Naked Money

In our house, the bills don’t get hidden. I’ve never tried to hide our finances from our children. I believe doing that is part of the reason I reached adulthood with no brakes. Growing up, finances were almost entirely invisible.  Now, I believe is financial transparency.

Now, as a father, I balance the checkbook and pay bills on the laptop in the living room where my children can see me. They see the stack of bills and they watch me balance the checkbook. We discuss how much things cost and how we can cut expenses while the bills are being paid.  Even the toddlers know Daddy is doing something important.

My ten-year-old son knows what sales tax is and where to find it on a receipt. He knows what property taxes are and how much they are in our neighborhood. He knows roughly what percentage of a paycheck gets withheld. I work to make my son financially aware. My girls are too young to understand the concept of money, but they will be receiving a thorough financial education as soon as they are able to grasp the concepts.

The hard part is explaining to my son how we screwed up our finances. I’ve shown him my paycheck and discussed our debt. I have explained to him that we were making much less money when we accumulated our doom debt, while maintaining a higher standard of living.  Now, when we go to the store, he doesn’t even ask if he can borrow money until we get to his bank account.  He has learned to dislike debt in almost all forms.  I’m fairly proud that my kid voluntarily practices delayed gratification.

What he doesn’t quite grasp is the idea of living within your means, even if your means are limited.   “But, Dad, what if you don’t have much money?  Then you have to borrow money for nice things, right?”  I’m not sure how to break him of that.  Delayed gratification is an understandable concept for him, but the difference between wants and needs seems to be missing.   Any ideas?

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5 Life Altering Lessons I Learned From My Debt

Starting position of a chess game. House of St...

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Several years ago, my wife and I dug ourselves into debt pretty deep.   It wasn’t as bad as some, but it was much worse than anybody could actually want.    Recognizing the problem as a problem was a life-changing event.  From there, I’ve been examining every thing else about my life.   As part of that examination, I’ve spent a lot of time really thinking about the ultimate causes of the debt and what it has taken to motivate ourselves to get rid of it.

I’ve realized a few things:

  1. The things I want right now do not matter. I own around 2000 movies.   Up until last spring, every time I went into a store that sold movies, I’d peruse the cheap rack and buy 2-3 moves.  I’d watch them all, but the vast majority were only ever watched once or twice.  The rest may as well have been rented.   I wanted them and I wanted them “right now”, but after watching them once, the value vanished.   Most things I’ve bought on a whim lost their value to me shortly after bringing them home.  Planned purchases are enjoyable longer.
  2. The things I care about do not cost money. I cannot buy a kiss from my kids, or a hug from my wife.   The school project my son did on his hero(Me!) is absolutely priceless.  The TV, the smartphone, a new car, these things are fleeting.   Teaching my kids to read or ride a bike, getting beat by a 6 year old at chess, these things will last us all forever.  It took $30,000 of unsecured consumer debt to drill that lesson home.
  3. Instant gratification is easier than security, but not nearly as gratifying. It is incredibly easy to buy what you want when you want it.    It is much harder to postpone buying something until you can afford it.   Once you build that habit, and see the savings of delayed gratification, it’s worth it.   There is a comfort in having a few months worth of expenses in an emergency fund that no amount of knickknacks can match.
  4. I like getting stuff more than I like having stuff. It’s easy to succumb to the temporary high of a quick purchase.  It’s easy to train yourself to crave that high to the point that it’s impossibly to walk out of a store without buying something.  I did that.    When I cleaned out my entire house this spring, I came to the realization that I don’t need–or even want–most of the things I own.   I wanted it once, but once I had it, the infatuation was gone.  I didn’t have many problems unloading most of my crap.  It felt good to get rid of it.
  5. Owing money sucks. The borrower is slave to the lender.   When our debt exceeded our annual income, we were working 3/4 of the time just to stay afloat.  Instead of being able to spend my time and money on the things that matter, I was forced to spend thousands of hours just covering interest and pretending to make progress on my shackles.  That’s not how I recommend spending your life.   Time is the one thing you have that you can never get back.  Don’t waste it on crap like debt.

Have you learned anything from your debt?

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Delayed Gratification, Take II

English: Zach Galifianakis as Alan from

How much would you pay for a kiss from the world’s sexiest celebrity?

That was the focus of a recent study that I can’t find today.   There is no celebrity waiting in the wings to deliver the drool, and the study doesn’t name which celebrity it is.  That’s an exercise for the reader.

This was a study into how we value nice things.

The fascinating part of the study is that people would be willing to pay more to get the kiss in 3 days than they would to get the tongue slipped immediately.

Anticipation adds value.

Instant gratification actually causes us to devalue the object of our desire.

This goes well beyond “Will you respect me in the morning?”

The last time I talked about delayed gratification, it was in the context of my kids.   That still holds true.   Kids don’t value the things that are handed to them.

The surprising–and disturbing–bit is that adults don’t, either.  If I run out to the store to buy an iPad the first day I see one, I won’t care about it nearly as much as if I spend a week or two agonizing over the decision.

The delay alone adds to the perceived value.  The agony turns the perceived value into gold.

If I spend a month searching for the perfect car, the thrill of the successful hunt adds less value than the time it took to do the hunting.

Here’s my frugal tip for today:  Delay your purchases.  While it may not actually save you any money, you will feel like you got a much better deal if you wait a few days for something you really want.

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