The Money Lesson My Father Taught Me That Changed My Life
"His advice shaped my positive thinking about money and was instrumental in the (mostly) smart financial decisions I’ve made to this day."
My dad has taught me everything I know about money. Born and raised in humble beginnings in a small, rural village in Nigeria, Africa, he is The American Dream personified. He came to the United States as a financial professional with little money but big dreams. Through hard work and discipline he achieved educational, professional and personal success — and he passed the lessons he learned on to his five daughters. He is my hero.
I was a full-grown adult before finding out that weekly money lessons around the dining room table during childhood were not a normal “thing” in most households. My college friends were shocked to hear that my dad would sit me and my four sisters down every week to learn a new financial principle that was directly tied to what was going on with our family’s household finances. And I was shocked that my friends were shocked!
Like what you're reading?
Get more in your inbox.
Looking back, I see how fortunate I was to learn the importance of financial wellness from my father at a very young age. His advice shaped my positive thinking about money and was instrumental in the (mostly) smart financial decisions I’ve made to this day. In fact, I’ve made it my mission to help spread the power of healthy financial habits to as many people as I can reach. With over one third of Americans not knowing where they stand financially, showing people how to build a positive relationship with money is more important than ever, as it affects all areas of life (from emotional health to physical stress levels to work performance).
The most significant lesson my dad taught me was just before my 11th birthday, when I asked for a purple bike with tassels and glitter as my present. My father was “doing the bills” at the dining room table when I made my request. He put down the calculator and the papers (uh-oh) and motioned for me to have a seat. “If you want a bike, you’ll have to help me pay some bills,” he said.
Woah dad, I thought ... I’m only 11. He clarified that he wanted me to add up all of the household expenses and subtract them from what he and my mother made each month. He gave me his handwritten list of all the family’s bills with an explanation of each one: mortgage (I thought you paid for it one time like buying a shirt), insurance to drive a car (whose idea was this?), water bill (I didn’t even know that cost money) and the list went on. When it was all said and done, I subtracted the bills from my parent’s monthly income and realized that there wasn’t much money left.
He explained that before he could spend money on “fun stuff,” bills always had to be paid. He then told me that the cost of my bike had to be less than the money that was left over, as some of the excess non-bill money was for savings and some was for “fun stuff” for my sisters, too.
Realizing the full meaning of my birthday request, I started to reevaluate what I wanted. If I got a bike my size, I’d outgrow it within a year and would ask for another bike by my 12th birthday. At 11 years old, I started to think about the future and how I might want to use my money down the road.
So, I made my very first, purposeful, conscious money choice. I financially forecasted (making a choice now based on predicted events, a.k.a. my inevitable growth) and decided that instead of my dream sparkly purple bike, I’d buy a larger bike I could grow into — and boy did I.
The bike I asked my dad to purchase was big, blue and masculine, the exact opposite of the original bike I wanted. It was so far from a typical 11-year-old request, that even my father asked if I was sure. I was.
I was proud of myself for making a choice that made better long-term, financial sense. Can you tell that I was a Budgetnista-in-the-making?
At the time, I didn’t realize what an important role that my bike would play in my life or that it would be the only bike I’d ever buy. I was able to ride that bike through middle school and high school, to all of my jobs as a teenager, to get rid of the 20lbs I gained as a freshman in college and for fun with my sisters until I moved out of my parent's house at age 23. And even though I no longer ride my bike, my dad still uses it to exercise more than 20 years after we first bought it!
Every time I think of this bike story I think of how amazing my dad is and how his money lessons have carried through my entire life. He helped me understand there is no such thing as a small financial choice. If I can make a decision at 11, that is still relevant today, how much more impactful are our current, financial choices?
Sometimes, when faced with the choice of “smart money move” vs.“how cute,” we must have the courage to choose the Blue Bike.
Happy Father's Day to my amazing father, Irondi Aliche! Thank you for putting me on the path to helping over 800,000 women and counting work towards financial freedom and financial wellness!
Tiffany Aliche is a Budgetnista and Financial Wellness Advocate for Prudential Financial.