In my family, Dad was the breadwinner while Mom took care of the house and four strong-minded girls. I used to soak up my Dad's words and actions. He taught me what it meant to be an entrepreneur and the value of owning a small business. That included the good, the bad and the ugly.
The good: My sisters and I developed a strong work ethic. We had jobs in the factory and in the front office. We were taught that owners are just like employees. We ate in the same lunchroom, shared family stories and worked side-by-side through tough economic times.
The bad: Recessions test the strength of a business as well as the grit of the owner. Positive cash flow keeps a company afloat, and both owners and employees share equally in the livelihood of a business.
The ugly: My dad sacrificed his time with his family and felt responsible for his employees. As a result, he rarely took vacations and we missed him.
To my Dad, who has since passed away, I cannot thank you enough for sharing these valuable life lessons and for nurturing your business into a retirement nest egg for our family.
We asked our Forward Thinking contributors to write about how their fathers taught them about finances and shaped the way they think about money. Maybe one of these stories will remind you of your father. Or maybe you're a father yourself and are wondering how to set your children on the right financial path. Either way, we hope you enjoy these stories.
Growing up, my parents were very frugal, especially my father. While other families were going on five-star vacations and owned two cars, we went on staycations and commuted by public transit or bicycle. While a lot of my friends' families rented their homes, my father always owned ours. My father worked a blue-collar job and didn't make a lot, but since he was careful with his money, our family could afford to live in one of Toronto's nicer neighbourhoods.
When I was 7 years old, I had my first big experience with money. My father sat me down and said: "Sean, I'm going to start giving you an allowance." Unlike other parents, he didn't make it contingent on doing chores around the house. However, he did ask me to save 10 percent of my allowance by paying myself first (he was a big fan of The Wealthy Barber® by David Chilton). Once I saved $100, he took me to purchase Canada Savings Bonds at the bank. He taught me the value of a dollar and set me on the right financial path, which I am forever thankful for.
Growing up, my parents had what you'd call "money issues." If we went out to dinner, my parents would divvy the bill in tidy halves. "Mary, your half is $25.68," my walking calculator dad might say. My mom would mull over the receipt, then produce the exact amount from her wallet. It was like that with every household expense for most of their 33 years together.
As a child, I thought this financial arrangement was just the way things were. Years later, when I was about to get married, my now-husband was perplexed by my desire for separate accounts.
I sought out advice from an expert and eventually we hashed it out. He agreed to let me take on the role of "family CFO," meaning I was in the financial driver's seat when it came to big money decisions. I discovered it was a role that I needed.
I think back to the last time, and first in many years, that my father bought my mother a present for her birthday, which falls on Valentine's Day. It would be the last one she'd ever receive from him, as that spring he died in her arms. I'm positive in that moment, neither of them thought about their bank balance. When I start to fret over finances, I try to remember this and take a deep breath. I'm still learning.
My father was a real mensch—honest and kind-hearted. After World War II, he arrived in Canada with exactly 5 American dollars in his pocket to start a new life. Having had more than his fill of risk-taking during the war in Europe, he longed for a modest, peaceful life centred on family.
He would have loved to work with animals. But instead, he found a job with numbers and calculators, which he loathed. His salary was modest but sufficient and we had everything we needed as a family, but no extras.
Rebellion is the nature of the parent/child relationship. Where my father was cautious about finances, I took risks. He was reluctant to talk about money. For example, he worked for the same employer for 40 years but never asked for a raise. As a result, he rarely got one.
Sometimes the greatest lessons come from a negative example or situation. By the time I entered the workforce, I made it a point to do the opposite of what my dad had done. I suppressed my fear and asked for more money, benefits and perks. Often, I got them. My dad taught me to "know your worth."
Like many immigrants leaving their homes in search of opportunity, my dad came to North America with very little. Arriving in the 80's with $20 and a family of 3 to support, he worked his way up to the dream of owning a home. When denied a mortgage because of a low household income, he convinced his broker, got the mortgage, and paid it off 10 years earlier than the average couple — on the same household income — largely in part to cultural financial practices.
Even considering what that $20 would be worth today, my millennial inner saver couldn't stretch that money past a week. So when I think of my father's story, it baffles me as I struggle with my own bills. But I do take solace in the lessons his example taught me. Namely, to spend wisely within my means, to stay humble at work, and to sacrifice small wants to achieve larger needs. For him, the larger need was to provide a roof over his family's head and a future for his children. As a grown adult with my dad's financial lessons paving my path, I can proudly say that his sacrifices were worth it.
Saving for a Rainy Day
My father is, by nature, a quiet man. We never talked about investing, the stock market, RSPs, or even the miracle of compound interest. But he did teach me one important and unforgettable lesson: If you want to reach a financial goal, you need to save.
In working class Scotland nearly 50 years ago, my parents had a transformative goal to leave the country for a better life. This was Aberdeen in the early 1970s, before oil changed the country and where fishing was the main source of income. My father worked hard, sometimes taking on two, or even three jobs, just so they could put away a little more for our move to Canada. They reached their objective and our family of four arrived in Toronto in 1972.
But my parents didn't stop saving. Their frugal lifestyle continued, and they put money aside for their next target: retirement. They've been happily retired for nearly 20 years and have enough to live on, with money left over for frequent travel. Although my own savings plan has sometimes wavered, I still look to my father for inspiration.
My Father's Advice: Pay Yourself First
The Family Inheritance I Didn't Want
Actions, Not words, Drove My Father's Financial Advice
I'm Chinese, so growing up, whenever my birthday or Christmas came around, cash was a standard gift from relatives—a customary Chinese practice. It helped that my birthday was near Christmas, so I could easily clear $200-$500 every December. Before I even had a chance to think about what I would spend my small fortune on, my dad encouraged me to save it instead.
He took me to the bank and had an account set up for me. It didn't exactly take much convincing once he explained how compound interest worked. Getting paid interest was certainly appealing, but the main reason he encouraged saving was so I'd have money set aside for a "rainy day." I was about ten years old at the time, so I didn't quite get why the weather affected my finances, but I figured that out later in life.
Even though I'm now in my 30's, my dad still bugs me to save more. It's not like I spend excessively, but in his eyes, that money could always be used for something better. I admit, he's gotten to me: Every time I'm about to make a purchase, I can hear his voice telling me to save my money. After seeing everything my parents have accomplished, I'm glad they taught me the importance of saving.
My Father's Example, with a Cultural Twist
Being Taught to “Know Your Worth"
The Value of Being an Entrepreneur