Your Legacy is More Than Money
Ah, the holidays…a time when many of us reflect on the past year, make plans for the new one, and think about how we can share what we have with others for the greater good. This year, as you think about your plans for giving, I’d like to invite you to consider gifting a different type of asset that you may have previously overlooked — your wisdom.
Wealth Wisdom Lessons
The most valuable lessons I’ve learned throughout my life, the ones that shaped my core values and made me who I am, didn’t come to me through my formal education. They were shared with me or modeled for me, by my parents and by other mentors I’ve been fortunate to have along the way. You probably feel the same, and you may have vivid memories of those lessons and how they were shared with you, as I do.
I grew up in a hard-working family of modest means. My dad worked nearly his entire career at Pepsi, and my mom worked hard at home taking care of us kids and managing the household. My parents were not college-educated, yet while they didn’t have a lot of financial wealth, they had common sense in spades. They were frugal where it mattered, so that we could have what we really needed.
My mom didn’t realize it at the time, but she modeled great budgeting skills to me as she stretched the household money to cover the necessities. I remember leaving the grocery store with her, pushing a cartful of food which had cost almost nothing, because she had spent time beforehand meticulously planning what items were needed and clipping coupons for them. We never talked about money directly, but I could see how well she managed with limited resources, and I learned from that.
I took playing baseball very seriously when I was growing up, and played for multiple youth travel teams. For those who aren’t baseball fans, youth travel teams are highly competitive. In fact, Bryce Harper, who went on to become a two-time National League Most Valuable Player with the Philadelphia Phillies, was a frequent opponent.
At that point in my life, baseball was everything to me, and I noticed that a lot of the wealthier kids had all the best equipment available at the time. I remember asking my dad if he could buy me a DeMarini Voodoo bat, which was very expensive, since all my teammates had them. For the first time in my young life, Dad sat me down and talked with me very directly about our family’s modest financial circumstances. He didn’t sugarcoat the situation, nor did he demean it. He was just honest and told me the facts, and that conversation opened the door to additional personal finance conversations that we would go on to have from that point forward. Those conversations taught me very basic but extremely valuable lessons, such as the value of getting a college education, budgeting and limiting debt.
Despite their modest means, my parents knew how to save enough for their goals, spend what they had wisely, and provide for the family. They gave me a legacy far more precious than money—they shared with me their wealth wisdom. As I grew up, went to college, and launched my career, I have often revisited what I learned from them, especially as my wife and I raise our own family.
Character Capital Can Be Part of Your Legacy
At TCI, we talk often with clients about legacy. Many people initially think of legacy in terms of the financial assets that pass to future generations or charities, but often the act of thinking through these details inspires more reflective questions. How do I want to be remembered? Have I done enough to pass on my values and the wisdom I’ve acquired over a lifetime to future generations? This is when the discussion of legacy can broaden beyond financial assets. From my parents’ example, I like to think that legacy includes not only wealth wisdom but also what I’ve heard some call “character capital.”
My mom is a fantastic listener, is warm and kind, and can talk with anyone. She “never knew a stranger,” as the saying goes, and she has a truly caring heart. When I was little, I’d be on my way somewhere with Mom, but she would get caught up in a conversation with a neighbor who wanted to talk. I would get so irritated at this waste of time, as I saw it then. Yet, Mom was always where she wanted to be and in the moment for those conversations. She made people feel heard, understood, and cared about. As I grew older, I realized Mom’s way was the right way of treating people. The world is a better place when you strive to do the right thing, so I have tried to honor the character capital that my mom modeled for me, by nurturing those caring qualities in myself.
Passing Down Wisdom Isn’t Always Easy
As I’ve become more aware of their value, I’ve noticed that we are often hesitant to share our wealth wisdom and character capital with others. I can think of several reasons, ranging from cultural taboos to our own upbringing. We might be especially reluctant to pass our wealth wisdom onto others because money is often considered an indelicate or awkward subject among family members and friends. We might fear that we’ll appear condescending or that we could be rebuffed. We might assume that others, especially young people, will learn anything they need to know in school or online. At the most basic level, we might not know how to start a wealth wisdom conversation, or how to model character capital to those who want to learn from us. If any of these reasons resonate with you, think back to those who shared their wealth wisdom or character capital with you. Yes, you might have had a lemonade stand or mowed lawns for neighbors, so you probably learned many lessons through personal experience. Chances are you had some very meaningful conversations with people along the way who were mentors to you, and who taught you about money and character through both words and actions.
You valued the insights of these trusted allies in your life then, and now, in this holiday season and in the coming year, you have a chance to pay it forward. Consider this a call to action and try to connect with someone you care about, to share the incredible wealth wisdom and character capital you’ve accumulated through a lifetime. It really is one of the best, most lasting gifts you can give.