A grandfather who does know best

Michelle Singletary
Columnist June 9, 2012

It’s become a tradition in sports that when players accomplish something notable, they give a shout-out to their mothers — like before they say they’re going to Disney World if they’ve won the Super Bowl.

“Love you, Mom,” they say or mouth.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.” View Archive

And when it comes to financial wisdom, more than half of children 8 to 14 go to their mothers first when they have a question about money, according to T. Rowe Price’s fourth annual survey about parents, kids and money. I wish they’d found out why. The survey respondents don’t say.

For me, it was my grandmother, Big Mama, who was my go-to adviser. Nonetheless, I know there are many fathers taking the lead in teaching their children about using money. Dads may not get as much public recognition or as many gifts on Father’s Day (consumers spend close to 50 percent more for Mother’s Day than we do for Father’s Day, according to the National Retail Federation), but many are modeling the financial behavior that will help their children become good money managers.

But let’s say you’re a father who can’t quite articulate the financial advice your children need. Or perhaps father doesn’t know best because you’re terrible at handling money. I have just the papa to help mentor you.

For this month’s Color of Money Book Club, I’ve selected “No One Ever Told Us That: Money and Life Letters to My Grandchildren” by John D. Spooner, a Boston-based investment adviser.

“This book is not just for my grandchildren about to emerge into a challenging adult world,” Spooner writes. “It’s for all of you children and grandchildren, with too few practical mentors, who can all use some advice from someone with lots of bruises, someone still standing and still up for the game.”

In a world where feelings and opinions are delivered in 140-word tweets, Spooner has written 59 letters to his four grandchildren that cover topics such as getting a job to using debt to picking a financial adviser to owning real estate. His advice is common sense and amusing.

On getting a job, he writes: “Never call a busy person first thing on Monday morning. Busy people are getting into their business routines for the week. . . . Call Tuesday afternoon, after lunch.”

After landing that job: “When you run meetings eventually, hammer away at the important points in simple language. And if you schedule a meeting to last an hour, finish it fifteen minutes early. Everyone who works for you will appreciate it.”

Tell your children to have a plan in place should they lose their jobs. Update the contingency plan every year. And I love this tip Spooner received from a client: Have a list of the first five people to call who can help you network or might offer you employment. Having a small degree of paranoia where your job is concerned is good, he writes.

On owning assets, Spooner tells his grandchildren: “Everything you will ever own that you hope goes up in value will fluctuate. . . . Anything you own can go down in price from what you paid. Believe in cycles in business and in life. Cycles always appear, many times when you wish they wouldn’t.”

It’s hard for many young adults to think long term, but they should and we need to remind them often, he says. “The big money in life, whether it’s in stocks or real estate, or stamps or coins or paintings, is made long term.”

Face your problems, Spooner writes in one of his letters. I wish more people would follow this sage advice. I get so frustrated when people ask for help after avoiding a financial problem for a long time. By the time they come to you, their options are limited.

“It took years for me to learn to deal with mistakes quickly,” Spooner says. “Letting these mistakes linger, being reluctant to act, kept me up at night, upset my stomach, gave me headaches. . . . Be decisive even if in hurts for a bit to admit you’re not quite perfect.”

You won’t be making a mistake reading this collection of letters or passing it on to your children.

I will host a live online discussion about “No One Ever Told Us That” at noon Eastern on July 12 at washingtonpost.com/
conversations. Spooner will join me to answer your questions.

Every month, I randomly select readers to receive a copy of the featured book, which is donated by the publisher. For a chance to win a copy of this month’s book club selection, send an e-mail to colorofmoney@washpost.com with your name and address.

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Or e-mail: singletarym@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

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