he probably did it to provide for his family, but it was hard living. Dad's college education opened up the middle class to him and to us. While they never overly exerted pressure on me or my sister, it was understood that we would not slack off in school. It was also understood when the high school diploma was in hand, the next step was to work on getting a degree in hand. Study after study shows that even with sky rocketing costs, having a college education offers huge financial opportunity. However, not only did they have the expectation that we get a degree, they committed to investing in their children by providing them a four year education, debt free. I had to work for extras, but tuition, books, fees and reasonable housing was provided by my parents. This continues to be an investment that makes my own financial life easier and an investment that I make now with my own children.
- Family presence is more important than promotions- Dad had a good career. I have never really discussed his work with him at length, but I do know that Dad made some sacrifices career wise for the benefit of the family. Kids need dads in their lives. I am all for taking advantage of opportunity, but like investing, costs can undermine return. I never knew growing up what my dad made, it didn't matter to me, because his worth was not measured by a paycheck. What I did know was come 5:30 pm, dad would be home, briefcase in hand and everyday before he went into the house, he would stop and shoot a few baskets with me in the drive. He changed his role in the company to preserve family. Today, as the president of a growing firm, I constantly struggle with balance of growth and family. Business culture tells me one thing but my dad showed me that opportunity should never come at the expense of family.
- A rich life is a genrous life- Whether it was opening his home to family members for extended stays while getting on their feet or giving money to a cause he believed in, I learned from dad that giving is a glorious thing. Nothing can make you feel richer than the ability to give to those who have need. Giving is the antidote to hyper cosumerism and self centeredness. Money is powerful and it can change you, but my dad remained rooted in a life of giving, a legacy that I am committed to passing on to my daughters as well.
I could go on but this post is far too long as it is. If you have read this far, thank you and Dad if you see this, know that your life taught me more about personal finance than my degrees, experience, occupation, blogs, you tube videos, magazine, books, or the experts ever have. Sorry I can't be with you today, but be assured I am thinking of you even while I am in Brazil!