Money Stories – Father Knows Best

Money Stories – Father Knows Best

In our continuing series on Money Stories, this week we speak with Erika, age 33, Pediatric Surgeon from Philadelphia, PA. What I love about this Money Story is you see so many financial threads pulled together – a father who instills the importance of not just earning money but knowing what to do with it; the idea of tackling education debt head on; and a woman whose early money interactions has made her confident and excited about her financial journey.  We should all be so lucky to have such a positive blueprint!

Tell us about your earliest money story?

“My earliest money story is from when I was 8 years old and we used to spend the summers at the beach.  My brothers and I would play checkers with my dad.  If we won, we would get $20 – a big deal because my dad was extremely good at checkers.  Our approach was to hold regular daily tournaments among the siblings – and the tournament winner would play my dad.  This went on all summer and we all had a chance to win.

At the end of the summers, my dad said we should invest winnings in stocks.  So in the mornings we would read the stock pages of the newspaper.  I chose to invest my cash in Sears Roebuck stock.  I don’t recall exactly how it did.  It might have done well initially but I never found out what happened to the investment. It was just $200 of stock; I would pay attention during the summers but then would forget about it.  It never amounted to cash in my hand. 

In retrospect, the fact that this is my money story isn’t really that surprising.  My dad was really good with managing his money. In fact, he handled all his own investments – and obviously did well as he was able to retire at 50.

Basically, the lesson from my dad was that you earn money and you let it work for you.”

Do you think about your money story often?

“I do - because financially my dad has had a big role in how I save money. He worked hard but he made time for our family, explaining that his money was working for him.  From my perspective, he was always there and always supported us but found the time to teach us about saving money.”

What has been your proudest money experience?

“In medical school, my parents let me live in their condo. I didn’t have to pay rent or the condo fees.  My dad was very clear that he was okay with this as I was in medical school.  But my mom was upset about it because she thought I needed to be earning my way more and that I needed to learn the value of a dollar.  It created a lot of strife in the family that I lived in this condo for free. 

But by living there for free, it gave me other opportunities. I waited tables in medical school, and they would let me pick up extra shifts.  I could make a couple hundred dollars each time and I lived off that money.

Plus I had thought a lot about the cost of my medical education. I applied to some of the top private medical schools but ultimately chose a state school with an annual tuition of $10,000 versus the $50,000 I would have needed for private school. I took loans only to pay for tuition and then took extra jobs to pay for all of my other needs.  I waited tables, worked for an expert medical witness and took summer research positions. 

Ultimately, I graduated with only $40,000 of debt – the four years of tuition.  When I started my residency I still lived in my parents’ condo. I was actually earning money then, but instead of paying monthly rent, I applied it towards my debt, paying it off in three years.  I couldn’t have done that if my parents hadn’t 1) let me live there and 2) taught me that debt was bad.

I’m the only one I know from medical school who paid off all my loans in my residency.  I was so excited to pay them off.  I felt that living within my means was a huge deal. I never want to live beyond my means.  Looking back I feel I made the right decisions.” 


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