My Father, My Savings, and Me
I don’t remember my dad giving me much advice about money. You might think he would be keen to impart his knowledge: he’s an accountant turned maths teacher, a spreadsheet devotee, and an inveterate saver. But most of my dad’s financial lessons were implicit in how we lived when I was growing up. Our lifestyle was comfortable but careful: taking cheap holidays, rarely eating out, and making a succession of second-hand cars last as long as practically possible.
Even now, I think about what my dad might do before I make my own financial decisions. I trust his judgment, so much so that he still looks after the main part of my savings—but, at 24, I’m wondering at what point I should start managing that money myself.
I wouldn’t have this money saved at all if it weren’t for my dad. It comes from his side of the family—ultimately, from the mysteriously large estate of an eccentric bachelor uncle who emigrated to the States as a young man. That money was inherited by my dad and each of his six siblings when my grandparents passed away, and one-seventh of the estate still provided enough for my dad to both embark on an extension of our family home, and set aside a portion for me and each of my siblings.
My mum told me recently that, had it been her sole decision, she probably wouldn’t have thought to put that money aside for us—so I’m grateful for my dad’s future planning. The money enabled me to have experiences growing up which might not have been possible otherwise, such as school trips to the Continent and summer camps with friends. Some of my sister’s portion paid for her to learn to drive, and more recently for her wedding dress; some of my brother’s went towards a high-quality flute to help him pursue his goal of studying at a high-level music college.
When I turned 18, my dad informed me how much my portion was worth. He explained that he’d been keeping it invested in a high-income trust, and he would transfer it to me if I liked. I said no, and I haven’t asked for control of it in the six years since.
I didn’t want the responsibility of a (relatively) large amount of money, and I trusted my dad to manage it well. The fact that he’d been investing it surprised me a little, but I supposed that the promise of getting more back than you originally put in was a good-enough reason to leave the situation as it was. I didn’t feel knowledgeable enough—or, more honestly, enough of an adult—to start managing investments myself.
Reading The Billfold the past couple of years has shown me that all types of people—even people my age—can and do invest money well. You don’t have to be a former accountant like my dad! It’s only embarrassingly recently that I looked into how high-income trusts actually work, and where my inherited money is being invested. The knowledge is out there for me to learn, but the feeling of being “adult enough” is a bit more complicated.
I go back and forth over whether I should take control of the money myself. On the one hand, I’ve left home, I’m pursuing my career, and I’m financially independent from my parents in every other way. I am an adult and should manage my own affairs.
On the other hand, my dad is happy to keep an eye on the money. He is experienced and trustworthy, and can always transfer me some of the money if I need it (in fact, I used some of it recently for a deposit to enable me to move out of student accommodation into a privately rented flat—which was itself a step in feeling like a grown-up!) I’m close to my parents and I shouldn’t feel I have to establish my adult self by separating from them financially, if it’s just as practical to leave things as they are.
Thinking this over also made me wonder how my dad would feel if I did ask for control of the money. He offered when I was 18, but would asking now—for no pressing reason—imply I don’t trust him? Our family is going through a lot of changes as my sister prepares to get married and my brother prepares to leave home for the first time. Would my separating out my finances make the impending empty nest feel even emptier?
While writing this Billfold post, I texted my dad to confirm a couple of details about the investment, and as he answered those questions he offered again to transfer me the money. So I don’t think my worries are justified. I said no, though— for now. Perhaps I’ll wait till my PhD is done and I can add my own earnings to the account, or perhaps I’ll just take some time to investigate my options and ask my dad to help me set up my own investment. Wherever the money ends up, it will remind me of how much I’ve benefited from his wise use of his inheritance.
Alicia Smith is a graduate student in the U.K. and tweets @thetimekeptcity.
This story is part of The Billfold’s Parents Month series.