Financial advice from my father (when I was nineteen)

Financial advice from my father (when I was nineteen)

Dad at work in his shop“Who was there for your father when he died?” Kim asked me a few moments ago. She's interested in becoming a death doula, so she's reading a book about end-of-life care.

“It's odd you should ask that today,” I said after I told her the story of my father's six-year battle with cancer.

“Why?” she asked.

“Today is the equivalent day in my life as the day when Dad died in his,” I said. “It's ten days until I turn fifty. Dad died ten days before his fiftieth birthday. So, it's a somber day for me. I'll be thinking of him all day.”

Actually, I've been thinking of Dad all week.

It started when I published Naomi Veak's story about how she learned to stop feeling hopeless about money. In that article, Veak shared a letter her mother sent her when she was nineteen years old. Veak was a poor kid at a rich school, and she was struggling to figure out finances. Her mother offered some words of wisdom.

I had the exact same thing happen to me at the exact same age at the exact same college. I was a poor boy at this rich school. During my sophomore year at Willamette University, when I was nineteen, my father wrote me a letter filled with financial advice.

Today seems like a good day to share it with you folks.

Everything that follows — starting with the title “J.D.'s Points to Ponder” — is from my father except that I've added a few notes in order to provide context to some of the things Dad wrote. (If you're super interested, I've uploaded a PDF version of Dad's letter.)

Here's my father's financial advice to me when I was nineteen years old. (This is unedited. All misspellings are his.)

J.D.'s Points to Ponder

Warning — Make sure you read them all. There may be some surprises in them so read them all or you will miss them.

Letter from Dad

#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?

J.D.'s note: I was fortunate to attend Willamette on a full merit scholarship, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to afford it. During my sophomore year, I really did work 32 hours per week. I worked three (sometimes four) part-time jobs.

#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.

Letter from Dad

#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—.

Letter from Dad

#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.

J.D.'s note: As I've mentioned before, my father was into gold. But he was dumb about it. He bought high and sold low. Here, he's suggesting he might give me an ounce or two of his gold if I keep a budget.

#8 While we are on the subject let me throw out some ideas that would point to reasons for subconscious compulsive spending.

Letter from Dad

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.

J.D.'s note: In 1980, things were especially tight for my parents. Dad was unemployed and there was little money to buy clothes for three growing boys. Before I started sixth grade that fall, Mom shopped the close-out racks. Some of the t-shirts she got me commemorated the Mount St. Helens eruption a few months earlier. I hated those shirts and was embarrassed to wear them, but my parents made me do so.

Cure

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.”

J.D.'s note: Looking back with 2019 eyes, I find it interesting that my father mentions “privilege” here. Remember, Dad had a love-hate relationship with wealth. He wanted to get rich himself, but he resented the folks who already had money.

Letter from Dad

#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.

Letter from Dad

#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.

Final Thoughts
Looking back, it's clear that I inherited most of my money blueprint from my mother and father. I picked up the same bad habits they had. But being a poor boy at a rich school led me to develop some new bad habits of my own. Dad could see these bad habits forming and was trying to help me before I got into trouble.

I didn't heed his advice, obviously, and so ended up deep in debt. How would my life have been different if I'd listened to his words of warning? I don't know.

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.

More about...Relationships, Budgeting

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Rod Warner
Rod Warner
1 year ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Thanks J.D. for sharing that powerful letter from dad. It reminds me how my dad unknowingly taught me life lessons with his success and shortcomings ! Some are fortunate to receive seeds of wisdom and knowledge that take root and flourish in our current lives ! May you continue to bless and honor his memory and legacy with your work. Wishing you the best…

WantNot
WantNot
1 year ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Thanks so much for sharing this J.D. While you are still (obviously) kicking yourself for not following your dad’s advice right away in life, I just have to point out that—now—you are following it. That’s how it is with teachers and parents (and writers of blogs)…the information and advice they give may not be something we can follow right away, but it’s not wasted. Sometimes it just takes time. And we get to learn from their mistakes (gold) as well as from our own! I also have to say that your dad was a wonderful writer. Despite the few little… Read more »

Matt Spillar @ Spills Spot
Matt Spillar @ Spills Spot
1 year ago

This is powerful stuff J.D., with great lessons from your dad. Thanks for sharing this.

Crew Dog
Crew Dog
1 year ago

#8 is *so* powerful! I’m surprised you didn’t spend more time talking about that one. I mean, you talked about part b, but part a – that’s great insight from your father. Can’t buy love, and can’t buy respect (not the kind that is genuine, enduring, and feels good).

Karen
Karen
1 year ago

JD thank you for sharing this. I can relate to your father’s notes to you and tell you, as I’m sure you know, that his words of advice and love are priceless. Your post is so touching; as a parent of a college student who is on the cusp of independence-it resonates strongly with me. Thanks so much for sharing this today.

T'Pol
T'Pol
1 year ago

Thanks for sharing. I am sure he is resting in Peace. In two years, I will be the same age when my dad died. It was good advice even the girls part, for this feminist. Lol!

Brian Winch
Brian Winch
1 year ago

Thanks for sharing this. I can totally relate as my dad passed at the age of 61 when I was 21. I started my business shortly after with an idea from a side gig he did to make extra money. I’m 59 now and very much aware of his final years.

Jason B
Jason B
1 year ago

Some great advice here from your dad, J.D., thanks for sharing. As a father of a toddler, it really makes me think about the kind of lessons I’ll end up teaching her, intentional or not. I really hope to help her have a healthy relationship with money, and I think I’ll need to get that done before she turns 19 since no one seems to want to listen to their parents at that age.

Yvon Kennon
Yvon Kennon
1 year ago

Thank you for sharing these nuggets of wisdom and love between parents and children (although it might not have felt that way at times).
Read your e-letters with great interest; never been that great with money but you take the sting out of it!
Happy birthday…

Dave @ Accidental FIRE
Dave @ Accidental FIRE
1 year ago

Thanks for sharing JD, powerful stuff. I also lost my Dad to cancer and I inherited his work ethic. He didn’t manage the money, but he sure earned it, through sacrifice.

BobJ
BobJ
1 year ago

Ditto.

Katherine
Katherine
1 year ago

What I would give to have a letter like this from my father!!! This made me cry for missing my own dear father. JD, you have been truly blessed.

Kristen
Kristen
1 year ago

How touching. It does us no favors to berate ourselves for what we might have done differently in the past. The best we can do is to learn, move on, and do better (and apologize if that’s needed in the situation). I’m so sorry you lost him so young. I have no doubt he’d be so very proud of you now.

teinegurl
teinegurl
1 year ago

#10 almost made me cry! I haven’t lost my mom raised me and my sisters as a single mom but when growing up I had such a hard time understanding her but once I became a parent I started to understand and forgive my mom for some of the things she did in the past. I went to therapy and that helped a lot to have the relationship we have today. I see your dad was just trying to prevent some of the mistakes he made and pass along the wisdom to you and I hope I can instill some… Read more »

Jen From Boston
Jen From Boston
1 year ago
Reply to  teinegurl

I teared up at #10, too. When I was in my early 20’s I’d get annoyed whenever Mom asked me to call her and let her know that I had gotten back to school/my apartment/etc. But at some point I realized she was asking me to do that because she was afraid I’d be killed in a car accident or something.

Steveark
Steveark
1 year ago

He loved you and you know that to be true. Nothing else in life is more important than that. And you are passing that love along to the hundreds of thousands of people you have helped, are helping and will help in the future. He gave you his heart and you are paying it forward. That’s absolutely beautiful J.D. Parents do not have to be perfect if they just do that one thing well, love their kids. What a beautiful post. I lost my dad a few years ago too, he loved me and I knew it. This made me… Read more »

Tash
Tash
1 year ago

J.D. –

I read this through tears…seeing Steve’s handwriting again brought up a lot of emotions. He was so proud of his sons. Whatever disagreements there may have been, his love for all of you was unwavering.

Happy almost-birthday.

~ Tash

SK
SK
1 year ago

Love it!

lisa
lisa
1 year ago

Thanks for the wisdom of your Dad. It was very thoughtful and I was quite interested in how he put things. I didn’t get words like that, although my mom did say this about jobs: “If you work in the medical field, you’ll always have a job.” So my sister and I became a RN and a LPTA.

I love your blog. You inspire me in so many ways.

Anne
Anne
1 year ago

Thank you for this JD. My dad died at 63 when I was 29. He didn’t get to walk me down the aisle and my kids never got to have him as a grandfather. It leaves a mark. Your dad understood what would happen as you became a man and moved on. You can feel his pride in you in that letter. How proud he would be now! THANK YOU for returning to GRS. I was thrilled to find you again.

Tina in NJ
Tina in NJ
1 year ago

My condolences on the loss of your father at such a young age. It must be haunting you now that you’ve outlived his lifetime. (If that’s the correct term.) You were very lucky to have found that letter. When my son was in college, a wise friend at church, with children slightly older than he was, told me that as parents, we were “almost smart again.” Kids have to get on their own before they really understand what letters like this are trying to tell them.

Wealthy Doc
Wealthy Doc
1 year ago

Thank you for sharing.

I recently lost my father. He too was a dreamer. He was a salesman and “businessman “ but always was broke.

You and I have a lot in common.

I now miss him a lot. I have more respect for my father’s parenting now that I’m a parent and am making my own mistakes.

Fortunately I didn’t follow my father’s financial foot path. I was able to build wealth and income. I was able to effortlessly support him financially in his final years.

Victoria
Victoria
1 year ago

Thank you JD for your generosity of sharing a part of your life’s experience. Obviously, there was something that had an impression on you regarding his gift of writing the letter, because you saved it. Sometimes lessons learned come in various pathways. My stepfather pretty much raised me. He passed away at 53. The day I was turning 53, my first thought was I was outliving him. The second thought was reflections of lessons he taught me, impact he had on my life, even his mistakes. If only as a child, we were given true guidence and knowledge, to financially… Read more »

herman schwartz
herman schwartz
1 year ago

My parents were super rich. I don’t think they even wrote the word ‘hello’ on a piece of paper to me.
I guess my inheritance spoke 1000 words in the end.

OFG
OFG
1 year ago

I love #10! He’s not wrong about watching those breaths.

JoDi
JoDi
1 year ago

Thank you for sharing that! As your experience and the experiences of many demonstrate, it’s difficult to warn young people to avoid obvious mistakes and actually get them to take the advice. I’ve often wondered if there is a way to accomplish that successfully.

Isaac Johnson
Isaac Johnson
1 year ago

J.D., Thank you for sharing this deeply personal letter. The letter and your post is one of the best things I have ever read on the internet. It really moved me more than anything I have read in a long time. There was some great lessons in there, and some of those words take a long time till the meaning truly hits center. I am 47 now, and I am sure am reading most of that with different eyes and hear its intended message in many ways more than I would have when I was in college too. While the… Read more »

Eric
Eric
1 month ago

This post really spoke to me as I too was attending Willamette at the same time. I was a newly poor kid resulting from recently divorced parents. Unfortunately I didn’t qualify for financial aid as I was viewed as coming from a solid upper middle class home. After my dad left (he was the bread winner), he quickly remarried and my college money was spent on a swimming pool and trips to Europe on the Concorde. My mom had wonderful intentions but she was middle class after the divorce. Unfortunately my desire to go to Willamette outweighed the realization that… Read more »

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