Today is Father's Day in many countries, including the United States. While sorting some old letters and photos recently, I stumbled across a letter my dad wrote to me during my sophomore year of college. This is my father's financial advice to me when I was nineteen years old. I haven't attempted to edit — any misspellings are his.
Warning — Make sure you read them all. There may be some surprises in them so read them all or you will miss them.
#1 Your scholarship is irreplacable. There is no way that you or I can make up $9500.00 a year difference. Study comes first. Before you panic, read on. I hear you talk about working and unless I missed something somewhere you are talking 32 hours a week at least or was that 24 hours a month on campus?
#2 You were successful at saving a little over $1000.00 this summer. That's an achievement for you. We will try to do better next summer won't we.
#3 Nutrition is important. Don't slight it. It is your body that supports your mind. If you slight your body you slight your mind so eat your green beans.
#4 Wear clean underwear.
#5 You used to play lots of video games. One of them had a rocket and you had an energy level you had to worry about. Energy was used to travel and to shoot at the enemy. Life is a big videogame. In our society money is the energy. There are certain things you have to or should do so make sure don't shoot so many asteroids just for the fun of it that you deplete your energy level and someone has to flash on your screen —GAME OVER—.
#6 Girls can be handy. They are nice to talk to and smooch and some times they take pity on poor helpless males and cook them a meal + iron for them.
#7 I have two ounces of yellow metal left among other things. A good inducement to get your father thinking the right direction would be for you to make a budget and keep track of how well you stick to it.
#8 While we are on the subject let me throw out some ideas that would point to reasons for subconscious compulsive spending.
a. When you were little mom was busy in the business and would buy you a new toy almost everyday. It was a way of saying “I feel so guilty — here, this toy is my love for you.”
Your dad played the same game only it was in large a grand ways — tropical fish instead of gold fish etc.
The result would be a compulsion to spend when lonely. The cure is to “look at them and sigh and know they love you.” You are a big boy now and it is time to say goodby to that part of parenting you never had. Please don't wait till you're 40 to do so. I can think of a zillion mistakes we made but I will guartee [sic] you that we did the best we knew how. The answer is for you to identify and acknowledge the mistakes for what they are. Then you will be able to see the love that was there too and compulsion will leave.
b. Don't forget the Saint Helens tee shirts. I can bet you tap into those feelings a dozen times a day as you walk around campus and compare your situation with that of some of the others. Spending and collecting is a way of trying to prove that you have it too.
If this is the case the cure is to focus on the objective — getting through school — and realizing that the “it” that they have is privelege that come with wealthy parents. No matter what you spend you will not create wealthy parents. Focus on the “it” that you have that no amount of money can buy. Looks, brains, nice to be around, kindness, talent to name a few. Just remember, “you never saw a fish wishing he were a frog.”
#9 Your parents love you! We talk about you everyday. it wouldn't hurt to call sometimes and invite them down for a minute or two. They might come with bags of groceries in each arm.
#10 I know the time will come when you may go on an adventure such as a move out of state or a trip to Australia or whatever else crosses that mind of yours. We will probably throw out all kinds of cautions. That's just what parents do but follow your dreams anyhow. Please don't ever move off without letting us know where you are and dropping a note once in a while just to say your OK. Parents have spent 18 years listening to your every breath and loosing sleep if you missed a breath and they just can't get out of that habit easily. You can do most anything you want and you will have our approval as long as we know you are OK.
#11 We need to get the title transfered on the car + some repairs made soon. The new guy I hired is also a mechanic so plan a Saturday out here real soon.
#12 If you maintain your apartment address over the summer it may be worth $3500 in grants next fall. You can come stay with us but you need to prove you are living on your own to be considered on your own income.
Although my relationship with Dad was strained at the end of his life, I admired him a great deal. He had his faults — including poor money skills — but he was a dreamer, and he loved his family. He died ten days shy of his 50th birthday, in July of 1995. If you'd prefer, you can read the entirety of my father's letter in PDF format.