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Money lessons from Dad

By Barbara Whelehan ·
Friday, June 18, 2010
Posted: 9 am ET

In preparation for Father's Day, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling sent out a release stating that 41 percent of Americans learn personal finance skills from their parents. That stat comes from its 2010 Financial Literacy Survey.

My parents have opposite money personalities, and I've learned from both of them.

The other day my dad, 81, said to me, "Your mom enjoys spending money, and I enjoy saving it and watching it grow. But now, I really don't care what happens to it. If we don't spend it, you'll get it and you'll spend it."

I replied that they should spend it, and that I don't have plans to leave a lot of money behind for anyone. In fact, I hope to save enough to at least get me through retirement.

Different priorities

My dad worked for a farm equipment manufacturing company for 35 years, so he has a pension and health benefits. The pension payout is modest, but consistent for 25 years and counting. Between the pension, Social Security and my parents' savings -- that three-legged stool financial experts talk about -- my parents have enough to meet expenses. Their house is paid for. They don't travel much and they eat home-cooked meals. They don't have expensive hobbies. And they're content with their 20-year-old, no-frills television set. A couple years ago they splurged on two new cars and a computer. Their favorite store is Walmart.

By contrast, my husband and I play golf, but not during the winter when rates are too high. We dine out once a week. We usually take a surfing vacation to Costa Rica in summer. We have a mortgage and an HDTV. We are saving for retirement, but not to the maximum extent possible.

Great gift

I don't remember too many money discussions between my parents when I was growing up. Every summer when my brother and I were kids, the family would travel by car from Illinois to Florida to visit my grandfather for two weeks.

I didn't know until fairly recently that my parents pretty much kept their finances separate. Dad paid the household expenses. Mom would use her earnings to buy me and my brother clothes during our youth. Her generosity extended into my adulthood. After I got married, she bought me a set of fine china and crystalware.

The greatest gift my parents gave me was a college education. After I graduated, I approached my dad, telling him I'd like to go on to get a master's degree. He said, "You would? Uh. OK." And that was it. I went to school for another year.

I didn't realize until much later in life what may have been going through my dad's head when he hesitated for a second there. My daughter graduated in December and recently mentioned that she'd like to get her master's degree. I said, "What for?" I failed to rise to the occasion like my dad did.

But then, I'd never be able to fill his shoes.

To all dads out there, Happy Father's Day!

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1 Comment
June 18, 2010 at 7:31 pm

My mom and dad saved their entire lives and while on a teachers salary they managed to amass quite a tidy sum. Unfortunately my dad passed away before he was ever able to really enjoy it like he should have. Now my mom continues on in her frugal ways so that she can leave it to us children. We want HER to spend it (well 2 out of 3 of us do, I have a sister that would take it all if we let her). We try and try with my mother but she is a tough bird to crack!