What My Parents Forgot To Tell Me About Money

How we educate our children on things like money is always a tricky and complicated topic.  Here is how mine choose to do it.  I suggest you read it carefully and, for the most part, do exactly the opposite.

Having parents is a great advantage.  What would we do without them?  In addition to the trifle things like giving birth to us, there are others like food, clothing and shelter not to mention an education.

But then in exchange for these things there were those incessant lectures on morality, hard work and determination.

From the moment I first opened my baby brown eyes, I realized that Mom and Dad looked exactly like my grand parents.  Before I had a chance to be young, they were already old.  If they were alive today my father would be 112 and mom 108.  Dad always went for the younger women.  Early on, I sensed that these two geezers would create a unique twist to my life.

My parents married late.  Dad was into his 40’s. Mom was 43 when I was born. By itself having older parents was weird.  How this would weigh on shaping my life would not be known for several years.  In some countries, older people garner greater respect.  Not in this country however.

The reason for bringing up my parents is to illustrate how developments beyond their control molded their attitudes about life.  My father and mother’s life can be visualized like two bookends.

Both of my parents were well educated and upon graduation around 1923-1927 got a whiff of the good life that was dubbed the Roaring 20’s: a time when economic prosperity was raising and the stock market was raising even faster.

Then the abrupt end to the celebrating came in 1929.  What followed was over 16 years of the Great Depression followed by World War II where literally millions of people died ugly and painful deaths.  Never have Americans been through a longer or more financially and spiritually crippling experience.

My older brother and I were ushered into the world at the dawn of optimism and prosperity in the 1950’s.  All around us, children grew taller than their parents, paychecks grew bigger, space travel became a reality, cars had tail fins to look like spaceships and kids grew up aiming to go to college.  The golden rainbow included a job with a giant corporation like General Motors, Eastman Kodak or maybe a technology company like Xerox.

There was no stopping America and nowhere was there any notion that the Camelot we were living in would ever change.  That is what my parents never told and what made them so different.  They never fully recovered from those fifteen years starting in 1929.  They were perpetually cautious.  They never borrowed money, worked hard and lived frugally.  When my mother died at the age of 84, her checking account contained nearly $100,000.  That was the smallest part of her estate.

Ironically she came for a relatively well off family but live most of her life in fear.  When so much of your life is stuck in The Great Depression, it takes a toll.  PTSD hadn’t been identified by then, but it existed nonetheless.

What my parents were unable to tell me about confidence, security and optimism.  Their lives were bookended by prosperity but overwhelmed by war and depression they were unable to think beyond the immediate future.

Part of being a good parent is helping prepare their children with a life plan. Along with that goes the realization that cycles of prosperity and hardships are part of what comes with the territory.

For most of my early life, I was not privy to the family finances.  In that era there were things one did not talk about: Uncle Leo’s drinking, Aunt Lavern’s miscarriage and most of all money.  I made the false assumption that we were borderline impoverished because we lived on the cheep.

The result is that my parents raised a son that majored in finance and the day after receiving a college diploma went straight to Wall Street.  I had had enough of living on the cheep.  For the next 35 years, my life would be all about making money and attempting to live well.  But without confidence and optimism, no amount of money can truly provide security.

They forgot, or simply were unable to mention how the cost of something did not equate to its value. Yes, buying shares of IBM stock at a 30% discount to its Enterprise Value was a great opportunity, but hiking through the woods with your Dad on a crisp October morning at sunrise was pretty awesome as well.  Dedicating time toward the benefit of other less fortunate people has the same value of escape as going away on an expensive vacation.

Fast-forward 50 years to the post Great Recession of 2008.  With two grown sons, I marvel how they are part of a generation that values experiences over material possessions.  I marvel at their confidence.  This is the era of the super small home, where clothing with the Patagonia label is more popular than Ralph Lauren.  No doubt there are things that I forgot to tell my sons, but having the confidence and optimism to appreciate the breadth of life is not one of them.

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