by Mark “Gunny” Thomas
Rule #1: Choose a profession that allows you to spend plenty of dedicated time with your spouse and children, even it means less money and a step down in lifestyle. The lost years of your offspring’s childhood can never be recaptured. I know personally many men who have had successful careers and fulfilling family lives at the same time; they can and should go together. If you are struggling over the temptation to trade off riches for family life, let family win the debate. Maybe you need to settle for mere prosperity instead of wealth. Attend every major or minor event in your children’s lives — dance recitals, baseball games, etc. — and elevate your wife to Queen of your home, but don’t be an absentee sovereign.
Rule #2: Set aside a regular night for a Family Night. Use it for family activities and outings, game nights, family councils, and lessons on things that are important to your family’s moral, spiritual and ethical growth. This is your only chance to systematically pass on your family’s values, history and traditions so they become part of the family continuum. You can use this time to teach them the American History they are not learning in school, or old-fashioned virtues like “work,” “worship” or “freedom.” If you fail to pass on the family baton, they will grow up like a ship that is all sail and no anchor, drifting with every vagrant wind, and are the vote-hungry politician’s lawful prey.
This is a hard rule to consistently execute as the kids are drawn in a million directions by school, their social life and other activities. Our performance in the Thomas house has been less than perfect, but we have tried hard, and it has paid dividends in family togetherness and offspring with character and a sense of belonging to an extended family unit with standards and traditions.
Rule #3: Go over the family finances regularly with the whole family. Don’t just be a bank with what looks to the kids like an apparently endless supply of money. Make sure the kids know that hard financial choices are a routine part of life. In family financial conferences, you can implant in them a long-term perspective. The kids will moderate their demands on The Bank of Dad if they understand the family’s financial parameters.
Rule #4: Don’t have a secret financial life with un-accountable amounts of money to spend. No man would become a secret gambler or be tempted to have a mistress on the side if his personal finances were totally transparent. Not doing that can lead to divorce — which is always a financial catastrophe, as I will discuss later. Secret money that is available to finance secret vices can permanently crumble the character of a good man, and the subsequent cover-up lies can become a reflexive way of life, turning a good man into a chronic liar.
Rule #5: Put aside at least 10% of what you make for debt reduction, investments, bulk buying, entrepreneurial ventures and bargain hunting, and it’s the beginning of your retirement program. It’s also a huge deterrent to irresponsible spending.
Rule #6: If you must bring work home from the office, make it a rare exception, or save it until the kids are in bed. Making more money is not a good excuse, and if you consistently spend family time working at home or always stay late at the office, your wife and kids will get the clear message that you care more about your work than you do about them.
Rule #7: Tithe. “God, lead us to those whose lives we can bless as thy servants.” Giving money to a good cause is an effective way to eliminate greed and keep things in perspective, as well as to gain the genuine satisfaction and great self-image that comes from knowing that you have made a difference in someone’s life. We tithe to our church; you can do it to any worthy cause. A tithe is a tenth, and is the cure for greed and selfishness. If you give away one-tenth of your paycheck every month, it will condition you to not love your money. Consider your income and assets, current and future, as a stewardship to bless other’s lives.
There is a real payoff for this. The Old Testament prophet, Malachi, promised us that if we will no longer “rob God” by not paying our “tithes and offerings,” God will “open the windows of Heaven and pour out a blessing so great you can hardly receive it.” He may be talking about things that are more important than money.
Rule #8: Save at least 10%. If you save at least 10% of what you make every month to build up a real nest egg, you will have found the antidote to greed and covetousness and the key to financial discipline and a cushion against a job loss or an economic catastrophe, like now. Most prosperous people in your neighborhood (and there are probably several of them) have built up small or large fortunes by consistent savings over the years. The average American family earns about $3,000 a month, and $300 a month invested prudently can become a huge sum in 10, 20, or 30 years.
With the resulting stash, you can take advantage of bulk buying. You can pay cash for a car or refrigerator, or you can pay the bills if you are sick or get laid off. You can provide the seed money for that dream of a business you had. You can also swing for the fences on that great day in the future when the markets offer irresistible values.
Rule #9: Be generous. This is the ultimate inoculation against the love-of-money disease. Never miss an opportunity to help someone in need. Who might that be? They are all around you. Be a soft touch, without thought of reward or even repayment. The Law of Compensating Returns; you can’t give it away faster than God blesses you with it. I really believe this works in the real world.
There is no happiness like that found in giving service or other help to someone. The recipient may not even appreciate it. An old half-true statement says, “No good deed goes unpunished,” but it doesn’t matter; you know, and God knows, and peace of mind and serene nights of sound sleep are the result.
Get Thee Behind Me, Greenback
Men who put money ahead of wholesome family recreation, church, charitable works, etc. usually live blighted lives. Most prosperous people who got their money by single-minded dedication to making money at the expense of other much more important things are either divorced or have desperately unhappy marriages. They have become easy prey for gold-diggers less than half their age. What they have gained is dwarfed by what they have lost.