[Author’s Note: Just a quick encouragement to listen to the weekly podcast, as it is meant to be a complement to the written. Listen as we discuss and expand on the topics introduced in the written. We find that we can go a bit deeper in the 20-minute discussion than we are able to in the 1,000 words we share here.]
The Choice is Yours
I recently watched the movie Race, the story of Olympian Jesse Owens. One particular scene stood out to me. Coach Larry Snyder is advising Owens on life/relationship decisions, and he warns, “The choices you’re making right now won’t even feel like choices until it’s too late.”
I couldn’t shake that statement. The truth of it haunted me a bit. Whether we realize it or not, the micro-decisions we make today will have an impact on our future. Yet, the size of that impact can only be measured and realized in hindsight.
Helping or Hindering
These thoughts came on the heels of a discussion that Sean Latimer and I had on last week’s podcast about 529 plans. We wrestled with the reality that each of us – in one sense or another – struggled to pay our way through college and we both wanted to spare our kids from that same struggle. We wondered whether these 529 plans would be hindering or helping. Was it, in fact, these very struggles that built our character and work ethic? Where would we be today if we were eased from those struggles?
As a parent, these are weighty decisions. Whether your kids are toddlers or young adults, or even nearing retirement themselves, you have to be conscious about how you teach them about money and how you help them with money. Why? Because “The choices you’re making right now won’t even feel like choices until it’s too late.”
You are the Teacher
As it often is with personal finance, these decisions are very personal. For that reason, I don’t intend to give you a “12-easy-steps to teaching your kids about money” article. Rather I’d like to remind you that your own decisions about money are THE very lessons you are teaching your kids about money. Your kids have a front-row seat in the classroom you conduct each day – your life.
With that said, I, too, have had a front-row seat to watch lots of money decisions, the reality of my career choice. A blessing in a sense, as I get to collect and apply all the good ideas I see out there. Like an old boss once told me, “Success leaves clues.”
Today I will share two examples of money lessons that I found impactful, and I hope this discussion will inspire you to slow down and be thoughtful about the lessons you are passing down.
The Widow’s Offering
Early on in my career, I had the blessing of serving a woman who had recently lost her husband. It was in her moment of grief that I picked up a money lesson that I’ve applied in my own life ever since.
As a Christian, I’ve heard lots of different guidance on what being charitable looks like. I’ve always been encouraged to be a cheerful giver. I’ve heard debates on whether people should give a tithe (10%) on their income before taxes or after taxes, and many of the other debates you could imagine on the topic. Honestly, as a young man, I often just found myself lost and confused on this subject.
In the midst of consolidating inherited retirement accounts, retitling everything into a single name, and depositing the life insurance death benefit check for my recently widowed client, I got a simple lesson on what being charitable really looks like. Her initial reaction wasn’t to be concerned about how she’d stretch these monies to provide for herself, but rather she just asked me to set aside 10% of everything as her intent was to give it away.
She kept it simple. No debates, no complex math, no overthinking. She settled on parsing off 90% for herself to live on and 10% as her tithe. For me, the most impactful part was (1) the lack of hesitation, (2) the lack of stress and (3) the abundance of faith she exuded.
I hope that I can portray this money lesson to my children regularly. I hope they will be charitable and inclined to share the abundance they are blessed with.
The Lake House
This next money lesson caught me by surprise. I was in conversation with a coworker, and I complimented her on what I thought was a Mary Poppins necklace. She laughed and corrected me. The necklace was the shape of a specific lake (not Mary Poppins), a lake where her family has a home.
Over the next few years, I would learn more about this lake house. I’d learn about regular family gatherings. I’d see pictures of the festivities and hear stories of all the memories that this home represented. I’d learn about how ownership was passed down and the reverence and care that the 3rd generations had for this home. I even saw some footage of the youthful 4th generation enjoying the lake house for the first time.
This was more than a home. This place was part of the family. And what a beautiful way to pass down wealth.
My wife is an amazing gift-giver. I always want to just write a check or give a gift card, but she aims for something personal and meaningful for the recipient. I got the same feeling when it came to this lake house; it was a personal and meaningful bequest to the next generation, not just another gift card.
I can’t say that I’ve applied this money lesson yet in my own life, but I aspire to create a place like this for my family and for the many generations to come.
The Burden of Wealth
I’m writing this article as my family is wrapping up our own vacation in Kauai. I’ve had to remind my two boys (ages 3 and 4) multiple times not to feed the birds. There are lots of hens and roosters roaming around in Kauai. As you’d imagine, these inquisitive little boys wanted to know why they weren’t allowed to feed the chickens. I told them (1) that the birds would keep coming back for more (along with their friends), which is annoying and (2) that the birds would become dependent on us for food, and they needed to learn to fend for themselves. I’m sure you are connecting the dots here, this truth extends further than wildlife. We, as parents, need to walk that tightrope of teaching our children good money lessons and not stifling their growth by over-helping.
Financial wisdom is something you mature into, not something you obtain instantly. We’ve seen the unfortunate accounts of lotto winners and professional athletes squandering wealth.
I recently listened to a podcast series on the rise and fall of a very prominent Christian leader. One of the interviewed guests referenced this idea of charisma outpacing character and the dangers this presents. I believe there is a complementary truth here that you don’t want wealth to outpace stewardship. Getting too much, too fast, can be the recipe for disaster.
Your Financial Legacy
A lot to digest here, a lot to ponder. Like Coach Snyder said, “The choices you’re making right now won’t even feel like choices until it’s too late.” Your life is a living financial testimony that your children will look to for guidance. The number one bestseller in personal finance on Amazon right now? Rich Dad, Poor Dad, a biographical account of this very truth. I say this not to promote the book but to simply highlight how key this idea is to being a financial role model for your children.
Again, as I said earlier, personal finance is personal. You will need to be deliberate and personalize a plan and strategy for how you want to pass down your financial legacy. You should aspire to pass down more than checks and gift cards – the lessons and heirlooms (lake houses and the such) will be the meaningful remembrances you leave behind.
Be thoughtful; be intentional.