What's a Dad Good For? [Fribble] June 22, 2000

Fribble What's a Dad Good For?

By Deborah Abrams Kaplan
June 22, 2000

Almost every year my sister and I send Dad a Father's Day card that reads something like this: "Dad -- you've given us a lot of advice over the years and we'd just like to say, 'For the love of God, please Stop!'"

He's an easy target. My Dad's mission in life is to give us advice. To be fair, the advice is usually good, sometimes followed by us, and always well-meaning. But it's still unsolicited advice, and for a long time (OK, even now sometimes) it annoyed me.

Dad has held the role of family finance teacher as long as I remember. Whether he was quizzing us in grade school math (what is a 15% tip on a $40 meal?) or sitting us down as adults over deli sandwiches for a financial discussion, the talk often turned to fiscal responsibility and investing.

My first year out of college, Dad pushed me to invest in an IRA, and every January since graduating 10 years ago, he asks me if I've made my $2000 contribution. If I haven't, he bugs me until I do. When the Roth IRA bill was passed, he sent me a dozen articles extolling the Roth's virtues, and again pushed me until I either converted my IRAs, or gave him an educated reason why I didn't think the Roth was a good option. He even got me a subscription to a financial magazine, as long as I promised to read it (the pictures and graphs were nice).

Dad gave me stock tips from the research he did. For a while, I blindly followed and invested in what he recommended. Luckily he picked stocks well, and my America Online and Intel shares are happily growing.

After I got engaged, Dad encouraged me to write a will. After all, I could die during my honeymoon or shortly after, and my husband of one day or one month would get everything! Dad wasn't being selfish or paranoid. He was thinking of several people he knew who died of freak accidents, and without a will, the dispersal of property caused tremendous pain to almost everyone involved. He recalled one of my high school friends who was in a car accident with her husband six months into their marriage. She died and her husband survived with massive brain and bodily injuries. Her husband's parents were so traumatized they wouldn't let her parents even have a collection of her photos. A will would have given them some rights and comfort of having some personal items from their only daughter. While I didn't write my will during the week prior to my wedding (I had more important things to do, such as seating charts and tying programs with ribbons), I did take care of it a few months later.

Some of my friends think my family is a paranoid and strange bunch when it comes to discussing wills, beneficiaries, and retirement plans. For me, it's not strange -- only practical.

It took me a long time to realize that many parents do not teach their children fiscal responsibility. Many kids follow their parents' bad examples of incurring unnecessary debt and not saving enough. Because of my conditioning, I never understood how someone could get a raise and see it disappear because they raised their standard of living and didn't increase their savings rate. I never understood how friends had huge credit card debt, yet frequently ate out and went on exotic vacations. Unfortunately for Visa, I was raised to believe that credit card debt and finance charges were for other people, not me.

At times I thought my Dad was being controlling, telling me to invest and to learn more about the stock market. But a few years ago he finally got through to me. If I don't plan for my future and invest, no one will do it for me. After all, Dad won't be around forever. How could I let my savings sit in a 3% interest account when the stock market is making record gains? I missed out on a lot of opportunities in the last decade because I wasn't paying attention.

My Dad is not a get-rich-quick kind of guy. He taught us to work hard, live below our means, invest for the future, and pay credit card bills on time. And he taught us to be charitable with our money. Thank you, Dad.