The 5 Most Important Money Lessons My Dad Taught Me

Hands down, my dad is one of the most frugal people you will ever meet. Now, don’t get me wrong, this 6’4” gentle giant is by no means cheap. But frugal on the other hand, well, this two-syllable word should have been his middle name. While many members of our family tree have constantly joked about his level of frugality — myself included — it wasn’t until I entered into the world of adulthood a few years ago when his financial wisdom deeply resonated. Because let’s face it: “adulting” is hard and confusing. Not to mention expensive!   

It’s because of my dad, and the countless hours he spent teaching and ingraining lessons about money in my mind, that I was able to step through the threshold of the much-anticipated “real world” with confidence. It’s because of him that I learned money doesn’t have to be scary or controlling. And it’s because of him that I am excited to be sharing the five most important money lessons he taught me with you. Because all these lessons are universal, I hope to pass along his wisdom and shed a light on how everyone can become financially healthier, all thanks to the good ole friend of frugality. 

1. Expect the unexpected.

I’ve lost track of how many times my dad has preached the “expect the unexpected” sermon to me, but I do know one thing for certain this lesson will forever be carved in my mind. Whether my car breaks down, I need an unanticipated surgery, I lose my job, or I’m just down on my luck, whatever the challenging issue might be, it is crucial to have an emergency fund.

Having this financial cushion not only puts my mind at ease it also acts as a blanket of comfort knowing I don’t have to rely on anyone else in any unforeseen situation, as I have my own resources.

2. Forget “keeping up with the Joneses.” Always live within your means.

Looking back, my dad was very adamant about teaching me the importance of living within my means. While credit cards can be beneficial for building credit, we would have regular conversations about the dangers that could very easily come along with credit card love affairs, as well as by trying to keep up with others’ spending habits. As he always stated, “Just because your friends have the latest gadget or “it” device, doesn’t mean you automatically need it.”

He emphasized the importance of tracking what comes in vs. what goes out. By knowing exactly what’s coming into my bank account each month, and creating a list of all my fixed expenses — for instance: rent, car payments, insurance, electricity, the list goes on! — the lines of living within my means aren’t so blurry, as I am then aware of the amount I have left to spend.

3. Planning for retirement doesn’t have to be nerve-racking.

Whenever the word “retirement” enters the room, nerves start tangling and stress levels begin to rise. And with good reason. It’s a chapter of our lives we all know we should be saving for, but with it being 30-plus years away, what’s the rush, right? And how do we even begin? Yes, even the idea of saving for retirement can feel daunting. But the truth is, it doesn’t have to be…If we start the process now.

When my dad first sat me down to talk about 401k accounts and Roth IRAs, the words coming out of his mouth sounded like a foreign language. Yet over time, I began to catch on. I realized the magic time can have on money and the beauty of compound interest. Therefore, it’s not so much about the amount you’re investing into your retirement at this given moment. Instead, the importance lies in ensuring you’re adding something to your account and making consistent contributions. Remember, even the smallest efforts can make a drastic difference down the line.

4. Start saving today for your dreams tomorrow.

Growing up, my family loved to go on camping trips together. Seeing and exploring new places was our jam. So when my travel itch extended into wanting to sign up for an international trip with my high school, my dad thought this would be the perfect opportunity to teach me the importance of saving. He and my mom made a deal with me that they would pay for half the trip, but I would have to come up with the rest of the money.

After a summer of endless hours spent babysitting, mowing yards, washing cars, and any other chores I could scrounge up, I met my savings goal. And oh, how sweet that moment tasted knowing I had achieved my dream on my own! Not only was I able to embark on my first international experience, but it was during that time I also learned the true value of a dollar. I learned by taking the time to plan out tactical steps, I could break down any goal into something manageable. Most importantly, I learned with hard work, patience, and discipline, I could accomplish any long-term savings goal — even ones that seemed a little too far out of reach.

5. Be your own Prince Charming.

As a father of three daughters, my dad was determined to teach us the importance of being financially independent. While he always hoped we would one day find our “Prince Charming” in life, the last thing he wanted for us was to rely on that person to rescue us from any financial woes.

To balance the encouragement of us going after our dreams, and living the life we’ve always imagined, my dad taught us early on the importance of understanding finances. Whether or not we met someone to share our futures with, his focus was to ensure we would be well-equipped with the knowledge to take control of our financial future. For that, I will forever be grateful.

Thank you, dad. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. And thank you for instilling so many of your financial habits in me. It is because of you that I value financial responsibility. It is because of you that I choose and always will choose peace, love, and frugality.


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Kathryn McLamb is a writer and photographer on a mission to inspire others to celebrate the everyday. She runs her blog Pineapple Street, and when she’s not plotting her next travel adventure, you can find her wandering the colorful city streets in San Francisco.