For this Father’s Day, I interviewed my dad about his experiences with money, money lessons, and parenting around personal finance. Here is the transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for greater clarity.
Me: The reason why I targeted you and not mom is that Father’s Day is coming up. What better way to celebrate than to talk to my dad about money? So I’m just going to ask you a few questions about money and when you were growing up, when I was growing up, and see where that takes us.
So, what was your first memory regarding money when growing up?
Dad: My first memory was when I was 6 or 7 years old and I was doing chores; they were very simple chores, like sweeping the front porch or, later on in life, raking the shag carpeting…
Me: Raking the shag carpeting?
Dad: Raking it, yes. You actually raked shag carpeting back then. But basically, I would do any number of chores and get paid little bits of money. My first memory was sweeping the front porch, and I think I got paid a nickel. I know to you, a nickel seems like nothing, but for me in 1966, it meant I could take that nickel to the drugstore, which was behind my house, and buy candy. That was the first memory. When I was a kid, things were quite different in that there weren’t that many reasons for a kid to need money. There weren’t as many activities to do. As I got a little bit older, there was going to the movies or going bowling, but when I was a kid, there was candy. And that’s why I would do chores to make money: in order to buy candy.
Me: And your sweet tooth has stuck ever since.
Dad: It has never slowed down.
Me: I wonder how many nickels you spend on Peanut M&Ms now.
Dad: Oh, lots of nickels. Lots of nickels.
Me: Were there any money lessons that your parents, my grandparents, emphasized to you and your brothers and sister?
Dad: Well, I think one thing that was emphasized was to make your own money. I think with all my brothers and sister, we all had different jobs. My first job was picking up golf balls, which was my first regular job. But I always felt that it was important, as early as I could, to get a job and make my own money.
Me: Do you know why they emphasized that?
Dad: I think that was the culture back then. It was more common for teenagers to have a job. In fact, lately, I’ve heard that the number of kids that have summer jobs has gone down from the past.
Me: Did you ever get any formal money-management education when you were in elementary school or middle school? Like an actual class where a teacher said, this is what money is, and how to spend money or save it?
Dad: No; in fact, I don’t think there was any emphasis put on that in school at all. Not just elementary school, but middle school or high school. I don’t remember any programs or lectures regarding money. A few years after I got out of college, when I was working, I volunteered with Junior Achievement. They wanted people in business to talk to middle school students about money. I remember teaching that course, and I really enjoyed it. And there wasn’t really a set agenda for it; you could talk about whatever topic you wanted to. I talked about the basics of a checking account: how it worked, that you had to put money in to get money out, and if you took out more than you put in then you bounce checks. And it was just a matter of the basics of debit and credit. But when I was in school, there was nothing.
Me: Did they teach the different types of coins or bills when you were in elementary school or anything like that?
Dad: I don’t remember that, but of course, that was 50 years ago. I think that was something you learned at home more so than in school. Again, it was a different time for kids back then. There wasn’t that much you would spend money on. There weren’t cell phones, there weren’t video games, but of course, there were toys. They didn’t have nearly as many toys as kids do nowadays. It just wasn’t that important, as a kid, back in the 60s, as I’m sure it is today.
Me: When you were growing up, did you have any life goals as a kid regarding money? Like, “One day, I’m going to be rich” or something similar? If so, did you have a plan to get there?
Dad: Growing up, I had the example of my father, and he wasn’t great with money. He liked to live a certain lifestyle and stretched things to get there. That was the example I was given while growing up. You should have nice things, enjoy yourself. Now I look back and realize those things don’t really make you happy. If there’s something I wish I would have done differently, it would have been to take a moment before making purchases and think about if I really wanted what I was about to buy. It probably would have kept me from wasting a lot of money.
Me: You did have a lot of cars growing up. Is that sort of what you mean?
Dad: I did. Well, back then, I didn’t spend that much money on cars, because I could buy a car, drive it for 6 months, and then sell it for basically the same [amount] that I paid for it. They didn’t depreciate as much back then, and they weren’t nearly as expensive as they are now. That’s probably a pretty good example of one of my indulgences that I overdid.
Me: Can you remember any money messages from when you were a kid? Any advertisements, pop culture, words of wisdom, whether as a teenager or younger kid, where money seemed really pervasive?
Dad: I don’t remember anything specific. I do remember messages about saving money. I didn’t follow them that well. I had a hole in my pocket sometimes. I’d have money in my pocket, but it wouldn’t stay there. I don’t think there was as focused a message then as now. I think it’s better now for young people.
Me: Hmm, I feel like there’s also a more concentrated message when it comes to getting young people to spend money, like advertisements for toys and gadgets.
Dad: Absolutely. And that probably outweighs the messages of saving. There are more messages of spending and trying to get you to spend money than there are to save.
Me: Was there any toy or thing that you saw on TV, the radio or print advertisements that you just had to have?
Dad: Bicycles were very important. I remember when I was a young teenager, probably 12-13 years old, there were the Schwinn 10-speed bicycles with the curved handlebars. I would have given my left arm, back then, if I could have afforded the really nice Schwinn. I had an off-brand one, which was certainly fine for what I did, but there was certainly a little bit of jealousy when I saw my friends with a better bicycle than I had.
Money Lessons in Parenting
Me: I’m going to switch from when you were a kid to raising me. Was there any money advice that you really tried to emphasize to me? I guess this will be a test of how well I listened. When I was growing up, what did you try to emphasize with me in terms of money management?
Dad: Well, you had a couple of advantages that I didn’t have, as far as the time you were growing up versus the time I was growing up. I remember when you were in grade school [Our Lady of Good Hope] and had the credit union. You would put money into that. Of course, it wasn’t a great deal of money, but you had the practice of saving money, putting money into a bank account. Quite honestly, I don’t remember having a bank account when I was young. I think you had a certain amount of pride that you had a savings account and your own money. And you weren’t too set on getting into it. For a couple of years, you were putting money in and I doubt you took any money out. I tried to give you advice in terms of saving money. I wasn’t the best example for you, but you had the chance of doing what I screwed up on: saving when you’re young, letting it grow with compound interest. I think I tried to give you that message.
Me: Is there any money message that you don’t think took?
Dad: I probably gave you messages verbally and then didn’t do them myself. I probably diluted the lesson by not being a better example.
Me: Were there any times where you could tell I had an “Aha!” moment about money or finances?
Dad: When you were in high school and started to work, I think you appreciated the fact that you wanted to make money that was your money. I think you were always uncomfortable when people gave you money without reason. You felt better when you had money that you earned and when you spent it, you were confident that it was money you earned.
Me: I would definitely say that I am uncomfortable accepting money gifts. Is there anything from when I was younger? This is probably one of my first money memories: I remember when Grandma used to give me savings bonds instead of something else in my birthday cards. I didn’t quite understand what those were and it took me a while. But I figured it out, and those actually helped me pay for college textbooks at one point.
Dad: Yeah, I forgot about that. Grandma gave you better advice than I gave you, although savings bonds are really a bad investment as far as return. They aren’t easy to cash, which is sometimes a benefit in itself they weren’t readily accessible.
Me: Is there a money lesson or piece of advice that you wish you had emphasized more with me?
Dad: Well, I wish I had emphasized more of the “take a pause, take a deep breath;” really decide whether you want to spend the money. Is it really going to be satisfying to you, is it really something you want, or is it going to be something in a few days you’re going to regret? Yeah, I really wasted that $20. I should have emphasized that more, and I wish I had emphasized savings even more than I did.
I do have one more piece of advice that I hope you know. The most important thing is that money will pay the bills, but stuff won’t make you happy. Living within your means and having enough to not worry about your expenses are important, but at the end of the day, the stuff won’t lead to happiness. If you stay within your means, you’ll be less stressed and worried as you would be if you’re constantly overspending.
Me: That’s a good point. I know we touched on this earlier, but are there any money-management decisions you regret or wish you would have done differently, knowing what you know now?
Dad: Absolutely. I would have done more to put money in my 401(k)s and setting myself up for retirement much better than I have done. It is so important to start early and get into the habit of putting money into the 401(k) or whatever vehicle you are using to save for retirement. If you start early, you have it made. It’s something very difficult to do and catch up on later in life because you don’t have time on your side. That’s definitely my biggest regret. Also, just being more careful with money generally. I think you are a little bit more thoughtful with money than I am, and I’ve seen plenty of signs of it where you’re a bit more cautious with money.
Me: One more question: Can I borrow $20?
Dad: Um, no. You can’t borrow $20, but if you need $20, I’ll give it to you. If I lend it to you, I’d expect it to be repaid!
Me: *Laughing* Thanks, Dad. Happy Father’s Day. Love you.
Dad: Love you, too.
About the Author/Interviewer
Ian Redman is the Communications and Development Program Coordinator for Credit Abuse Resistance Education (CARE). After graduating from George Washington University, Ian ran his own consulting firm working in local politics. Ian moved on from politics to focus on his first passion: helping students. He found CARE and decided to share his own student loans story. As of posting, his private student loan debt is $81,546.50.