Episodes from family history are valuable on several levels. They can be informative, offering a window into how life used to be and what was considered noteworthy. They can be sentimental, illustrating the thoughts and emotions of family members who may not have shared freely. And they can be instructive, presenting examples of solving problems and reminding us that some issues haven’t changed that much.
We last visited the family of Mike Burdick, a Gordian Advisors partner, in 2012 when we reviewed the detailed expense journal of his grandfather from 1919. Let’s fast forward to an excerpt from the oral history of Allan Burdick, Mike’s father.
In June of 1949 we left Berkeley – four of us now – with our PhD, driving the old Ford (Odetta, one-damned-thing-after-another) to take up our first real job, Assistant Professor of Agronomy at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
We completed the trip without incident and began to settle down. My father had told me, or maybe it was my grandfather Allan who told me, “When you go to a new town to live you need a banker, a lawyer, an insurance agent, and a realtor – first thing.”
I went to the First National Bank to open an account, borrow a bit of money I could easily repay and get some financial advice. I hoped I might meet an officer of the bank. The man who helped me said he was “Buck” Lewis. He told me a few things about the town, told me how to handle my checking account, told me to get a lawyer and write a will, get some (term) life insurance to cover my new salary and financial obligations, rent a place to live – check it out with a certain real estate agent – look around for permanent housing, and meet him at the Episcopal church next Sunday.
We did as we were told. The Rector, Marcus Lindloft, met us at the door. He pulled me over, gave me a handful of bulletins and told me to usher. He said Buck Lewis wanted to see me – and identified Buck as President of the bank!
Between his father and grandfather it’s easy to see how Mike came to manage his own finances well and transition to financial planning. Allan was pretty progressive in referring to “we” and “our first job” rather “I” and “my”, acknowledging that his wife and two children were as much a part of the trip and job as he. And the subsequent meetings at church led to the title of the excerpt, “Becoming an Episcopalian”.
The financial advice, though, is particularly timeless. Some solid advice on managing a checking account may seem elementary but not staying on top of income and expenses is a sure path to wasting money and a cascade of costly problems. Basic estate planning is critical with young children, and better to have an experienced local attorney so family has support in the event of an emergency. Renting is the best way to become well acquainted with an area in a personal way rather than on others’ recommendations, and a home can later be purchased with more information and confidence. It is particularly surprising that Buck recommended term insurance, the most cost effective way of covering expenses and replacing lost income over a specific number of years, at a time when more expensive types of insurance were the norm. Underpinning it all is the idea of establishing relationships, a valuable aspect that has gone missing from much of current finance and commerce.
One thing that has changed dramatically is the nature of financial services. Most banks now are focused on “cross-selling” multiple financial products, including insurance and real estate services, rather than referring to unrelated providers. While convenient, these products and services may not be the most cost-effective or appropriate and it is incumbent on the consumer to do his own due diligence. Sadly, today that friendly financial services provider may not be as sincere and genuine as Buck Lewis.
So, there you have the tried-and-true recipe for financial success – manage income, institute appropriate estate planning, evaluate insurance needs, and establish relationships with trustworthy experts. Don’t get sidetracked or confused by complicated strategies. And whether through a church or other groups, get involved in the community.