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A Novel Idea from the Bank of Dad

A Novel Idea from the Bank of Dad

“Dad, I need new tires. The repair shop said it’s not safe to drive on these.”

“Mom, I have literally nothing to wear. Can you Venmo me some money?”

“Hey guys, it’s me. I ran out of money on my meal card. Could you transfer some money into my account?”

Ah, the college years. They’ve flown from the nest, and yet, moments arise when we’re reminded that they haven’t fully launched just yet. So how’s a parent supposed to balance the importance of teaching a child to learn to fish, versus providing for their needs when there’s no other option?

There are plenty of theories, strategies, and approaches to such a conundrum, and we won’t attempt to cover all of them today. Instead, we’re highlighting--literally--one that got my attention years ago.

A Strategy Worth Highlighting

When I was in college, I once stumbled upon a friend sitting in the dining hall with a credit card statement and a worn-out ziploc bag full of highlighters. She was highlighting different charges in different colors. She obviously had a method to her madness, but it wasn’t clear exactly what it was.

“Oh, my dad has an approval process for all of us, for things we buy,” she explained upon hearing my intrigue. Her dad, a successful accountant and investor, gave each a credit card that they could use for any transaction. But the transaction is where the carte blanche ends, and the strategy begins. When the statement arrive, each daughter is required to get out their bag of highlighters and get to work.

Each highlights the expenses they consider appropriate for full reimbursement (textbooks, school fees, dining hall meals, and gas), which they think are worthy of splitting with mom and dad (sorority event fees, frugal fast food meals, and clothes), and which they would be reimbursing their parents for dollar-for-dollar (coffee runs, movie tickets, etc.).

The strategy stuck with me for a few reasons. First, this was a family who didn’t need to be frugal. Their financial success meant that they could easily give their kids a credit card and blindly foot the bill each month, just as many of the other wealthy families did at my school. But they chose to provide more for their kids than short-term satisfaction.

These wise parents opted to give them a future. As a result, their daughters were good stewards of their money. They considered the extra $1.50 guacamole would require. They split the cost of gas with friends on long road trips. And they had realistic expectations for their own lives, regardless of the level of financial success they would or would not attain.

Short-term sacrifice.

Long-term reward.

Medium-width highlighters.

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