“You want to go to college someday?”
he asked rhetorically.
I nodded. “That’s your first goal. Write it down.”

Many years ago, my father who was not prone to sentimentality or gift-giving in general, handed me a small box when I got home from my paper route. It was late afternoon on a Friday — payday. And while the pay wasn’t very good, the tips generally were — as I had over 70 customers on my route. And I delivered three different weekly newspapers and four different Sunday editions. (Like I said, this was many years ago.)

Anyways, he ushered me into the kitchen and told me to sit down and open the box. As I lifted the lid, he poured his 11th or 12th coffee of the day. Inside, was a slim, modest-looking book with the equally-understated title “My Budget Book.” But there were no pages. Just a series of bound, orangey-manila envelopes with the word “Goal” printed on them and a blank line. There probably 10 or 12 envelopes in total. 

That was it. I looked up at my Father with my usual confused look. He explained how the book worked. I was to write a specific savings goal on each envelope and then put a “target” amount to save each week. For some, it could be every other week, or once a month. 

Goals? What goals does a 13-year-old kid have?!

He wanted me to start now. With tonight’s paper route money. I told him I didn’t have any goals. That’s when he told me I was wrong. (Not the first time, most definitely not the last time — in his opinion.)

“You want to go to college someday?” he asked rhetorically. I nodded. “That’s your first goal. Write it down.”

“What about driving? You’re a few years away for your license. You’re going to need to save for Driver’s Ed and then insurance. I won’t charge you to use my car, but you’ll have to pay for gas.” Just like that, I had my second goal.

And then there was “Clothes.” My parents bought us clothes but wouldn’t buy us jeans. So If I wanted them, it was on my dime. Likewise “Haircuts.” My father was a barber way back when. He knew two styles — Whiffle and Crew. If I didn’t want either of those, I had to go to an outside barber. I chose a “stylist” who charged $9 a cut. Ten bucks with tip. (I guess frugality ran in the family.)

As my father rattled off more goals, I felt I had to speak up. 

“If I save for all these things I won’t have any money to go to the movies with my friends. Or McDonalds. Or the mall?! And you know how much I want an electric guitar!”

Setting Goals & Understanding Priorities

My Dad smiled. The message was starting to sink in. There are things you need and things you want. This Budget Book was going to teach me about understanding that difference as well as setting goals and prioritizing them. 

College was way off. So a little every week over time would add up. Driver’s Ed three or so years. New jeans lasted at least 8 or 9 months (I was in my growing years). A haircut was every couple of months. Etc. How soon did I want an electric guitar? And had I even thought about needing an amplifier and a chord?

The point was to understand the timing and allot an amount that would get me there. But there were sacrifices to be made along the way that would require a shift in spending and saving priorities. Maybe the movies were once a month. McDonald’s every other week. You get the drill.

The Book & The Power Were & Are In My Hands

There were non-negotiables like saving for college and insurance. After that, I got to decide how important each goal was to me and what I was willing to give (and take) in pursuit of them all. How well or aggressively I actually saved towards them helped demonstrate how much I truly valued them.

I used that book throughout my teens and into my 20’s. It set me on a foundation for understanding how to make the most of my money and to set realistic expectations. It helped me save for and buy a car, pay for an engagement ring over time, and save enough for a down-payment on my first Condo. And all before the age of the age of 25.

While the book is long gone, the fundamentals to this saving approach have lasted a lifetime. 

Today, there’s a variety of intuitive, interactive budgeting and savings tools, resources and apps available to help you navigate your own journey of financial needs, wants and desires. And if you like the approach my father taught me, be sure to check out the Banktivity app’s Envelope Budgeting feature. It’s a simple digital version of the savings strategy I follow and it can help you prioritize and make the most of your money.

As the holidays roll around and you wonder what to get the people in your life, or what others could get you, I humbly suggest the gift of financial control. Because once you have it, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

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