Fathers Confess: Don't Make the Same Money Mistakes I Did

US News

In life, there are occasions when we wish we could get a "do-over." Just as in the movie "Groundhog Day" or Tom Cruise's latest sci-fi thriller "Edge of Tomorrow," we would love the opportunity to keep doing something over and over until we get it right. In honor of Father's Day, we're going to give a few dads a mulligan on their money mistakes.

Lesson Learned

Mike Robbins, a motivational speaker and author of "Nothing Changes Until You Do," admits to making his share of financial mistakes and fully intends to pass on what he's learned to his two daughters, ages 5 and 8. Robbins' earliest memory of how financial pressures can affect a family goes back to when he was 8 years old.

"I grew up with a single mom, raised in Oakland, California, and we didn't have a lot of money," Robbins says. He recalls the night of a particularly violent rainstorm. The ceiling began to leak from the heavy rain so his mother ran to the kitchen to grab some pots and pans to catch the water. Robbins and his little sister were having a ball -- it all seemed like an exciting game.

"I thought it was fun. I was running around with my sister putting pots on the floor," Robbins recalls. "Then my mom just breaks down and starts crying in the middle of the living room, looks at us and says, 'I don't know what we're going to do.'"

With no money to fix the roof, he says his mom was scared and overwhelmed -- and so was he. "My dad wasn't paying child support, and my mom was trying to run her own business as a sales rep," he says. "It was scary. Things were really tight."

But that fear of financial failure didn't last. Years later, Robbins and his wife Michelle found themselves $105,000 in debt and $300,000 underwater on a mortgage.

"We'd never been taught the real basics about finances -- how to make and stick to a budget -- and we consistently spent just a little more than we made for many, many years," Robbins admits. "And we bought a house we really couldn't afford. When the economy tanked, we were in a world of hurt."

Ultimately, the Robbins liquidated their house in a short sale, paid off all the debt and started renting again. It was humbling, but necessary.

"I think one of things we need to do -- and I try to do this with my daughters -- is to talk about money," Robbins says. "I think we do a lot of harm to our children by being too secretive about money."

He and his wife committed to making a budget and talking about it -- a lot. "We called it a 'spending plan' because a book we read called it that," he says, "and we thought it sounded better than a 'budget.'"

A while later, when their daughter was in kindergarten, the Robbins attended a teacher's conference. The teacher said the class had been discussing an upcoming project when she overheard his daughter Samantha say, "Well, I'll have to check with my mommy and daddy to see if that's in the spending plan." Lesson learned.

The Robbins work consistently to reinforce the importance of budgeting to their daughters, even at such young ages. In fact, if you were to look on a shelf in each little girl's room, you would see a piggy bank -- with four slots instead of just one. Each slot is marked: spend, save, invest and donate.

Taking Money Seriously

How seriously should you take a financial advisor known as "Pete the Planner?" Peter Dunn, author of "What Your Dad Never Taught You About Budgeting," is a self-described "award winning comedian and award-winning financial mind." But while his manner may be light, his subject matter is not.

So what was the biggest mistake Dunn's made that he would prefer his 2 and 5-year-old avoid?

"Probably the idea of what I call 'overhousing,'" Dunn says. "That's the idea that your house payment is too much of your net income. Early on, as an entrepreneur and a financial guy with a growing practice, I definitely found myself buying a house that I felt I could 'grow into' financially."

With a heavy financial burden, he had to take a lot more money out of his business than he would have liked, putting himself and his new firm under a lot of pressure. Then again, it seems many entrepreneurs are optimists.

"I think optimists make more financial mistakes than pessimists do," he admits. "I'm a huge optimist. Every financial mistake I think I've ever made has been based on a belief in my ability to generate income. Pessimists may shortchange themselves -- they may have some opportunities lost, but oftentimes they don't suffer from risk management in a negative way."

Appreciate Opportunities

We leave the last word to a father who puts financial ambition in perspective. Ellery Moore was a high school football standout at Washington High School in Massillon, Ohio, later an SEC star at the University of Kentucky, and finally, an undrafted rookie free agent signed by the NFL's Cleveland Browns in 2005 -- for three months. His career flamed out as fast as it caught fire.

With two sons ages 8 and 13 and a 7-year-old daughter, Ellery knows exactly what his advice would be.

"I would tell them to make sure they work hard enough to be successful and to appreciate the opportunities to be successful," he says. "Once I got to a certain level [in football], my lack of appreciation, my lack of work ethic didn't allow me to be successful anymore. Even though I was just as talented as some of [the other players], I didn't have the dedication and that will to work harder than everybody else. I thought my talent was great enough to make me successful -- and it wasn't."

Moore, now a personal trainer in Lexington, Kentucky, tells his story of missed opportunity to young athletes at football combines across the country.

"I came from a neighborhood where the world was drugs, money and alcohol -- and football. I want my kids to see that the world is so much bigger than athletics," he says. "I understand that we all make mistakes -- that we all fall short -- but I also understand that God gave us a gift to be successful at something. We let money determine the value of a human being. Money is not what's going to define you. I lost track of that trying to play football just for money."

Hal M. Bundrick is a certified financial planner and former financial advisor and senior investment specialist for Wall Street firms. He writes about personal finance and investing for NerdWallet.



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