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  • CSUS Media Services

    Sanjay Varshney, dean of the College of Business Administration at CSUS, advises taking risks while you're young enough to recover from mistakes.

  • Claudia Buck

Personal Finance: Fathers share financial wisdom

Published: Sunday, Jun. 16, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1D
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jun. 18, 2013 - 9:26 am

Fatherly financial wisdom: Most of us gleaned a few valuable nuggets from our dads while growing up.

In fact, 33 percent of people said their main source of guidance on money matters was from "my parents or at home," according to a recent financial literacy survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

So in honor of Father's Day, we asked financial experts and Bee readers to share the financial wisdom learned from their dads or the lessons they're trying to impart to their own kids. Here's a look:

Cash is king

Their dad passed away 17 years ago, but Mike LeAna and his sister have never forgotten one of his financial mantras: "If you can't pay for something with cash, you can't afford it and shouldn't buy it."

"Although we both use credit cards on a regular basis, the balance is always paid off at the end of the month," LeAna, a retired city planner in Roseville, said in an email. "I feel fewer people today would be in financial difficulties if they followed our father's sage advice!"

Similarly, Gregory Burke, a Sacramento CPA, said his Depression-era dad imparted three lessons: Avoid debt. Save money. Be frugal.

"I don't ever remember him using credit cards or personal loans," said Burke. "He basically paid cash and avoided unnecessary debt, unless it was a long-lived asset like a house or car. He only borrowed what he had to."

Burke's dad, a salesman for a Sacramento appliance parts company, gave his son a do-it-yourself ethic, from washing out plastic sandwich bags to reuse for school lunches to tackling basic home repairs and car maintenance.

"If there was something he could do himself to save a few dollars, he'd do it."

Act your wage, not your age

That's a fatherly line heard often by Ken Duran, a retired Procter & Gamble refinery operator. It means, Duran says, buy what you can afford, not what you think will impress other people or contribute to living beyond your means.

Duran's father, who's 90 and living in Folsom, also dispensed this bit of folksy good sense: "If it's in the fine print, it's never good news."

Whether it's contract terms or product warranties, Duran said, his father believed that "Before you sign anything, read the fine print and understand it. It'll save you a lot of heartache."

Take risks

Growing up in India, Sacramento State business school dean Sanjay Varshney always knew that his father had taken an unconventional path, leaving behind his home village to attend college, get an engineering degree and work for Tata Motors. Although Varshney's father worked exceptionally long hours – six days a week, often 12-14 hours a day – he prospered, partly through hard work but also by investing in India's stock markets.

That created three lasting impressions on his son: Each succeeding generation does better than the previous. Higher risks yield bigger rewards. If those risks, especially with investing, are taken when you're young, you'll have more time to recover if things go wrong.

Collectively, they propelled Varshney to leave India to attend a U.S. college and pursue a business degree, which ultimately led to his CSUS position.

Today, Varshney and his dad, who's retired in India, still trade investing tips.

But the best investing advice, Varshney said, isn't necessarily about finding the next Google or Apple stock. "The day your kid is born, if you set aside a $2,000 investment in the S&P 500 … by the time your child turns 60, that one-time investment will grow to at least $2 million, based on the market's average performance of 11-12 percent."

As a father, Varshney knows that his own boys, ages 7 and 10, enjoy a vastly more privileged upbringing than his own. He hopes that they'll "inherit the same work ethic and investing strategies that I did from my Dad. I hope they will be smart about taking the right risks to get the right rewards."

Pay yourself first

It's a financial habit that Raye Lynn Prentice's father taught her early.

"When I started working at 17 in the late '60s, my Dad had me save something out of every paycheck. Even if it was as little as $5 or $20, I always took that amount and put it in savings. By the time I left home, I had nearly $1,000 saved."

She continued that practice with every paycheck in her working life, which helped get through some lean years.

A retired paralegal, Prentice still puts $150 of her monthly Social Security check into savings. "It was the best advice. And it's meant I've always had something in savings."

Similarly, Lake Crawford II, a Granite Bay tax preparer, says his dad's simple advice still resonates: "If you make $100 a week and spend $95, that's heaven. If you make $500 a month and spend $600, that's hell."

Invest in education

When he was a 19-year-old college student, UC Davis graduate business school dean Steven Currall realized he wanted to switch majors, abandoning architecture to pursue psychology. In a heart-to-heart talk, his dad, a mental health counselor, advised him to stretch himself educationally by pursuing a Ph.D.

"He only had a master's and regretted it," said Currall. "He couldn't get promoted because he didn't have a Ph.D. He didn't want me to have the same limitations."

His dad's message: "You have to really invest in your own human capital. It had a dramatic impact on me," said Currall, who earned a doctorate – in organizational behavior, or workplace psychology – that ultimately led to his current UC Davis post.

That doesn't mean an advanced degree is right for everyone, Currall noted. The financial and family costs of living six or seven years at graduate-student poverty levels don't make sense for every individual.

Making allowances

As a father of three, Sacramento attorney and financial adviser Michael Sollazzo is trying to instill good savings habits in his kids, ages 12, 10 and 8. "We give each of our children an allowance each week for jobs they do, based on how old they are ($1 for each year)," he said in an email.

Of their $12, $10 and $8 weekly allowances, each is expected to divvy their amounts into three jars, labeled "church," "savings" and "spending." They must put at least 10 percent into the church jar, then split the remainder between savings and spending.

"It is amazing that they all give more than 10 percent to church and have each settled on 50-50 between savings and spending," says their proud dad. "If we get children into these habits early in life, hopefully they will continue as they get older."

Lean on yourself

"My dad was fond of telling his sons, 'The biggest helping hand you will get is attached to your arm,' " said George Beitzel, a retired banker in Elk Grove. Whether it was harvesting a crop, digging a ditch or putting money in the bank, the message was to rely on yourself. "That was applied to work, study, savings and most other things," said Beitzel. "At 75, I still remember his words and passed them on to our sons."

Not me

And finally, some dads, it seems, would rather not be the family advice-giver. When Teri Shaull was growing up in Bakersfield in the 1930s, her father worked long hours for an oil trucking company.

Today, at 82, she still chuckles at his favorite piece of fatherly advice: "Don't listen to me, do what your mother says."

Call The Bee's Claudia Buck, (916) 321-1968. Read her Personal Finance blog, www.sacbee.com/personalfinanceblog.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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