Yes, Dad, You Did Actually Teach Me A Few Things

In honor of Father’s Day this Sunday, I thought I’d relay some lessons my father has taught me (consciously or not) throughout the years.

Don’t spend more than you earn.

This seems obvious, but evidence says many of us forget this. It’s hard to not take advantage of easy credit when you know the minimum payment will be easy to make, but that’s short-term thinking. More BIG mistakes, financial and otherwise, are made from a lack of patience and planning than anything else.

You’re the older brother so you’re the one who gets into trouble.

I definitely learned this one early and often. I had a sister who loved to play with her older brother….until she didn’t. I would always lose the “he-said/she-said” which taught me a major lesson: there are things you can’t control that will create unfair situations for you (like a three year old sister’s volatile temperament, for example). Of course this relates to our financial future as well. The market will do what it does, tax law will be what it is, and hundreds of other variables you have no control over will affect you. Dwelling on the “unfairness” of it all won’t help, but the next lesson will.

Be solutions oriented.

Focus on what you can control to improve your situation. Diagnosing the root of a problem can be helpful, but there is a fine line between useful analysis and wallowing in victimhood. We should all push for more fairness when we see injustices, but at the same time we can look to variables within our control to find a workable solution.

Of course, in my dad’s case not every attempt at solving a problem worked out, but the important part was that he was looking for a solution. For example, it turns out the answer to stubbing your toe is not kicking a hole in the wall in a knee-jerk reaction. We live and we learn.

It’s much easier to admit you were wrong than to lie to others or yourself.

Oh boy. This one still hurts. I was a good kid growing up and in my estimation I only deserved to get in real trouble once (okay, maybe two or three times). Unfortunately I did get in trouble that time I deserved it, but it had almost nothing to do with the actual crime of breaking curfew. My error was lying about why when my dad already knew the real answer. It turns out parents really do know more than their kids which is an equation I’m looking forward to being on the other side of as my children grow up.

I’ve seen a lot of people lie to others and themselves when it comes to money too. We pass the blame on money mistakes (lying to ourselves) and feel the urge to “keep up with the Jones’s” (lying to others). We all make mistakes and your life is far easier when you recognize and own up to them.

Gratitude goes a long way.

My dad will be the first to admit the company he founded from nothing wouldn’t be what it is today without the help of a lot of key people along the way (my mom being first and foremost). I’m not sure there’s a direct financial lesson here, but it’s good advice nonetheless.

Do the right thing and your situation will very likely turn out well.

Related to gratitude, my dad has taught me that generosity and just “doing the right thing” will work out for you in the end. Almost thirty years ago, he was a traditional stock broker who was discovering he liked the business, but not the business model and sales culture that were inherent to finance in the 1980’s. He decided to start teaching classes to people on how to avoid the pitfalls in the finance industry with no crystal clear vision of what TCI would eventually turn into and here we are 27 years later with the good fortune of being a part of thousands of family’s financial success.

Taking positive action with respect to your family and your community is never the wrong move.

When your mother is cleaning the house, you have two options: help or leave the house.

There’s definitely no financial lesson here, but it’s burned into my memory nonetheless. Don’t get in my mom’s way when she has a vacuum in her hand.

You have an obligation to give back.

I’d like to think I learned this lesson when my parents would make my sister and I give away half of our Halloween candy to “the poor”. We later found out “the poor” were my mom’s fellow TUSD teachers to which her reply was, “So I wasn’t technically lying to you.” I’m guessing, though, it’s become more ingrained in me as I’ve seen the generosity of my parents over the years.

I wrote a much longer blog post on this a while back, but I was taught that if you’re fortunate enough to be financially successful that you have an obligation to give back what you can. I’d encourage you to put serious thought into this as well. It’s perhaps the most important lesson I was taught, with one exception…

Put expiration dates on your Father’s Day coupons.

The go-to gift for my sister and I when we were growing up was a coupon book for my dad. One Free Hug….One Hour of Yardwork…One Free Foot Rub…things like that. It was a wonderful gift because we could draw pictures, claim that it was more valuable because we put so much thought into it (we didn’t really), and then expect that almost none of them would actually be cashed in. It was a good scam we were running.

On Father’s Day a few years ago my dad told us he had something special to share with us. He went into his closet and pulled out an old shoebox. My sister and I, not used to my dad being serious or sentimental, were brimming with anticipation—perhaps it’s some old family heirloom or letters he wrote to us long ago that he was saving for the perfect time, we thought. Nope. It was about fifty coupons—with no expiration date—that he was ready to cash in. That’s playing the long game right there. Even then he was teaching me the power of time and I can’t wait to teach my own kids the same lesson!

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