15 Financial Lessons Learned From Our Fathers
Happy Fathers' Day weekend! Our Mother’s Day post really struck a chord with readers, so for Fathers’ Day the Halpern Financial team is remembering the lessons our fathers taught us about money.
From the value of a dollar to the value of time spent joyriding on the highway, our fathers taught us what it means to have a rich life—and in more than a financial sense.
President and Wealth Advisor
1. Prioritize needs over wants.
My dad helped me realize that you need to focus on family and their needs above your own. You may want some stuff —new golf clubs, a guys’ weekend away or a sports car….but family first! He delayed his personal satisfaction till others had theirs! He made sure to fund things for his kids—family vacations, sports, parties, summer activities and college. It had to be hard, but we didn’t know it. I would add to be sure to have a careful budget too. Cover your bases with insurance planning and be cognizant of what might happen in your life.
Melissa Sotudeh, CFP®
2. Knowledge is priceless.
My dad always said that you must finish your degree no matter what occupation you plan to pursue. He truly valued education and a constant pursuit of knowledge. His motto is “if you’re learning you’re living.” So the investment of time and money in education is priceless.
3. Experiences are more valuable than material things.
To this day, my father doesn’t accumulate ‘stuff’ (other than books). Growing up in a college town, there were always free things to do….museums, festivals, hiking, camping, or swimming in the lake.
You can probably tell that money is not a big part of my dad’s life but I can honestly say that he has lived and is living a very rich life, which I think is a very valuable lesson!
Kirsty Peev, CFP®
4. Think about where your money can do the most good….or avoid the most harm.
When I was in college, I had a little bit of money in my bank account, and wanted to use it for something totally frivolous. With the wisdom of youth, I told my Dad I was either going to spend it to come to America, or buy a motorcycle. He said to me, "You are LESS likely to die in America than on a motorcycle; you should use the money for that." I did just that—I ended up staying here for good and purely from an opportunity and monetary standpoint, it has been the wisest investment I ever made!
5. Invest in yourself—make your brain your biggest investment!
People often say that your home is the biggest investment you can make—however investing in yourself (education, advanced training, skills) can make you a lot more money than a house can!
6. Remember what you used to live on.
When your income increases, try not to have your expenses increase in lock-step. Some increase is natural, but don’t just spend more because you are getting more. On the same note, don’t go too crazy when your income is high— there are no guarantees about how long it will last. Build the appropriate emergency fund, but then keep saving and investing.
7. Be generous.
I thank my dad for showing me how to be charitable. His actions of donating either monetary means or time for those that are in need were valuable lessons that have help shape me. He taught me that giving and having compassion for others will make your heart and mind rich while meeting interesting people and hearing their stories along the way.
8. Be aware of the economic environment around you.
Simple lessons of saving cash and avoiding debt are not as simple when you are growing up in a high inflationary environment as I did in the '80s and '90s in Poland. I remember my dad telling me not to save cash. What? Not many kids heard this growing up, but with inflation typically ranging from 10%-70% annually, and some years spiking as high as 585%, my dad told me not to stash my cash and buy something that can hold its value.
Fast forward 30 years and a degree in economics I still consider the impact of inflation on saving, and although it is small, I would still look for alternatives to cash that hold value or generate growth. The same with debt. A sustainable level of debt at low fixed rate has many benefits, especially with rising inflation. When you look at your household finances always take into consideration the unique economic environment you are in.
9. Be thrifty, but don’t be afraid to have fun too.
During his life, my father was very ambitious with his free time. He taught me how to save money when purchasing a car or a boat. “Never Buy New” was his belief. He enjoyed refurbishing old boats and automobiles in his spare time, after work and on weekends. He always had a project going, such as fiber glassing the bottom of a boat in the backyard, just in time for summer fishing, or cleaning spark plugs so a car engine could run smoother. My father was very proud of his projects. He never bought a brand new car, and saved thousands on buying slightly used when it came time. Basically, for my dad a car was a way to get from point A to point B safely.
However, my favorite memory was learning how to drive in his yellow 1970 Camaro he had brought back to life (possibly maybe a midlife crisis car?). One day when he was teaching me to merge into traffic on Interstate 95, he said, “Just FLOOR it Susan!” Woohoo! Off we went 0 to 60 in a few seconds! Well, that experience instilled my love for fast cars! Affordable fast cars! He was by far, the coolest dad in the neighborhood at that time. Happy Father’s Day to my beloved Dad!
Communications & PR Coordinator
10. Invest in skills that set you apart.
During the dot-com boom of the 90s, my dad dabbled in web design as a side business. He always encouraged me to not only be tech-savvy, but learn more than the average person would about any given topic. I remember when I was about 7, he wanted me to become Microsoft Word certified “for my resume,” and he gave me a phone-book-sized manual to study. Later on, I remember poring through equally weighty Photoshop manuals with him to learn how to create logos and buttons for my own website and edit my artwork that I scanned in to the computer. I never did take the test for the Microsoft Word certification, but my skills in document and graphic design came in pretty handy as an editor and writer!
11. Follow your passion.
My father and I share a love of exploring the Maryland countryside, though our vehicles of choice differ—his being a Trek Madone racing bike, and mine being an ex-racehorse named Lefty. Though in financial terms, our investment of time and money has a negative return, the value we each get from spending time doing our favorite thing in the world is priceless. My dad taught me that if you are lucky enough to know what you really want to do in life (whether it's a hobby or a career), you should not let anything stop you. He also showed me how important it is to be supportive of others as they pursue their passion. Even if you don't fully understand it, taking an interest in what makes someone tick can lead to opportunities you otherwise never would have encountered.
Jennifer Davis, CFP®
12. The world is your oyster.
My father fostered my realistic yet unfettered optimism in career choices and life: You can do anything you want—as long as there is demand (someone is willing to pay you for it), it’s rare (everyone else isn’t doing it), and you’re willing to work hard for it. These principles still guide me today.
13. Only buy what you can afford.
If you don’t have the cash, you have no business spending. I don’t think I can ever fully appreciate how this disciplined mentality has helped me avoid problems with debt.
14. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
This also has helped me avoid countless scams and pitfalls over my lifetime. Every time I hear of yet another victim of scammers and clever but cruel marketing schemes this lesson is reinforced and I’m grateful to have internalized it at a young age.
15. Chase opportunity.
My grandfather taught me that when you find someone who currently is what you want to become, speak with them. If they are hiring or not, don’t worry. Do your research, have your resume ready, find a way to meet them face to face, and show them you’re genuine. At worst, you are right back where you started. But who knows, they may offer you a job, an interview, or a few pieces of valuable advice.
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