The trouble is, you think you have time.

Today, Samantha and I were watching videos I shot of her when she was a baby. It is always fun to look back and enjoy those moments forever frozen on the video tape.

One segment struck Samantha as funny; Sam named it “What Rhymes With Duck?”  (click the link and then click the link below this link.)

As we watched this video over and over again, we realized that what we were looking at was not a funny video, but a snapshot of Eva, Sam’s Mom, and my wife of forty years, when Eva was thirty-eight. What struck us was how young Eva looked. Her smile radiated happiness. She truly loved being with her daughter and sharing a few moments opening Samantha’s birthday present.

We watched the video and realized this was before Eva had wrinkles, or grey hair. She has just come home from teaching school. Her smile is so warm; she smiles so readily even after she frowns at her husband’s inane implication about the rhyming of “duck.”

This was a time of great joy for Eva. Teaching was going very well for her. She had a baby to come home to every day after work. The baby adored her Mother. Her husband was keeping the house in shape and cooking and keeping the baby entertained during the day. What more could you ask for?

We didn’t know it then, but if we could have asked for anything, we probably would have asked to live in that moment (remain young and beautiful) forever. But like the quote says, you don’t control time.

Everything changes. Samantha grew noticeably brighter every day, Eva and I grew a little more each day; we didn’t notice the slow transition for another twenty years. Life got better for us every day, every year. While we weren’t looking, time changed; we changed.

Samantha and I look at Eva in this video and we love her as she was. We love her as she is. We thought we had time. We don’t. Soon, we will have to love Eva only as she was. She will no longer be with us. Are we sad? Yes. Can we be happy again? Samantha and I find great pleasure watching Eva find joy in teaching Samantha words and rhymes. Teaching is Eva’s greatest joy in life. It is just a brief moment in time, but it reminds us of how innocent and how happy we were to live in that moment. The moment.

I remind myself to focus on each breath, each moment: it is the only time we have together.

The Bank of Jeff: Where Lifelong Savers are Forged

Savings is the absence of spending. That simple fact can dictate the future success of almost every individual’s financial life. As important as knowing how to spend money wisely is to one’s financial security, it is even more fundamental to good economics to understand the value of saving.

With that in mind, I combined some ideas I learned in the insurance industry and designed a program to shape my daughter’s financial acumen to be directed toward saving.

To that end, I created the “Bank of Jeff.”

The Bank of Jeff is unique in that it is home-based, doesn’t insure deposits, accepts deposits twenty-four/seven, and pays a very attractive rate to only one client: my daughter.

The features of this bank were designed for only one function: to turn my daughter into an inverterate saver.

A typical bank, or credit union, was paying about one percent per anum when she was learning about money. As an example, one hundred dollars is a lot of money to a seven-year-old kid. Given a one percent return, said seven-year-old would get back one dollar for hiding her one hundred dollars away from the pleasures of what that money could buy during the year. I can’t think of too many kids (or adults, for that matter) who would find that rate of return motivational. In fact, even Sam, at seven, found it laughable.

What to do? Easy. Pay a better rate: pay a meaningful return of the dollar. I chose a rate that even Sam could appreciate: five percent per month. If that sounds good, think about the per anum return: about seventy percent. Now we are talking about a rate that will get any seven-year-old’s attention. Heck, it would get my attention, and I hate saving.

So how did it work? The account balance was evaluated at the end of each month. Starting with a balance of one hundred dollars, the one hundred dollars must remain in the account for an entire month, then the value of the account at the end of the month would be one hundred five dollars.

If the money was deposited in any time after the first of the month, say January, the five percent would be paid at the end of the next month, February. The money had to remain in the bank for a full month to earn interest.

On the other hand, at any time money was taken out of the account, said money would earn no interest.

The incentive shifts from spending to saving because there is a rich economic interest to save as opposed to spend.

Certain controls had to be placed on the account in order to not bankrupt the banker. The maximum amount that could remain in the account was one thousand dollars; one month’s interest on one thousand dollars is fifty dollars.

When the one thousand dollar limit was reached, by mutual agreement, nine hundred dollars was withdrawn from the account and placed in an aggressive mutual fund opened in my daughter’s name.

The point of having an account with between one hundred and one thousand dollars is to have money available for spending on really important wants, say a RC car (Sam actually withdrew money to buy one). At the same time, Sam thought long and hard about withdrawing her money that was drawing five dollars to fifty dollars each month in order to by whatever it is that kids what to buy with their pocket money.

The Bank of Jeff created a deliberate saver and an even more deliberate spender: Sam. She remains a deliberate saver to this day. She could probably cash out her own house if she wanted to. She cashed out a new Volvo with her savings and picked it up in Sweden to boot.

The Bank of Jeff was retired after high school graduation, but the benefits of the bank accrue daily: Sam’s financial attitudes toward money are simple: she’s a saver, through and through.

Ask anyone who has watched her deliberate about spending her cash.

Using Math and Modeling to Defeat Alcoholism

The words you speak become the house you live in. –Hafiz

Okay, you will quickly notice that this blog has only the slightest tangential connection to this quote. I just like the quote so much that I thought I would put it in a blog and remember it each time I revised this blog.

What I really want to achieve in this text is the retelling of one of my favorite parenting stories. This story actually segues from yesterday’s story: “Alcohol and the Bell Jar.”

Twenty-one years ago, while my daughter Samantha Anne Michael and I were enjoying ourselves on Sandy Beach, at Alcova Lake, Wyoming, on a late Saturday afternoon, we watched from high up on the slope of the beach, fascinated, as two heavily inebriated “lusters” rolled around on the beach below us, trying to pull off each other’s swimsuit. Sam was only seven at the time and didn’t understand the intricacies of the relationship between sex and alcohol.

She had a sense that these individuals were pretty passionate about something, she just wasn’t able to understand their behavior. She asked me, “Dad, what are those two people trying to do, get sandier?” “Well not exactly, Sam. I think they are drunk and expressing their lust publicly.” Okay, so I hadn’t effectively polished my explanation of public display of the sexual response.

I did take these people’s throes of passion as a teachable moment, however. She asked me why they would be drinking and drunk on a sandy beach on a beautiful day when they could be tubing. I refocused Sam’s attention to the fact that these folks were drunk and I wanted to address the time when she could start drinking alcohol.

Did I mention Sam was seven? It’s never to early to talk about responsible alcohol consumption.

I explained to Sam that alcohol abuse led to unhappiness and that I wanted her life to be a happy one. I had a simple plan that we could follow together that would assure that she and I would always be happy in our lives and with each other.

Sam was all ears.

I explained that when she was born, I came up with a plan to defend her against alcoholism. The plan was simple: I quit drinking beer when she was born. I had not had a beer for as long as she had been alive.

This is a fact that is only impressive to seven-year-olds. I continued that I would not drink another beer (or any other alcohol) for the next seven years, or until she was fourteen.

She asked, “So you are going to start drinking again when I am fourteen?”

I said, “No. I am going to point out to you when you are fourteen, and you are thinking about drinking and getting drunk like those folks in front of us, that I will have given up drinking for fourteen years which is equivalent to two of your lifetimes.”

She did the math. I think she was following my argument.

I continued, “When you are fourteen, you can easily make the choice to delay drinking with your friends until you are twenty-one. When you make that decision at fourteen, and delay your drinking successfully for seven years, I will have not had a beer in twenty-one years. You will have only sacrificed seven years of drinking to my twenty-one year sacrifice.”

That is three of your lifetimes. (Is this using ratios?)

“I made this sacrifice for you because it is that important to me that you get off to a good start, an alcohol-free start, and not end up on a beach rolling around in the sand, frustrated. When you are twenty-one, I can drink beer again.”

Sam’s response? “Why would you want to do that?”

“We’ll talk about that when you are twenty-one.”

When Sam returned home to Eagle River, Alaska, she made a video of her seven-year-old self instructing her fourteen-year-old self not to drink for the next seven years.

She kept her promise; I kept mine. I haven’t ever heard of her rolling around in the sand; it must have worked.

I think they call this “modeling the behavior we want to see in others.” Works, most of the time.

I think this comes under the heading of “Building your house with your words.”