An Open Letter to My Son About Money
This weekend my son turned one. He is an incredibly happy boy who fills our lives with giggles, can already out eat many a grown man, and never stops moving. Because Mama Fish Saves started so recently, many people at his party were asking me questions about money, when we planned to start allowance with Fuss Fish, saving for college, what we would teach him about finances, and so much more. I decided to write him this letter and share it with you all.
Dear Fuss Fish,
This weekend you turned one. I won’t lie, I cried more than once on your birthday. Time goes much too fast for me and your birthday party was one more reminder that you will be grown before I know it. We held a party for you at the house and while Daddy Fish and I intended to keep it small, the people who love you stretch far and wide and you had almost 40 people from seven different states celebrating you.
You got spoiled with many more presents than Daddy Fish and I would have liked, ate about half a pound of frosting off your cake, and we got asked so many questions about things that seem so far in the future that our heads started to spin. Because I had just started a new website on teaching people about their finances, what kept coming up was what we will try to teach you about money. So, here’s what we are planning. If we do it right, and I promise we will try our best, reading this letter as a teenager or adult will just be a lot of eye-rolling and “yeah, duh Mom”. If we fail, I hope this little bit helps, even if it’s a bit later than we intended.
- Be self-sufficient and be your own man. Sometimes it can feel like we are cattle, especially when it comes to money. Go to school, get good grades, go to college, get a job, work for 30 years, and retire. While this might be the perfect path for some people, it doesn’t have to be for you. If you can find a way to be self-sufficient in a new or different way, walk that path with pride. Much emphasis on self-sufficient.
- Know where your money goes. Whether you track every penny you spend or you track your spending in vague large categories (obligations, essentials, non-essentials) know where your money is going, how much you are saving, and where you are versus your goals. Thinking about your money doesn’t make you greedy and keeping a budget doesn’t mean depriving yourself, but understanding your spending patterns will allow you to always make the most of your wealth.
- Never stop learning. Learn new skills, learn about yourself and your goals and desires, learn what others did to achieve success and which of those things can work for you. No one is going to come and tell you the secret to financial success, but the answers are out there even if they often aren’t found in a school. Don’t assume the person driving the Lexus has more to teach you than the person in the rusty pickup truck. Resolve to go to bed each night a little smarter than you woke up and you’ll learn to work efficiently, productively, and profitably.
- Save, save, save. The earlier you start saving the better off you’ll be. Compound interest is a powerful tool and you want to take the greatest advantage of it that you can. If you get in the habit early, you’ll be able to make life choices based on your desires, not on whether you can afford it. 10%-20% to retirement minimum, but the more you save, the earlier you can retire and allocate your time to the things that most matter to you.
- Focus on your real priorities. We are surrounded by media in all forms trying to sell us things and by the time you are an adult they will probably have found ways to flash ads inside your sunglasses, on your bathroom mirror, and in your car’s dashboard since it will probably be driving itself. Know the core things that make you happy and don’t allow friends, media, or romantic interests to drive a lifestyle creep towards expenses you don’t value. It is hard to give up the “stuff” we are used to, even if it isn’t the “stuff” that we value, so don’t let the useless weasel a way into your life. By being happier with less, you’ll have more career options open to you, you’ll have a greater ability to take risks and you’ll ride out the tough times with less of a squeeze.
- Spend and invest with integrity. In a capitalist economy, every dollar is a vote. No matter your income level, you can decide to support businesses and products that align with your values and make the world a better place. The local bookstore might be slightly more expensive, but seeing you pick a new book in the early reader room or getting book recommendations from the owner who’s known you since you were two weeks old are experiences we are willing to pay to keep.
- Don’t be afraid to take risks. This has to be the one I am most nervous about being able to teach you since it runs so contrary to my own instincts. As I write this I know I will wake up tomorrow morning to go to a job I am not particularly passionate about because it pays well, I am reasonably good at it, and it provides stability. I hope by the time you are old enough to remember and learn from my actions that is different. But if it isn’t, understand that nothing of value comes without risk and turn to all the other role models who proved that great financial success can come from ignoring naysayers and chasing your dreams. Read about Henry Ford, Jeff Bezos, J.K. Rowling, Elon Musk and so many others who appreciated the risks, weighed the potential benefits, and chased what they wanted most.
- Never spend a dime you didn’t earn. There is no such thing as a free lunch and when you choose to take on debt so you can buy the things you want as soon as you want them, you are selling your financial freedom. Debt makes you an indentured servant and digging yourself out of that hole will cause more stress than the enjoyment you get from whatever you are purchasing. Save for big expenses and for emergencies and do not fall into the trap of devaluing your future wealth to benefit your current consumption.
- You will make mistakes. Money and finances, like everything else in your life, will be a series of ups and downs. You’ll buy things you don’t need (Daddy Fish bought a boat before we met), you’ll make investments that fall flat, you’ll take jobs for the wrong reasons. When these things happen, make a plan, remember your real priorities, and fight to get back on track. If you ever feel like your mistakes are too big to recover from, remember that Henry Ford went bankrupt before founding Ford Motor and growing his net worth to almost $200 billion.
Fuss Fish, I hope you grow up to feel educated about your finances and empowered about your decisions. I hope when it comes to money, you never have to say “Why didn’t anyone teach me this?!” I hope you never have to wake up in the middle of the night stressed about making ends meet and if you do, I hope you learn from it and get better. I hope Daddy Fish and I set a good example for you so these lessons are just life for you, and not things you have to learn.
And above all, I hope that these years don’t go too fast.
Originally published at www.mamafishsaves.com on February 21, 2017.