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3 Important Lessons My Parents Taught Me About Life & Money

3 Important Lessons my Parents Taught Me About Money

H&R Block recently contacted me to tell me about their Budget Challenge — a teen financial literacy program that simulates an adult’s financial life and rewards students for mastering real-world financial decision-making. It looks so helpful and fun and I love that they are committed to encouraging kids to learn important financial lessons from a young age.

They recently awarded Sean Lawrence, a St. Clair, Michigan, high school senior, $120,000 in college scholarships as grand-prize winner of the H&R Block Budget Challenge.

Sean earned the $100,000 scholarship for having the most “real world ready” financial skills out of 93,980 high school students in 5,621 classrooms nationwide after participating in the 2014-2015 Budget Challenge program. He received an additional $20,000 scholarship for placing in the top 22 of his simulation, earning a total of$120,000 to apply toward his education.

Sean said this about the Budget Challenge: “Learning about money management before going into the real world allows teens to make the right choices, or have the correct knowledge so they don’t end up as the typical American with mountains of debt.”

As I thought about this challenge and their goals to help students learn real-world money skills, it made me think about how grateful I am for my parents and the wise money management they not only modeled before us, but also taught and instilled in us.

3 Lessons My Parents Taught Me About Finances

Me with my parents when they attended one of my speaking events

I wanted to share 3 of the most important lessons my parents taught me about life and money:

1. Debt is Often Avoidable

My dad’s dad raised my dad with the belief that you should never go into debt for anything except a house. From the beginning of my parents’ marriage, they followed this principle.

And then they took it one step further.

When I was around six years old, my parents decided to do something radical and work hard to pay off their house. They then saved up everything they could.

When I was ten years old, we sold that house and bought land out in the country and moved a single-wide trailer onto it for us to live in.

The trailer didn’t have an oven, didn’t have heat or air conditioning, leaked crazily every time it rained, had a bad mice problem, and was in fairly disgusting shape when we got it. But after days of elbow grease, we got it in livable shape, moved most of our possessions into a storage unit, and moved the basic necessities into that trailer.

We spent seven months in that trailer while we were building our house. I could write a book of stories from that experience. But most all of the memories are very happy memories and I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.

At the end of seven months, our new house was finished enough that we could move into it. And it was a huge celebration to make it to that day… and for my parents to have realized their dream of building a house debt-free.

Seeing my parents’ sacrifices and creative commitment to living debt-free and how it put them in position to be able to give generously because they worked so hard to no longer have a house payment was a huge inspiration to my husband and me. I know beyond any shadow of a doubt that we would never be in the position we are in financially nor would we have paid cash for our first house were it not their example and influence. And we are eternally grateful.

2. Money is a Tool

My parents taught me that money is a tool. In the hands of wise stewards, it can be put to good use and make a huge impact. In the hands of those who are unwise, it can be wasted and blown with nothing to show for it.

With their lives and checkbooks, they modeled the importance of being wise in how you use and manage money. It wasn’t about saving money for saving money’s sake, but so that you could use that money saved to impact and help other people. To invest in things that matter, to bless people, to donate to causes you believe in, and to give generously.

3. A Strong Work Ethic Will Take You Far

My parents wanted their children to leave home with three things: a deep love for God, integrity, and a strong work ethic. They were so motivated to teach us the value of hard work that they set a goal to move out to the country by the time we were in our early teens.

With much prayer and effort, their goal was realized. And boy did we learn how to work! I have fond and not-so-fond memories of lots of back-breaking work: gardening for hours on end, dragging hoses all over the acreage to water the new trees we had planted, and spending much of the day on Friday taking care of the seven acres of the land that were planted in grass.

Truth be told, I wasn’t always so thrilled at all the work they expected us to do. Sweating in the heat and developing sore muscles on a regular basis weren’t necessarily what I’d consider fun. But looking back, I’m so thankful for the character I developed through all those hours of laboring in the hot Kansas sun.

The lessons in diligence and perseverance have been invaluable to me as a wife, mom, and business owner today. Truly, I believe one of the greatest gifts my parents gave me was instilling in me a strong work ethic from an early age.

I’m so grateful for how my parents taught me these three lessons and have they’ve impacted my life in profound ways.

H&R Block Budget Challenge

Would You Like to Help Your Kids Learn Real-Life Money Skills?

I’d encourage you to check out the H&R Block Budget Challenge — a learn-by-doing educational approach that allows students to experience personal finance activities in the safety of a classroom, before heading out into the real world on their own. Participants play classroom against classroom and student against student, competing for $3 million in grants, scholarships and cash prizes.

“Our goal with The Budget Challenge is to arm teens with the personal finance skills and confidence they need to succeed when they’re out on their own. It’s an investment in American teens,” said Bill Cobb, president and chief executive officer. H&R Block awarded more than $3 million in grants, scholarships and prizes through the Budget Challenge in the 2014-2015 school year. Teachers who are interested in registering for the program can find details on the program starting in August here. Or, read more background on the program here.

(Note: This post was underwritten by H&R Block. Read our disclosure policy here.)

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  • Jody says:

    This sounds like an amazing program for teens!

    And I loved reading more about your upbringing! I didn’t realize you had that experience as a child. Thanks for this additional insight into some of what has shaped you into the awesome person you are today!

  • Jessica says:

    My parents had very different mentalities about money. They kept their money separate, which I guess was a good thing. My mom counted and recounted every penny and used the envelope system for her portion of the family bills. My dad, would pay his share and blow the rest on vices and / or junk! So when it came time for a birthday gift or Christmas, it was on mom. I had the experience of my dad stealing babysitting money that I earned as a young teenager. Once I got a job waitressing and then in a grocery store, I opened my own bank account and put my money into it so my dad couldn’t take it.

    After I graduated from college, I used that money to pay off my subsidized student loans before the grace period, so I didn’t owe any interest.

    My husband and I combine our finances and always have, even though we’ve oscillated between him earning more and me earning more, and being broke as newlyweds (me in grad school, him trying to find work, any work!) and all that!

    We’ve tried to teach our kids about saving for something nicer versus buying candy / pop / junk right now. I think they do a good job of occasionally paying for their own Slushee or something, but mostly saving for a nicer toy (like a Lego set). They also have a share section of their piggy bank, which they have used for fundraisers, charity or buying gifts for others.

  • Susan says:

    I’m in the very fortunate position that I have enough cash to pay off my home. I have no other debt. After consulting with two financial experts and doing my own research, I’ve come to the conclusion that, in the long run, I’ll be a lot better off financially to keep the mortgage — and the tax benefits — and invest the money elsewhere where it can earn a rate of return far greater than the interest rate.

    Your constant advice about avoiding consumer debt is sound, but mortgage debit is different.

    • Becky says:

      I did the math too…I’d rather send 2k to the government than 10k to the mortgage company……..and you can get the same tax break by giving to charities .

    • Jon says:

      If my house were paid for, (oh, it is), I wouldn’t take out a loan to put money in the bank. Try this, pay your house off, and if you don’t like having a paid for house, take out a mortgage and put the money in the bank.

  • kariane says:

    You’re very fortunate to have grown up with such an example. What a wonderful gift!

    I hope to model similar values for my children.

  • I completely agree with debt being avoidable. When I went to college, even though I had a scholarship which covered about half of my tuition, I happily took out student loans because I thought that was just what people do. I didn’t have strong role models in my life to show me otherwise. I’m paying it off with intensity now, but I had no concept of what that student loan debt would look like when I graduated and just how crippling it would be financially. On the bright side, I feel lucky that I can pass this wisdom on to anyone who will listen, or if I ever have children!

  • My grandmother had a different, but similar philosophy. She believed that the only three things worth going into debt for were an education, your home, and most importantly, your health. She always stressed having a degree, always maintaining health insurance and policies, and buying a home as soon as a couple was able. These policies carried me far in my early twenties, and now in married life. Being debt-free is the only way to truly life!

    • Jen says:

      I think your grandmother sounds like a very wise woman!

      I agree that, in most cases, going into debt for a college education is not unwise. I had about $20,000 in student loan debt when I graduated from a very reputable private university. I also had a LOT of credit card debt (not smart or what my parents modeled). That said, I worked hard and learned from my mistake (credit card debt). I paid off the CC debt (about $15,000) in a little less than three years. I paid off my student loans about seven years after graduating.

      I also purchased a condo about four years after I had graduated. I am an accountant by trade (yep, even accountants can make money mistakes). I made a good income and was careful to watch my expenses and didn’t purchase more condo than 1) I needed and 2) that I could afford.

      I got married about nine years after graduation. I had only a mortgage payment at the time and almost enough in the bank to pay off about 50% of the mortgage anytime.

      Eight years later, we live in the home my husband bought before we met, have two kids and still only have a mortgage payment. We have good equity in our home and recently paid cash for a new to us Honda Odyssey van.

      I stay at home now, but we have ample life insurance to take care of our kids should something happen to us and we generally make good financial decisions. (My hubby is a spender, but since we’ve gotten married he’s become less spender and more saver. Yeah him!)

      • That’s awesome! My grandmother worked for thirty years for US Oncology, and worked one-on-one with many patients without cancer coverage policies, long-term disability policies, health insurance, or those who simply did not go to a doctor for a medical referral out of fear of medical debt; many patients who could have received life-saving care, but could not be treated as their illness had progressed too far, out of fear of debt. For this reason, she always stressed good health, and the idea that no matter the cost, nothing is more important than good health and a positive quality of life.

    • Guest says:

      Wise words from your grandmother! College loans are a hot button issue for many people but I would never have graduated from college had I not taken loans. Those loans have, WITHOUT QUESTION, been worth the debt (which were paid off 10+ years early through significant work and saving). My degrees were a requirement for my career in business and they have been more than worth the investment. That said, I did go to a state school though I would have preferred a private school. In retrospect, I’m glad I went the route I did because my debt was lower and the degree is just as good. 🙂

  • Kelly Cox says:

    I think it’s awesome that your parents made those choices. Debt free is what the Bible says to be. No debt other than love…. Great pic of you 3 and so nice to hear your story of what God did for your parents and family.

  • This is a good reminder to me. I want to raise children who could write this post in twenty years 🙂 Also, it was fun to see a picture of your parents!

  • Such important lessons! I’ll feel like a success as a parent if one day my daughter says something similar about me.

  • Your parents taught you great lessons.
    My ex husband keeps spoiling kids, letting them to have whatever they want, while I am trying to teach them how to be careful with money.
    My daughter is finishing high school and my goal is to help her to come through college without any loans. So hopefully it will work. I shared our experience about colleges application and scholarships in my blog.

  • Anna says:

    Great picture of you and your parents!

    They clearly taught you well, and you clearly made their lessons a part of your life today.

  • Charity says:

    You are very blessed to have been raised and taught this way. That’s wonderful!

    I think you favor your mother a great deal. Both of you are lovely! (Your hair looks very pretty in this picture 🙂 )

  • Susan says:

    Very good article. Thank you.

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