How Dad’s Words of Wisdom Can Help Your Finances

by Emily Guy Birken · 3 comments

You may not realize it, but in between making corny jokes and yelling about who touched the thermostat, your father taught you a great deal about money.

Dads are usually the financial teacher in the family, but even fathers who never spoke a word about the family budget passed along important money wisdom to their kids. That’s because Dads’ favorite words of wisdom – just like Mom’s – offer great insight into managing your money even if they seemingly have nothing to do with finance.

If you ever heard your father tell you one of these old sayings, you should thank him. That’s because he gave you an excellent financial education without you even knowing it.

1. Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees

This is the classic Dad quote, and I don’t believe any American childhood is complete without hearing this at least two or three times a year. Your father would turn financial botanist anytime you wanted something that cost money he was not willing to spend.

The overt message is that there is a cost to money, and because of that cost, you cannot expect to have your every wish fulfilled. The unspoken message is just as wise, however. Dad would only tell you this when you were expressing a want rather than a need, so you could learn to differentiate the two.

Knowing whether the things you spend money on are wants or needs is an important basic budgeting skill that many people have trouble with. Dear old Dad gave you a mental script to help you tell the difference.

2. Don’t Put Off Until Tomorrow What You Can Do Today

When you were a kid, your father probably laid this one on you when you told him you’d mow the lawn “tomorrow.” He was hoping to teach you the importance of time management and why it’s not neighborly to let the grass grow above your knees.

But this is also a great lesson for learning how to pay yourself first. If your plan for saving money is to bank whatever cash is left over at the end of the month, you are unlikely to ever have money available to transfer to savings. Don’t put off paying yourself until tomorrow when you can do it today.

3. There’s No Such Thing As a Free Lunch

There are two important levels to this particular advice. On the one hand, Dad was trying to let you know that it’s a good idea to embrace your paranoia. Just like the phrase, “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” Dad’s reminder of the cost of lunches helps you to understand that getting something for nothing means you will be expected to pay elsewhere.

And that leads to the second level of this advice. Payment is not always financial. Accepting a “free lunch” might mean you are expected to do favors or make some other type of non-financial payment down the line. It’s crucial to know exactly what is expected before accepting any “free” lunches.

Dad is a Fountain of Wisdom

The sayings that seemed like throwaway lines from your father are actually laying the complex groundwork for good money management.

What’s another saying your dad taught you as a kid? How did this teach you about money?

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  • Steveark says:

    My dad taught us about working, earning, saving, giving and investing. He shared how he bought mutual funds and T bills and Muni bonds. He showed how he tracked his investments in a spreadsheet and how on a modest income he was that millionaire next door nobody knew about. He paid for debt free college educations and showed us you never had to have a car payment or a credit card balance. He showed us how to celebrate paying the house off early and not having a single penny of debt after that. He modeled how to have a great marriage for 63 years until my mom died. He was cool!

  • Marcel Rosa says:

    I’m always the type to delay my work until deadline so my parents always tell me ‘don’t put off until tomorrow’. The other two sayings I learn by myself, being a more frugal person than my parents :).

  • Julie Rains says:

    My mom was the always the one who told me that “there’s no free lunch.” She was the skeptical one in the family. I am not always sure I took her advice to heart but I now regularly avoid the invitations to “informational” dinners sponsored by financial advisers.

    But my dad definitely has encouraged me to save, partly because he says he didn’t save enough (though, as it turns out, he managed to accumulate a decent amount toward the end of his working career thanks to 401k plans). I am a natural saver but his words have reinforced the idea that it is okay not to spend today and save for the future instead, even if you don’t know exactly what you’ll need the money for.

    Thanks for the reminder about dad’s words of wisdom!

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