Inspired by the Jim Collins post I read awhile back titled “How I failed my daughter and a simple path to wealth” and Cait’s recent post “An Open Letter to High School Students” I figured this was a good time as any to write an open letter to my three children. At ages sixteen, sixteen and thirteen I can feel our time together as one big family slipping away. I knew this time would come. The twins at age sixteen are involved in school, sports, after-school activities, friends, part-time jobs, college prep, driver’s education, etc. Mom and dad are not very high on their priority list, and that’s okay. They are at a time in their lives where they need to try things, experience things, and fail at things. I would never want them to have regrets. To avoid them if that means they need to skip dinner with mom and dad so be it. Just know there is always room at the table for you.
I have always wanted the very best for you. When you were first born that may have meant expenses baby gear and clothes. I know better now, what I really mean and better understand today is that you are healthy, and happy in anything you do. When I was your age I learn a lot from my mom and dad, your grandparents. There were times where I thought I knew better than them, but over time as I got older I realized that they were probably 99% right in most cases because they too wanted the best for me.
Your grandparents did their best to prepare me for my life as an adult, teaching me the basics, how to take care of myself, how to cook, clean, do laundry, right from wrong, manners, and basic finances like balancing a checkbook. Did they make mistakes, sure, all parents do. I learned from those mistakes and I’d expect you to learn from mine.
Now I consider myself a pretty smart guy. Maybe even smarter than grandpa and grandma, considering I was the first to attend college and the technology I grew up around. Now that doesn’t mean I never called grandpa or grandma to ask for advice or ask a question. It’s one of the things I miss since grandpa has passed away, the ability to pick up the phone and chat with him. I still have that opportunity with grandma, and even at my age, I can learn from her experience.
Learn from My Experiences
Please take advantage of my forty-five years on this earth. I have experienced many highs and lows in my life. I have had happy and sad time. I’ve been hurt by others, I have had fights, I have been sorry, and I’ve apologized. I’ve put my foot in my mouth more than once. I’ve been rejected, I’ve been told no for a lot of things. I’ve lost my wallet, I’ve lost job and even lost some loved ones too. The point is if you are experiencing something for the first time and need help with it, I bet I’ve been through it already and might be able to help. Most of all learn from the mistakes I’ve already made.
Learn from My Mistakes
I think the biggest mistake I’ve made is the handling of money for the first twenty plus years of my life. I never gave it much thought. I followed the herd. I wasn’t thinking for myself when it came to my money. Money has been a big topic of discussion in our house for several years now. You probably know more about money management as a teenager than I did in my thirties. That’s an incredible head start for you.
Don’t ever forget the fifty months when we paid off our debt, the sacrifices that were made, the extra hours that were worked, how often we had to say the word “no” That time in your life should be a reminder why debt is one of those bad four-letter words and you should avoid it. Debt will only add stress, frustration, and anger to your lives. Learn from that fact that mom and dad did not have a plan for their money that we overspent for years and at the end of it all didn’t have much to show for it.
If you follow the basic personal finance principles you will be rich in so many ways.
- Have a plan for your money
- Spend less than you make
- Pay yourself first
- Understand the power of compound interest
- Have an emergency fund
- Define a “Why”
Money is a tool you will use for the rest of your lives, please make sure you understand it, learn about it, and master it. The great thing about this list is if you ever get tripped up on any of them, we can openly discuss them. We have been doing that for years now.
I’m excited about your futures. I cannot wait to see how each of your lives unfolds. I’ve said many times before if I could go back in time and tell my twenty-year-old self one thing it would be about having a plan for my money, but then I realize there’s no need to go back in time because I have three future opportunities to help get it right.