Financial literacy

Financial Literacy: What My Father Taught Me About Finances

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In honor of Father’s Day, I wanted to pay tribute to my father and all that he taught me. Sadly, finances wouldn’t be on the list. In truth, my father was a bit hit-and-miss at money management. He was even worse with passing along any sense of financial literacy. 

The Preface

Before I go into details on the financial lessons I learned from my father, I should probably preface this post with a bit about the man I called “Daddy.”.

First, you should know that my father was a mama’s boy. He lived with his mother until he married my mother when he was 27. There are reasons for sticking with his mom so long that I won’t go into. Next, you should know my parent’s wedding was of the shot-gun variety. An unplanned pregnancy, even in the summer of love (1969), was still considered taboo especially if the young woman was from the south. Lastly, it should be noted that my father was an alcoholic and the tragically unhappy kind. I can only speculate on the depression that fueled his drinking but needless to say his drinking had a profound impact on his marriage and his role as parent.

I will also caveat all of what follows with the following facts. My brother, sister and I never starved. We always had a roof over our head. We had friends and did well in school. My siblings and I loved each other and fought like cats and dogs just like any other family. My parents surely had happy times amidst the bad. Despite our family drama (and there was a lot), the three of us children emerged pretty damn ok.

The Relationship

As far as my personal relationship with my father, I’d be lying if I said it was good. It wasn’t. My disapproval of him skyrocketed after my mother’s unexpected death when I was 17. (Sister was 13, brother was 9.) After suffering such a devastating loss, we needed him to step up, get sober, and provide for us. (In hindsight, I suppose he did what he could despite his continued alcohol abuse.) I spent numerous years in therapy trying to work through my anger, disappointment, and resentment for my dad. I spent much longer trying to process the shock and grief of losing a beloved mother at such a tender age.

It was only much later in his life that I came to terms with my father at all.

How you ask? Quite simply, I finally accepted that he was who he was. I could view him from an adult perspective instead of a child’s view. And what I saw was so very pathetic and sad. It was pure pity that salvaged any semblance of a relationship with him.

His own passing was excruciatingly drawn out and sad. His alcoholism and smoking caught up with him with a vengeance. It caused him and our family to suffer in ways I wouldn’t wish upon my mortal enemy. And yet, my dad passed with 2 of his 3 children at his side. (I was not there.)

The Lessons

It’s been years now since my father passed. What I feel for him is still complex but yet somehow resolved.

I feel thankful to the man that taught me about tools and how to change a tire. I respect the dad who inspired me to pursue science and education. He taught me to drive a boat, a car, how to waterski and so much more. The poor man even tried to talk to a motherless teenage girl about sex and romance.

As far as his lack of passing down financial literacy to his children, I can imagine he received little education about money from his own parents. Being an alcoholic widow with three kids at the age of 45 must have sucked–but I do wish that he had taught me more about managing money.

If I shift my perspective a bit, maybe he did.

He taught me what not to do.

What I Learned About Finances From My Father

Prepare For the Unexpected

The Wedding

As a young girl, I loved hearing stories of my parent’s wedding. The handsome groom. The beautiful young bride.

I thought I was odd that my mother’s wedding dress wasn’t in the closet. Apparently, it was a borrowed gown. My parent’s wedding was strategically scheduled after another wedding at our small-town church so they could “re-purpose” the flowers and decor. (Ah, the ingenuity of shot-gun weddings and lack of financial resources.)

Granted my dad was only 27 but he obviously had little to no money stashed away. Of course, the same could be said for my mother’s family. Let’s chock this one up to “whatcha gonna do?” Nine months later, enter me…the baby decidedly NOT in the black.

The Fire

When I was 9, our house was destroyed in a house fire a week before Christmas. Obviously, this was a traumatizing event for the entire family. Fortunately, this one has a positive outcome. My parents DID have insurance on the house and we were able to build a bigger and better home on the same plot of land. So, much kudos for young parents keeping up on the home insurance premiums. Thank God.

The Funeral

Another example of being caught completely by surprise was my mother’s passing. Life insurance? Nope. Savings? Nope. My father borrowed money from his best friend to cover my mother’s funeral and burial costs. Embarrassing for everyone involved? Yes.

Now to his credit, he did take out life insurance policies on each of his children shortly thereafter and paid the premiums until we were 18. I still have mine. Throughout ALL of my financial ups and downs, I paid that fucking premium. I swore I’d never put anyone through that level of shame at the time my death.

Plow Any Unexpected Windfall Into Savings

I know this next bit sounds like I made it up. When I was in college, my dad inherited some substantial amount of cash from some distant great-aunt. It was a complete and utter surprise windfall. After years of struggling financially, one kid in college and two lined up behind her, what does dad do? Blows it.

Now I can say I got a sporty little Geo Metro convertible out of the deal. My sister got a panel station wagon (we need one practical car) and my dad got a red t-top Firebird. Swear to God. I believe the house get upgrades to its deocr and the stereo system got fancy new blast-the-roof-off tower speakers. My dad also bought himself a high-end electronic keyboard although he didn’t play piano and only had 9 fingers. Honestly, I don’t recall what precisely my brother got in this deal but I imagine it was equally frivolous.

I can understand the temptation to blow any increase in income or unexpected windfall. In fact, I fall pretty solidly into the Entitled Bitch-type of shopper. But I learned that it’s too easy to make unwise decisions. The cash just evaporated.

I try to this remember this every time my pay increases or I receive unexpected money.

Credit Cards are Evil

Surprisingly, my father actually bailed me out of credit card debt once. He and I agree that it was a loan and I was to pay him back. I did make payment faithfully to him….until I didn’t. He seemed OK with that and probably thought I’d learned by lesson. But, God damn it, I didn’t. I wracked up credit debt and least two more times in my life after that. (I have a post about denouncing the devil on earth.) Now I appreciate his bail out but don’t really recall the “credit cards are evil” speech. Maybe because he didn’t know himself–but I wish he had. It would have saved me lots of pain and even more interest in years to come.

Value Your Assets

Once all his children has left the nest, my father’s finance’s were in bad shape. I don’t recall him having a stable job for over a decade. He lost jobs due to his drinking. He tried being a self-employed handyman. He even tried selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door.

In a last-ditch effort to solve his financial problems, my dad sold our family home.

Now, before you get wound up about his decision, I’ll say that I don’t really blame him (although it hurt a lot.) It was how he did it that killed me. He let it go for FAR below market value. I don’t know if he didn’t understand the value of the home/property (with lake and dock rights no less) or he didn’t care. Either way, he practically gave our home away for pennies on a dollar. (I don’t even know what become of that damn Firebird but I can assume a similar situation.)

Desperation for money forced him to sell his biggest asset. And that fucking sucks no matter how you look at it.

Leave Something Behind For Your Children

Obviously, my father was not a wealthy man. And when he passed, I expected to inherit nothing except the possibility of outstanding hospital bills. But daddy could pull rabbits out of his hat–even from beyond the grave it turns out. Dad not only had some life insurance stowed away but he had a huge pension stashed away that he never touched. My siblings and I split $197 a month for some incredibly long period of time (30 years?).

We all have depended on this small amount of money at one point in our lives. And God bless him, I think of him every time I receive that beneficiary check. I’m honestly impressed that he had something to leave his children. I’m thankful he gifted us with monthly reminders of his love for us.

The Wrap-Up

My father was no saint–but he was really just one of those fresh-from-the-package new souls that can’t for the life of them figure out the ways of the world. He was a party-boy 20-something who got saddled with responsibility he wasn’t ready for. But he also was my daddy and while I didn’t always like him, I loved him.

To all the fathers out there and all the daughters who are finding their way toward a profitable life without them, and to everyone else as well, Happy Father’s Day.

Jesus, more Kleenex please. What did your father teach you about money? How did your parent’s attitude or life experiences influence your money management skills? How do you ensure your child’s financial literacy. 

Note: Photo courtesy Nancy Kluck, a family friend. My dad is sitting top row, middle. Nancy is on the far right. 

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8 comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your story! We see so many “perfect” families and fathers depicted during holiday weekends, from both big advertisers and Insta/Twitter/Facebook/social that it takes bravery to share the messy, complex, beauty that is real life.

    I love the lessons you shared with us, too! Saving windfalls is one of my favorites. I learned a lot about money from my parents, but I think the most meaningful lesson for me, from my dad came at 5 year old. He explained that the local bank would *pay me* in exchange for my savings. This magic thing called “interest” blew my mind and encouraged me to save.

    1. Thanks. It took me a long time to embrace being the good daughter to a not-so-good father. But he did love me and teach me many things. Money just wasn’t one of them!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing with us. Everyone has a different experience in life, and there’s no way to know them all. But the glimpse into what you’ve gone through is appreciated. I’m glad that you’re at a place where you’ve been able to reconcile what happened – and that (it sounds like) you haven’t let the bad completely tarnish the good : ) And that you’ve learnt all those things from him!

    My parents were both young(ish) when they had my brother (Dad 27, Mum 22), and I was born the first year they were in Canada (where they arrived with some pocket-money, a year of minimal government stipend, and a pile of luggage) – I’m beyond grateful of what they’ve done for us and the life they’ve built since then. They’re 100% the reason that I’m the way I am today, and I can’t thank them enough for it. If only I can be a fraction of the role model they’ve been to me, I think I’ll do okay.

    1. Thanks amazing to have such supportive parents! Appreciate it everyday…and then some. Having your parents be role models is truly a gift.

  3. Beautiful and heart wrenching story Lady. Wow. Really feel for you, your siblings, and your Dad. Alcoholism has devastated our family a few times too. But losing your mother so young…..God. I hope you guys all heal well and live fullfilling lives.

    1. Sigh. There’s lots of lurking pain. The worst is raising a child with no grandparents. But I had love as a child and have forgiven the past. FUTURE focus is my jam now! Thanks, Brent.

    1. That’s why I wrote it. Just like money and mental illness, family dysfunction has been a taboo subject for too long. Thank your for your comment!

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