As a parent, I often struggle to teach – by example and by word – my kids about money. To set myself straight, I sometimes remind myself of what I learned about money as a child from my parents…
This is my father’s catchall advice. Going to Mexico with a backpack on your back and a whiff of a job in a town you’ve never heard of? Think before you do anything stupid. Plunging down a new career path with no safety net where you’ll be doing something completely new? Think about where it takes you. Have some cash burning a hole in your pocket? Think about the best possible way you can use it – for today and for tomorrow. It sounds obvious, but thinking (especially about money) is actually quite hard for most people – so they don’t do it when they really should.
2. What money is… and what it isn’t
I learned to believe a few things about money…
A. Money is a way of keeping score. But it’s only one way of keeping score – and it’s one of the less important ways of keeping score. Other things matter a lot more.
B. Money is a tool. It’s a way of getting what you want – whether that’s time, travel, space, or a diamond-encrusted chess set from the Gobi Desert. And usually it helps to have money to make more of it.
C. Money means options. If you have money, the range of opportunities available to you – what you can do with your time – expands dramatically.
D. Conversely, no money equals fewer options. If you’re struggling to make ends meet, your menu of opportunities is limited because you’re focused on making rent or the car payment tomorrow. You can’t choose what to do, because your money requirements are dictating to you what you have to do.
But money is not an end in itself. The day that the number in your bank or brokerage account defines you, is the day that you need a money enema to straighten your head. Hearses don’t have luggage racks.
3. Spend – on things that matter
My mother always did – still does – religiously check prices. Whether it’s for a litre of milk or for a flight to Johannesburg, she’s always wanted to get the best value for her money. So as a kid, I was never wanting for clothing or shoes. But lots of kids had far nicer wardrobes and went on fancier holidays, and their parents drove flashier cars.
However, when it came to education – and to spending on other things that mattered – no expense was spared. My sister and I went to the best schools we could get into – and we escaped (unlike many kids in the west) the millstone of student debt.
4. Have patience
It’s easy – especially when you’re younger – to crave instant gratification. But patience is one of the most under-appreciated, and important, traits that you can instill in a child. Patience is the main ingredient of self-control… and its kissing cousin, delayed gratification – which is one of the best indicators of success later in life. (If you’re not familiar with the Marshmallow Test, you should read this.)
Chances are, if you don’t have patience, you’ll be bad at managing your money. I learned early on about compounding, the most powerful force in finance – which is based on time and patience.
My parents also taught me that it’s OK to have money – and to do nothing with it. A lot of investors feel like they have to use their cash, and they’re compelled to buybuybuy or sellsellsell. As I’ve written before, cash is the best hedge there is: It’s cheap and it’s liquid. At least as importantly, cash represents potential, and options (see above).
5. Talk about it
Most people feel that if you ask someone how much money they earn, what they owe, or how much they’ve saved, it’s like asking them about their deepest and darkest secrets. But in my family, talking about money was normal. That helped take money and financial matters out of the closet for me – and it helped me develop reasonable expectations about my own money life. If it’s a hush-hush secret, money can become part of a twisted psychology of guilt and shame. Air and light from an early age removes that.
6. No one cares about your finances more than you
My parents always told me that the only person you should rely on to look after your money and your financial future is yourself. (This is one of the reasons I started Truewealth Publishing in the first place.)
The financial-industrial complex – the financial media, private bankers, so-called trading gurus, and all the rest of them – wants to “help” you take care of your money. But their “help” often enriches them, far more than it enriches you.
So if you want to make sure your finances are well looked after, then by all means do get input from a professional. But remember that it’s you who is accountable for your own money – and you should be overseeing everything about your own money.
Maybe you learned very different money lessons — and maybe you’re imparting different lessons to your children, if you have them. But these six teachings have served me well.