How Important Is a Financial Mentor?

Wouldn’t it be nice of your money came with an instruction book on how to make it grow? What you know about money and the world of personal finance you probably had to learn on your own. Few are taught how to build, manage, and preserve their own wealth in any formal way like in a high school or college classroom, although that number is finally starting to increase.

One of the best ways to learn about money is to seek the guidance of a financial mentor. Here's how different financial mentors have helped me.

Offering a course called Financial Freedom 101 would be a great way to get that knowledge, but that’s not a reality in most places yet. Most schools just don’t teach money skills. And yet, personal finance and wealth building principles are two of the most important educational lessons you can ever learn. It can make the difference between a life full of purpose and security, and a life of pain, frustration, and unhappiness. So how can one learn about the world of finance and money?

Who Can Be Your Financial Mentor?

In my little world, the very first person I came into contact with, and that’s literally, was my mom. And not only did she give me life, she gave me a great deal of care and attention to important matters of life, one of which was money. My mom was my first financial mentor. Does that surprise anyone? After all, as a kid, who do you spend more time with than your mother?

I was really lucky because my mother was pretty smart and she was the one in our family who controlled the money and was responsible for growing, stretching, and protecting it. For the first 10 years or so of my life, Dad was the sole breadwinner, but Mom was the “Secretary of the Treasury”! Mom eventually went to work at Sears in their catalogue buying offices and spent 25 years there beginning in 1961 when I was 11, before retiring in 1986.

What a Role Model Teaches You

In any situation, a role model leads by example. That’s a big deal, especially for a child and that was really obvious in my case because my mother tried to include me in almost all of the financial and money matters that made sense to include me in. That involved things like grocery shopping, clothes shopping, and buying school supplies so that I would and could understand how these decisions were made and also understand the importance of planning and budgeting money. My mom did that with me and even tried to do it with my older sister who never really quite got the hang of it. That is a whole different story in itself, perhaps for another day…

You see, we didn’t have a lot of money and even though we weren’t in poverty, we lived modestly in a row house in Philadelphia, owned one car (which my dad needed for work), and didn’t do very many luxury-oriented things like big vacations or lots of dining out and such. Most of our money was spent on the real basics of food, clothing, and shelter that we actually needed.

Wanting things beyond those basics (as kids always do) was something we could shoot for and save up for, but it wasn’t going to just happen on a whim. I have loads of personal stories about that kind of thing and I remember them well because as a kid I was so jealous of my friends who had so many more things than I did. That was because they had a bigger family income then we did (which I now have figured out) or, they just didn’t manage their money well and went into debt. Yeah, even back in the 1960s people did that regularly.

One Mentor Is Just the Beginning

I have to admit that Mom laid a great road for me to follow, but after I left home and began my work career I was lucky again. I had several experiences that shaped my understanding of finances and money that have never left me thanks to several people I met among the way from then until now.

The first one was what I am going to call a “negative mentor”. His name is omitted here to protect, eh, ME!

He was a classic case of all the things you should never do when it comes to finances and money and he just so happened to also be my very first boss at my very first job with R.H. Macy’s department stores.

Lessons learned from a negative influence are just as valuable as any other or maybe more so. The trouble is that there is danger around every corner when you are associated with someone who not only is not well versed in these things but is downright dishonest, too. So what I learned about money and finance also was coated with bad ethics and taking caution, too.

I managed to separate myself from the dirty parts of my job and keep my dignity intact. That was noticed by some others who decided to help me in my career, the “positive mentors”.

Take the Opportunities When They Come Along

Because I was a hard worker, I was noticed by several successful executives at Macy’s and I made sure I never disappointed them when the opportunity came along. Not only did I pay attention to what they said, because they knew so much, but I made it a point to implement it in my work. At some point early on, I saw that what my mom had told me in her life as a money expert at home was not very different from the money experts I met in business. It was on a different scale but essentially the same.

I remember being given the responsibility for writing a purchase order for $1,000,000 at my job as a buyer and feeling confident about the fact that I had done all my homework and crossed all the “t’s” and dotted all of the “i’s” in doing so. Even though it wasn’t my own money, I always treated it as if it were. After all, my job was being judged by what I did. That’s the kind of attitude that does well at work and in life.

Why You Need a Financial Mentor

Here’s the reason why a mentor is so important. We all make mistakes and hopefully we are able to learn from them. However, when you have a mentor to help guide you, you can take out some of the mistakes you might make before you make them because you are aware of what the mistakes might be.

Final Thoughts

You are not burdening anyone when you look to them as a mentor. I can speak with authority about this and that is that almost every successful person loves to talk about their success and share. Sometimes it may be just a huge ego and bragging, but in many cases it’s way more than that. Some successful people feel that they are actually teachers and enjoy that, some actually feel an obligation to mentor others, sort of a payback for what they may have been given as a gift of knowledge from others. That’s a good thing, isn’t it?

Many successful people are excited about what they do and would be more than willing to pass on some of that knowledge to you. If they are, take them up on it. Even if the day comes when you can learn all about finances in a classroom, mentors will still be out there and still be a great opportunity for you to learn from.

A financial mentor could help you save a lot of money and the time it takes rectifying mistakes that can be avoided.

Do you have a financial or money mentor? Have you ever had one? What would you say to someone who seeks your advice about money and finances that you have learned over time? Could you be a financial or money mentor?

6 Comments

  1. Louise

    Gary, I had never thought of them with the term “financial mentor” before, but certainly my parents also filled that role for me. They were frugal, buying carefully and saving up for special things for our family. Mom physically paid the bills, and we kids always saw that money was going to church/charity as well.
    As we got older, Dad talked us through the simple stock and life insurance accounts they had set up for us as children, (more times than I needed to, but I consider it a sign of love). I still vote whenever I get the ballots for “my” board of directors for stocks and retirement accounts, though I don’t think even Dad actually reads the prospectus mailings.
    Many of the stories I see in frugal living posts mention parents, for good or bad reasons. I am very fortunate to have been influenced in positive ways, and try to do so with my son as well. If I did not have that beginning, I hope I would have been able to educate myself, including with the help of good human resources officers. But it is much much easier now than when I was a child, with the help of good websites and publications aimed at consumers.

    1. That’s such a great story, Louise, and your parents did such a great service to you kids that it has obviously remained with you throughout your life. When you stop and think about it, having that kind of experience is something that most families can foster, but unfortunately not all of them do. Today, yes, there are many ways to gain financial information, but getting it from mom and dad means so much more because it’s personal and comes with love. Thanks so much for your comments.

  2. My parents were my financial mentors. They bought nothing on credit, saved up the cost of cars and did not buy them until they had the cash. They never ran a balance on a credit card a single month. They paid the house off early and for most of their lives never had a single dollar of debt. My wife had parents that also were adverse to debt and lived frugally. So when we got married we never had a money argument, never ran a credit card balance and never borrowed money to buy cars. We also paid the house off early, became wealthy early and retired early. It is an amazing advantage to have money mentors just as you detailed in your post. If you only learn from your own mistakes, you are going to make a lot of mistakes!

    1. It’s so good to hear how much you and your wife learned from your respective parents’ lessons and practices with money. The temptations today for people to misuse their credit are so great, but when you have a good foundation, like the ones both your parents gave you, you can resist it. I always say that you can learn from your mistakes, but sometimes the recovery period can cause a real tragedy, so avoiding them like you have said is a much better strategy. Thanks for sharing your personal experiences.

    1. Thank you, Erik. I really enjoyed reading your post and finding out more about you. I think what is obvious is that the opportunities to learn from others, and in your case, to spark real interest, is out there even when we’re not looking for it. It’s a great story and I hope it will inspire others.

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