My Biggest Financial Lesson

Kai Ryssdal on passing along the financial genes

Kai Ryssdal Mar 25, 2015

When you get right down to it, it’s my dad’s fault. My relationship with money, I mean. It’s not weird or anything like that. It’s just… casual. Like… whether you have it or you don’t, everything’s going to be all right somehow.

There was a story that got told a lot in my house when I was growing up. When they were courting, back in the day — which, to be just a bit more precise, would be 1958 — my mom and dad went out for dinner one night in Manhattan. A pretty nice place, too, the story went. So nice that my mother, even though she was pretty young, knew there was no way my dad could afford it. Sure enough, the bill comes and he can’t pay. From what I gather there was some hemming and hawing, a conversation with the maitre d’ over by the door, and what winds up happening is that my father leaves his watch with the guy, gets my mom home and then comes back the next day to settle up.

That’s nobody’s idea of a sensible way to handle your finances, but let’s just say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

I like money as much as the next person. I like having enough in my pocket to make a small impulse buy if I want. I like being able to make my mortgage payments. I like being able to take care of my family.

What I don’t like is thinking about it. It stresses me out and I’m not good at it — at running a household budget or balancing a checkbook (if anybody does that anymore,) at tracking incomes and outflows or dealing with mutual funds and investments and when to sell and when to buy. That was true when I was young, single and broke, and it’s true now, when I’m not young, not single and not broke.

A word of professional disclosure here: I have no idea what investments my wife and I have. Part of that is because of all the stuff I’ve written here. More to the point, though, I just don’t think it’s right for me to be talking about corporations and markets and economic policy to 11 million people on the radio every week while being fully cognizant of precisely what kind of skin I have in the game, if you know what I mean.

In my house, my wife handles all the money. Every last penny. And I’m totally fine with that.

I’ve never gone into a restaurant knowing or even suspecting I couldn’t pay. I have more sense than my dad in that way, at least, I guess. (More money, too, I suppose.)

But there is one thing he always did for me when I was growing up that I find myself doing now with my two teenagers. When one of them is going out for the evening, I always ask, “Hey, you got a couple of bucks in your pocket?”

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