When I meet people for the first time, and they ask me, “So, what do you do for a living?” here’s what I say: “I’m a Financial Lifeguard. I help people who feel like they are drowning financially get to a safe place and catch their breath. Then I teach them how to swim.” I do this because I was once drowning financially, and someone threw me a life ring. That someone was my Dad; he was MY Financial Lifeguard.
Four years after I graduated from college, I hit financial rock-bottom. I owed three different check cashing places money. I was behind on my car payment and various other debts. I had past due utility bills in my name, so even though I wanted to leave my then-fiancé, I couldn’t get an apartment. Fortunately, my Dad and my step mom, Francine, were gracious enough to let me live with them rent-free for three months so I could get out of that toxic relationship and get back on my feet.
My Dad helped me create a budget and a plan to pay off my debt. I was so stressed out and emotional about my financial mess that I needed an objective person to help me sort out the details. I knew what I should have been doing with my money. I had an Accounting degree and was working for my family’s multimillion dollar machine tool business as the Accounting Manager! Talk about feeling like a hypocrite. But, people do stupid things with money for the sake of love and I was no exception.
Fortunately, my Dad didn’t judge me for my mess; instead, he assisted me in formulating a road map to my preferred financial future. He reminded me of the basics of sound financial money management – saving money is good, too much debt is bad, etc. He also taught me the importance of giving those less fortunate. I guess I was feeling a little sorry for myself because after four years of being out on my own in the real world, I had fallen flat on my face. My Dad reminded me that I had food, clothing, shelter, and a family who loved me, which made me very fortunate indeed. That’s when I started to donate money to the local homeless shelter, which I continue to do fourteen years later.
I think it’s important to add here what my Dad didn’t do for me. He didn’t shield me from the consequences of my mistakes. My Dad and step mom did NOT pay off any of my bills or lend me money to catch them up. Some of you might think that was mean, but it was the best gift they could have given me – a sense of personal responsibility. I needed to feel the pain of my mistakes so I could fix them and learn that I NEVER wanted to go down that road again. My Dad has said to me more than once, “The mistakes that you learn the most from are ones that cost you the most.”
Now I follow this same formula for my Financial Lifeguard business. I help my clients honestly determine where they are financially, without judgment. We formulate a plan to start moving them towards their preferred financial future. I teach them the skills they need to achieve their goals with minimal dependence on me. I want people to be able to “swim” for themselves! I don’t want to drag them around the pool month after month, doing their budgets for them. (Yes, I’m probably leaving some money on the table, but I want people to take ownership of their personal finances.)
On this Father’s Day, I am extremely grateful for my Dad and all that he’s taught me about life and personal finances. Without him, I surely wouldn’t be the person I am today. Here’s to you, Dad!