The Aleph Blog » Blog Archive » Where the Rubber Meets the Road at Home

Where the Rubber Meets the Road at Home

Dear David,

Quick question in case you find yourself with time to spare on your blog (ha!! ) :
You have a large family. What do you teach your children?  How do you prepare them using the economic back drop? What are the hopes, the fears that a parent has for their youngsters ?

It is the real-life application that so often is skipped over in financial blogs.  Maybe that’s as it should be – not every reader might find it of interest.  But isn’t that where the rubber meets the road?

So, I’ll send this off and maybe one of these days, the question ties in with something you were going to write.

Thanks a lot for your insights.

Regards,

A.S.

-==–==-=-=-=-=-=–=-==-=–=-=-==–=-=-==-

As the snow starts to fall, and Baltimore is in the eye of the storm (18-24 inches of snow predicted), I think it is a good time to sit back and think about the bigger things of life.  I’ll be spending all day tomorrow with my family.  Now, that’s normally true.  I work from home, and my wife and I homeschool.  We have two graduates, one drop-out (a sad tale, and what made me start working from home to protect my family until we told him he had to leave), an eleventh grader, ninth grader, two sixth graders, and a second grader.  Five of the eight are adopted, and are African-American to varying degrees.  All of them have very different ability levels, and different levels of being willing to work hard.  The one that left was bright, but lazy, and that was part of his undoing.

I’m not a natural parent, but I have learned to control my temper better as the years have gone by.  I never realized how much I like things quiet until I had a lot of kids. ;)  My wife and I work as a team.  She does most of the teaching, and I do most of the discipline, but each of us does both.  My wife is bright, but I can still do Algebra 2 through Calculus.  I pick up the slack there.

My kids do get some economic training from me in a variety of ways:

1) Informally at dinner, I explain what is going on in the world.  The eleventh grader gets a lot of it, while the college students can’t be bothered.  The ninth grader and sixth graders get a decent amount of it.  But it is precious when one of the kids comes and says “Dad, can you explain to me what happened during the Great Depression?”  That said, it was even more precious when I tried to explain what I did as a corporate bond manager to my kids seven years ago (100 phone call per day), and the then eight-year-old said, “It’s like ordering pizza all day, right?”

2) There is the “Bank of Dad.”  This is not original to me, but I tell the children that they can deposit their money with me, and I will pay them 5% interest (annual equivalent yield).  Oh, and to get started, they must amass $100.  That is psychologically important, because it is a barrier to getting into an exclusive club.  The rate has been 5% for the last 10 years — the rate is subsidized to encourage children to save.

My children are not all natural savers.  Half are and half aren’t.  The ability to earn interest makes them all more inclined to save.  What we try to put forth to those that are not natural savers is to spend less than all that they earn, and save the rest.  If all Americans did that our economy would be much better off.

3) Work hard.  That applies to schoolwork and chores.  Basic chores get no pay but there is an allowance if those normal chores are done.    Then there are other tasks that are available for pay, and those have varied over the years:

  • Cutting the yard.
  • Yard work.
  • Analyzing documents, and shredding the useless ones.
  • Sorting financial documents.
  • Shredding documents.
  • Checking derivative confirms.
  • Entering ABS cashflows for delivery to Bloomberg.
  • Entering industry rank data into spreadsheets.
  • Washing/waxing the cars.
  • Fixing the cheap Ikea furniture around the home.
  • Killing crickets and other vermin in the home.
  • Teaching math, or other subjects to younger children.
  • And more… if their schooling is done, neighbors often employ them for tasks, because the children are very reliable.

4) I spend time regularly explaining to my children what careers are in demand, and which are not.  I also explain the basic ideas of how companies make money, or not.  Then they follow what is happening in my career, with the media appearances, talks and other things that go on with me.  In any case, I try to explain to them to be practical, which is not generally taught in the schools.  Yes, do what you love, but don’t be dumb… no one will pay for useless bits of knowledge, and there are few teachers needed in such areas.

5) I do drop in on the homeschooling to provide greater background on history, economics, theology, and science.  I see my wife smile as I give greater depth to topics as I motivate them.

6) We have dinner together every night, and the discussion helps the children grasp on to what is going on in the world, as does subscribing to The Economist, and The Wall Street Journal.  I have subscribed to both for the last 20+ years.

7) Hopes and fears?  Ugh.  My third child made my life a mess.  I loved him so, but he gained a bunch of evil friends and turned against us.  But that is just one child.  My goal is not to create clones of me, but to create people who can be productive in the world, and faithful to Jesus Christ.

I have fears that the future won’t be as good for my children as it was for me, but I also know that my children are better prepared than most.  I can’t control the external macroeconomy; even my predictions are only a vague help.  My goal is to turn out children that are better prepared than most, and willing to work.  Beyond that, I pray to Jesus, but that is the best that anyone can do.

In the end I know that my efforts are valuable but not determinative.  I can’t make anything happen.  I can only teach my children, and trust in God for the rest.






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5 Responses to Where the Rubber Meets the Road at Home

  1. Annette Solyst says:

    David,
    Thank you for the insights. Your kids are very fortunate to have parents willing & able to be involved so thoroughly. Focus on working hard and saving, along with the ethical and moral underpinnings you teach and live by example – that is a solid base to build a life on.

    Best wishes to all of you and a merry Christmas.

  2. Craig says:

    Fantastic, thank you for writing about this. I agree you can’t determine outcomes with children but you can influence them. Sometimes heavily. Keep it coming, I’ll be paying attention.

  3. Mr. C says:

    Thanks for sharing. This will help me to remember to go through your site when I buy from Amazon.

  4. Peter says:

    Merry Christmas! to you, your wife, and your children.

    As much as anything you write, I always apprecitate your committment to being honest with yourself, and with your readers. None of us is perfect-or remotely close in my opinion, but your blog shows how much you value living the truth you find and sharing it with your readers. Of course, it does not hurt that you are very smart, know a lot of stuff I don’t, and pass it on.

    If it would ever be possible to contribute to the Merkel GoodWell fund, I, for one, would like to make a deposit, to thank you for your contribution to my life.

    Best wishes,

    Peter La Prade

  5. Vijay says:

    Hey David, I would like to wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a awesome new year. I was reading this blog post and shared it with my wife, since I do believe that reading your blog posts not only helps us think better as investors, but also helps us be better individuals. My wife asked me a question, as to do you home school all your kids, have you done so always, and if you don’t mind, would you tell us your thinking behind this. We were recently reading Dumbing Us Down (http://www.amazon.com/Dumbing-Down-Curriculum-Compulsory-Schooling/dp/0865714487/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top) and were wondering if lack of faith in our education system had something to do with your decisions/choices. Thanks, -Vijay

Disclaimer


David Merkel is an investment professional, and like every investment professional, he makes mistakes. David encourages you to do your own independent "due diligence" on any idea that he talks about, because he could be wrong. Nothing written here, at RealMoney, Wall Street All-Stars, or anywhere else David may write is an invitation to buy or sell any particular security; at most, David is handing out educated guesses as to what the markets may do. David is fond of saying, "The markets always find a new way to make a fool out of you," and so he encourages caution in investing. Risk control wins the game in the long run, not bold moves. Even the best strategies of the past fail, sometimes spectacularly, when you least expect it. David is not immune to that, so please understand that any past success of his will be probably be followed by failures.


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