When I was reflecting on Father’s Day, I realized that my dad and I talk about money on a regular basis, especially when it comes to significant financial events in our lives. Even though I’ve got two kids of my own now, I’m still learning from my dad about money, and many of the money lessons I’ve learned from my dad have actually come during my adulthood. Here are just a few lessons I’ve learned from him.
Don’t take your income for granted
After five years in one line of work, I quit my job to do a one-year fellowship program that would help me transition into a different career. As that year came to a close, my dad asked me how my husband and I were doing financially. He knew that we’d both been working full time originally and that I’d just spent nearly a year with no earnings. Based on his own experience entering the job market during an economic downturn when he was a new grad, he also knew that it wouldn’t necessarily be easy for me to get another job right away. I grew up hearing about how his colleagues sent two or three hundred copies of their resumes all around the country in search of a job — and this was when they had to be typed by hand on a typewriter!
So when my dad asked about my job search, I was glad to be able to report that my husband and I had already built our budget around a single income well before I quit my job. (We learned that specific tip from my brother and sister-in-law, and it built on what I’d learned from my dad about being prepared for a long job search.) That gave us some breathing room while I looked for a job… and eventually landed at Goodbudget! My dad also checks in to see whether we anticipate our jobs being affected whenever there’s an economic downturn. From that, I’ve learned to keep my eyes open and be ready to make changes if our income is affected by a recession.
Do your research on big ticket items
Recently, my husband and I spent a chunk of change to have our roof completely replaced. We’d noticed some leaks in past rainy seasons and had reached the point where it didn’t make sense to pay for patching anymore. As we went through the process of meeting different roofers, researching different types of roofing materials, and learning about different approaches to roofing construction, my dad asked lots of questions. He was so interested! And I realized that it’s because this is how he also approaches spending on big ticket items. He does lots of research before he makes a big purchase to make sure he understands what he’s getting into. And apparently, I’ve absorbed that lesson, because I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way.
Start saving for college early
For my dad, higher education was the path to opportunity in a country that was brand new to him. (It’s also where he met my mom!) Partly because of that, sending his own four children through college was extremely important to him, and he and my mom organized much of their financial life around that priority. When my oldest child was barely in kindergarten, my dad asked me off and on about whether we were saving for college for our kids. He asked how much we were saving, where we were saving, and how many years of college we thought we’d be able to pay for. He was also trying to figure out what he and my mom could set aside for each of their grandkids’ college expenses, when they’d give it, and how to make it fair.
While we’ve needed to be realistic about how much we will save (and what colleges our kids might actually attend), we’ve followed my dad’s example and started setting aside a little bit each month for our children’s college expenses. Before our kids were old enough to make any money decisions of their own, we also put birthday money they received into their college savings. But now they want to make their own choices, so we need to help them split it between college savings, spending, and giving, similar to what we do with their allowance.
Manage your retirement savings
My parents had me when they were older, so for pretty much my entire adult life, my dad has been retired. As I walk with my parents through this phase of their life, one indirect lesson I’ve learned through the process is that retirement and aging eventually happens to everyone. The whole time I’ve been a working adult, I’ve been aware that this is a stage of life I’ll experience too, Lord willing, so it’s best to be prepared.
Lately, I’ve been hearing more from my dad about how he manages their nest egg. He talks about how they decide how much to take out each year, from which type of retirement account, and what that means for their taxes. While I have to say that I haven’t been keeping close track of the details, I have been taking general mental notes on things to look out for when it comes time for me to make those kinds of decisions for myself.
Give to those in need
From the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the questions my dad asked me was, “What’s your community doing to support people in need?” Like many others, he was very aware that many people were losing their jobs or having their hours cut, and that it would very quickly become hard for those people to pay rent and buy groceries. I think he has special empathy for people in that situation since he has known what it’s like to struggle to make ends meet. As one of seven kids in a family living on a single paycheck, he wore hot, itchy shorts sewn out of used burlap grain sacks because there weren’t other affordable options.
Our church community and our childrens’ school raised money for pandemic funds to provide for families who needed help with basic needs like food and shelter. And my dad and mom joined us in supporting our local communities in this way even though they live in a different part of the state. As the pandemic wore on, my dad continued to ask how we were supporting those in need, even when donating stopped being trendy. They gave more than once, which to me is a characteristic of my dad’s generosity. He’s consistent and he sticks with people. From a young age, I watched my dad write checks as gifts and donations. That was just part of who he is, and I believe that it’s part of his understanding that when we have enough, and especially when we have more than enough, it’s not all for us to keep. It’s meant to be shared.
As I write this, I realize that my dad hardly ever tells me what to do in my financial life. For the most part, he just asks questions and he listens, and that keeps our lines of communication open. But from the questions he asks, I often know what he thinks is the best path! Looking back on these lessons, my main takeaway is to pay attention to the biggest puzzle pieces in our family’s budget. Where our income comes from, how we spend on big ticket items, how we save for long-term goals, and how we share what we have are all pieces that deserve deliberate and intentional thought.
What about you? What have you learned from the father figures or other influential people in your life?