A Money Lesson My Dad Taught Me in Childhood Helped Me Save

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  • My father taught me from a young age to save 10% of the money I earned or gave away.
  • I followed his rule to the letter and it helped me build an emergency fund with 6 months of expenses.
  • Now I have money to travel when I want and stay in nice hotels and Airbnbs.

When I was 13, my father took me to the bank for a major financial milestone: opening an account and getting a debit card. I had $100 in my wallet, mostly in fives and ones, that I had saved from hours of babysitting and spending money. I flipped through the plastic pages full of debit card designs until I landed on a now-discontinued panda design. “This is it,” I thought as I held it up. “The beginning of adulthood.”

As much as my 13-year-old self wanted to spend all the money in my bank account on nail polish, frozen yogurt, and books, my father’s financial advice was always in the back of my mind.

My father taught me to always save 10%

During this time, my father was my financial role model. He was privileged to have a stable career, but he always lived below his means. He was never interested in buying the fanciest cars or staying in luxury hotels. Instead, he installed solar panels on his home, drove high-mileage hybrid cars, and committed to saving his income.

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From a young age, he taught me to save 10% of every paycheck, allowance, or money I received, whether it was $50 or $500. I followed his advice and saved as much money as possible by often doing small things to save even more, like eating at home as much as possible or waiting to buy clothes during big sales.

Fast forward to when I was in college, pacing mornings and evenings between jobs as a writing teacher, student leader, and journalist. I maxed out my work hours when I was a full-time student earning near minimum wage and usually lived with three to five other people to keep my rent costs down, but I still have at least 60% of my income on my Seattle rent spent .

Even then, my father’s advice was ringing in my ears. I continued to save 10% of every paycheck, often deferring it after each pay period so I wasn’t tempted to spend it. It helped that I didn’t have a lot of room to spend money on knick-knacks or clothes.

My savings habit served me well when I landed my first higher-paying internship

During my freshman year, I applied for an internship at a large technology company. During the days of waiting for my recruiter to get back to me, I was too afraid to even see how much I could make as an intern because I didn’t want to get my hopes up. All I had on the books was an unpaid summer internship at another company and the few hundred dollars I was able to make as a journalism student, not nearly enough to pay rent in Seattle.

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It turned out that preparation met opportunity as I got the internship and was making seven times what I was making as a student.

It was tempting to buy all the things I couldn’t afford during college. I could get coffee whenever I wanted, add all those Target beauty items to my cart when they caught my eye, or buy movie tickets for a friend, no questions asked. But every time I got paid, I immediately shifted at least 10% to savings.

I was able to save 70% of what I made that summer, mostly by automatically transferring money before I could spend it so it was out of sight and out of mind. The spending habits I learned as a 13-year-old followed me into adulthood and enabled me to save sustainably.

I had an emergency fund when I needed it

As I prepared to work full-time, I began to think about what my life would be like after college. The money I had from saving 10% on every paycheck became my emergency fund to cover up to six months of living expenses if I ever lost my job, which was invaluable for my peace of mind when COVID-19 and the layoffs that came with it arrived.

In allocating money for every part of my life, from living expenses to travel, I’ve continued to set aside at least 10% of my paycheck for my 401(k) contribution and maximized my employer contribution.

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I’ve also set aside another 10% so I can travel however I want and spend money on nice Airbnbs and hotels and fly to my friends’ weddings and graduations without having to keep checking my bank account. Money hasn’t made me happy, but it has given me peace of mind and the ability to spend according to my values.

A lot has changed since I got my first debit card at age 13, but my way of thinking about money is still the same. Saving 10% of every paycheck is a money habit that has allowed me to save for my future self and reach my financial goals. What has worked for me is finding a sustainable way to save that fits my lifestyle, goals, and spending habits, and adapting it as my income and values ​​change.

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