When Teaching Kids Financial Literacy, Dad Jokes Don’t Cut It

February 26, 2019 by Rob Williams

In the early 1990s, when I was an adolescent, my father read poetry with a live band in nightclubs. My mother, who later became something of a local celebrity as a painter, poured her creative energy into gardening and making a cozy home. For all of their intelligence and creativity, neither of them taught me a whit about money.

There were no piggy banks or financial lessons via the parceling out of allowances. They didn’t even seem particularly interested in having money themselves.

My father cycled through a series of odd jobs—chauffeuring a well-off elderly woman, doing occasional freelance writing projects, or working in a print shop. My mother took a similar tack—working as a lunch lady at the nearby elementary school, then as a house cleaner, and finally as a clerk at the local library.

Empty Banks and Dad Jokes

One day, as we drove past the bank where my father kept whatever modest amount of money he had at the moment, he glanced over at me and chuckled: “M&T Bank? More like Empty Bank.” I laughed too. Nervously.

Around 12 at the time, I wasn’t particularly interested in money. I was never one of those kids who opened a lemonade stand or sold candy out of his backpack. But I was vaguely annoyed by the flippant attitude my parents took toward Franklin, Hamilton and friends. They scoffed at the idea that anyone cared about money, or found it interesting.

They were artists, in the old-school, “never sell out” kind of way—too unconventional to be hippies, but certainly hippie-adjacent. (Legend has it they drove past the original Woodstock Festival in 1969 and didn’t bother to stop. They thought themselves too cool, essentially, for the sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll riffraff.)

Money Avoidance Doesn’t Pay the Bills

Since neither of them acted like money had anything to do with their actual lives or identities, I didn’t either. Until I graduated from college with a degree in creative writing and a pile of student loan debt. I finally stopped to think: Wait, what the hell am I gonna do to get by? Very few people get rich being fiction writers.

After several years of temping in offices and working at a video store in the West Village (how quaint!), I eventually figured it out. I needed to monetize my obsessive personality and knack for the English language by becoming a copy editor.

But looking back on it, an education in financial literacy beforehand—not to mention a little career training—either in school, or ideally at home, would have been invaluable.


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