My Father Taught Me Everything I Know About Money. Here’s Why I’ll Be Doing Things Differently for My Own Son

A photo to accompany a story about teaching children money lessons Courtesy of Julien Saunders
Julien Saunders with his wife and son. Saunders learned important money lessons from his hardworking father, but he's also reflecting on what he wants to do differently with his own son.
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This Father’s Day, as I reflect on my childhood growing up in 1980s Brooklyn, one thing stands out the most: I can count on one hand the number of households I knew with active fathers. 

But I was lucky. Not only was my father present, but he made it a point to teach me important money lessons that would shape my life. 

In the Black community, Jamaicans are both widely applauded and jokingly notorious for having more than one job. My father took great pride in working as an accountant for a large Manhattan hotel, and he also leveraged his bookkeeping skills to start a small tax preparation business on the side. Even now, decades after retiring, he commits to doing a handful of clients’ taxes, which provides him with supplemental income.

Julien Saunders’ father

This meant that my father worked — a lot. He was work-obsessed. He focused overwhelmingly on being a “provider” and left the majority of child-raising to my mother. 

Now that I am a father myself to a curious 4-year-old, I am mindful of the lessons I’ll pass onto my son that may be more relevant for his generation, like creating financial independence in order to create more quality family time — and starting to invest as early as possible. 

How We Approach Our Careers and Money

Unlike my father, I have little interest in having a long professional career. I have completely different career and family goals. My approach to raising my son is completely different and upends traditional norms.

Pro Tip

You don’t have to follow in your parent’s footsteps when it comes to raising your family. Pursuing financial independence has allowed me and my family to create more memories and not be stressed for our financial future.

My wife and I have been on the path to financial independence for the past eight years and have saved enough for a healthy retirement. We did this by investing predominantly in index funds through our employer-sponsored 401(k) and traditional and Roth IRAs. Also, for years we owned two rental properties that provided us supplemental income in addition to our jobs. Though by 2020, we decided to liquidate both properties to focus on our current and future online businesses.

Because of our aggressive saving and investing, we have the luxury of taking a more flexible and purpose-driven approach with the work we do today and the amount of time we all spend together. In many ways, the idea of financial independence clashes against cultural expectations. But to us, the benefits far outweigh the costs associated with carrying on traditional norms. When there are opportunities to nurture our relationship or family bond, we’re in a position to put ourselves first — not work.

After 20 years of combined experience in corporate marketing and business development roles, my wife and I started our own business, rich & REGULAR ®. There, through creative storytelling, multimedia production, and public speaking, we earn income by inspiring others to improve their financial lives. The work is more fulfilling than what we did in our corporate days and gives us much more flexibility to be active and engaged parents. It also unlocked passive income earning opportunities through book publishing, licensing our creative work, and our blog, so we aren’t always required to exchange our time for money. Our goal is to maximize the amount of time we are able to spend with our son and not spend 24/7 at the office.

How We Approach Household Responsibilities

My mother was no stranger to work, either. Throughout my life, she’s always held two or three jobs to help make ends meet. While her and my father’s combined income gave us a good quality of life, the balance of caretaking fell predominantly on my mother’s shoulders. So in addition to working multiple jobs, she was still responsible for carrying the workload around our home. While this imbalance was socially acceptable, it’s not one we wish to model for our son.

At home, I have ultimate responsibility for meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking for everyone. My wife and I take turns picking our son up from school and attending doctor’s visits. And when our son is struggling with nightmares and can’t sleep, we alternate caring for him in the middle of the night. 

The reason for this is because my wife and I are partners in business and have equal responsibility in managing our work obligations. As a result, our earning potential is reliant on both of us being fully able to contribute. If one of us is consistently drained due to an imbalance of at-home responsibilities, our business, family dynamic, and finances would suffer.

Setting My Son Up for Financial Independence

We focus a lot of our savings efforts on making sure my son is financially set for the future. This is important to me because despite working multiple jobs, my parents didn’t earn enough to save for my college education. Instead, I was encouraged to apply for scholarships and to work while going to school. This further cemented my strong work ethic but oftentimes left me exhausted and unable to take full advantage of collegiate programs and activities.  

Saunders giving his son a haircut

Knowing this, my son’s college experience will be different. When he comes of age, he’ll learn that we began saving for his college education long before he could read a single sentence. We do this through a 529 plan, which is a tax-advantaged investment account designed specifically for qualified educational expenses. These plans are unique because every state offers a version of the account, though you don’t have to live in the state to invest in it. In our case, we happen to live in the state of Georgia and we utilize the Georgia Path 2 College 529 plan because it offers affordable investment options and a generous $4,000 state tax deduction per qualified beneficiary. 

At this rate, assuming we max out contributions for the next 14 years, we’ll have an estimated $92,556 dollars to go towards his tuition. And while we can’t predict the future cost of colleges and universities, we feel fortunate knowing that we’ll have taken steps in advance to help contribute to his education.

Bottom Line

I’m grateful for all the lessons my father passed onto me as a child and young man. His tireless work ethic and financial lessons contributed greatly to my upbringing and laid the foundation for who I am today. Now that I have a wider set of investing and earning options available to me, I’m able to build a stronger and more flexible lifestyle for my son.