school grade

Filling Out Dad’s Financial Report Card

For most of us, our number one source of financial instruction is our parents.  Some parents make the effort to actually teach their kids about money.  But all parents teach either good lessons or bad through their example.

With Father’s Day occurring this weekend, I thought it would be interesting to consider: How did your dad do with the whole money thing?

My dad, who passed away in 2004, left a very positive overall legacy.  I’ve written before about how proud I am of his service in World War Two, flying 35 missions as navigator of a B-17 Bomber from a base in southern Italy.

But when I think about his legacy in financial terms, there are three key aspects of how he and my mom dealt with money that stand out.

Teaching Wise Money Management

It pains me to give my parents a bad grade, but I have to give them a D in this area.  I don’t remember them ever sitting us down and teaching us about savings, investing, generosity, budgeting, and such.  Since both of my parents were teachers, that seems especially ironic.

This is something we’re trying to do differently with our kids.  After all, I’m not only a teacher, but I’m a personal finance teacher.  I definitely don’t want to be the financial equivalent of the cobbler whose kids have no shoes!

Modeling Wise Money Management

In this area, my parents get an A+.  To the best of my knowledge, my parents never struggled with debt.  They were simply in the habit of living within their means.

Driving modest cars for most of their lives and otherwise living frugally enabled them to build a nice home, take us on a vacation every summer, pay for half of my brother’s and my college educations, and otherwise do a good job of providing for our needs.

One factor that was really important is I don’t remember ever hearing my parents fight about money.

Choosing a Career Path

When I think about how my parents managed money, there was one big decision they made – one key turning point – that really stands out: my dad’s decision to switch careers.

After finding success in both industrial design and advertising, he decided that what he really wanted to do was to teach.  Northern Illinois University hired him as an instructor, the lowest rung on the academic ladder.  Leaving his position as founding art director of an ad agency in Michigan required a significant cut in pay and prestige.

I was only six at the time and I can’t remember having very strong feelings about the move.  As I got older, though, that decision became something I greatly admired, and still do.  He followed his heart to do something that made a difference in other people’s lives.

I also admired my mom for supporting the decision, even though it involved some pain.  When we drove into our new town, my mom cried.  It was the dead of summer.  The lawns were burned out, and we had left behind some great neighbors and other friends.

But we build a life there, a good life.  My dad taught for 25 years, working his way up to full professor, and twice being named one of the school’s best teachers by a vote of the students.  My mom taught at several of DeKalb’s elementary schools, earned her Master’s Degree, and then worked with special needs students.

My dad’s choice of careers also enabled him to be home for dinner most nights, something I’m sure I took for granted as a kid, but now I see how valuable that is.  He also had most summers off and we took numerous family trips – mostly driving trips, but also a one-month trip to Europe.

The decision to move your family for career reasons isn’t easy.  Multiple lives are impacted.  There are plenty of kids who resent their parents for moving.

I know that my dad wasn’t just thinking of himself as he managed his career.  He once had an opportunity to become the head of the art department at a different university in another part of the country.  It would have been a great way to cap his career, but he turned it down mostly because of a situation in the area’s public school system that would have left my brother and me spending lots of time being bussed to and from a school far away.

A Great Father’s Day Gift That’s Free

As I think about my dad this Father’s Day, the two emotions I feel most strongly are pride and gratitude. Especially for a guy who grew up without a dad (his dad died when my dad was very young), I’d say he did a pretty remarkable job.

If your dad is still around, a great gift this Father’s day would be to tell him about a decision he made that you’re proud of.  Or, if there’s a decision he made that you’ve always resented, what an amazing gift it would be if this was the year that you let it go and told him you forgive him.

If your dad is anything like mine, he did the best that he could.  And as he and your mom made some of those big life decisions, it’s a safe bet that they considered the potential impact on you even more than you realize.

How did your dad do with the whole money thing?

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6 Responses to Filling Out Dad’s Financial Report Card

  1. Craig June 20, 2011 at 11:39 AM #

    It was great to reflect on this and think about the lessons offered here:
    1)”Do as I say, not as I do” – while your parents may not have taken you through a specific lesson plan or spent much time on the subject of money, they certainly mentored where it mattered most: Behavior. The impact is tremendous right down to your fantastic book focused on Money/Purpose/Joy… this post could have been the foreward if you think about it…
    2) Love that you included the career change as an example. Time is the most precious financial asset you can give anyone.
    Happy Father’s Day –

  2. Mitch June 20, 2011 at 11:38 AM #


    What a beautiful message. It forced me to think back regarding how my parents did or didn’t educate us in financial matters.

    We never knew we were less fortunate than others because we always had a nice home, enough food to eat and clothes to keep us comfortable.

    My dad was very frugal and saved very conservatively so, when he retired, most of his savings were in savings bonds and CD’s. Over time, this decision lead to a reduction in his standard of living and during the last few years of his life he obsessed over finances.

  3. Matt Bell June 17, 2011 at 2:55 PM #

    Wayne – Some great insights. Thanks for sharing all these details.

    I think it’s helpful to reflect on the job our parents did. Doing so gives us compassion, new insights into our own beliefs and behaviors, and maybe even an opportunity to heal some wounds. And it definitely provides ideas we can use as we try to get the whole dad thing right ourselves.

  4. Matt Bell June 17, 2011 at 2:52 PM #

    Greg – The idea wasn’t to deliver a report card to your dad. It was for your own reflection, and, depending on the insights gained from the exercise, to have something (positive) to add to the conversation on Father’s Day.

  5. Greg T. June 17, 2011 at 2:41 PM #

    While I don’t necessarily agree/disagree with anything you said, what father want’s to be graded on fathers day? No one would even suggest anyone should give a grade to mothers on any topic on Mother’s Day.

    Mother’s day sermons are typically about how great thou art oh mother. Father’s day sermons are typically about shirking their responsibilities as fathers. Is it any wonder the wives have a hard time getting there husbands to go to church?

  6. Wayne Riendeau June 17, 2011 at 2:08 PM #

    Hi Matt,

    Grades for my father in the 3 areas you mention:

    Teaching Wise $$ Mgmt — D as well. I remember watching my dad sit at the kitchen table for an hour or two every few weeks, ‘paying bills,’ as he would tell me. But never took the time to tell me his philosophy of handling money, how to budget, etc. Like you, I am determined to teach my children everything I’ve learned, good decisions and terrible ones, over the last 25 years, on my own, about money management.

    Modeling Wise $$ Mgmt — C-

    Again, since my dad didn’t talk about money much, except for having ‘money problems’ from time to time, I was fairly worried as a teenager and than college student that my parents were overspending, using credit too much, etc. What I have come to discover is that my dad put away enough money, a humble amount but enough nonetheless to carry him up to his 84th birthday and counting without ever having to borrow or ask for money from us five boys. Since I now monitor his bank accounts with his approval (along with my older brother), I found he had a 50K CD and some other savings that I never knew he had and he never talked about. So a lot of perceptions were wrong about his handling of money, it’s just that it wasn’t talked about and was basically none of our business. That’s sad.

    Career Path

    My dad worked a lot of jobs, sometimes two at a time to support our family. I owe him a big thank you for that, that’s for sure. Also one other time when I was about 16-17, he had a chance to take a good job running an insurance agency that was to be a promotional move for him. But he chose Chicago over moving to Dallas, for which I am eternally grateful, since I can’t stand that kind of heat and humidity for any more than 3 months a year. His choice to stay home was for the good of the family more than anything, for our stability as a family, and I owe him a thank you for that as well. Thanks for the article and the reminders to honor our father, esp. during this time of the year.


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