Money advice I’ve ignored and kept from my refugee parents
  • My father’s family fled Belgium during World War II in the middle of the night when he was 16.
  • He told me not to buy real estate and to pay for everything in cash, which is advice I’ve ignored over the years.
  • However, his advice on the merits of entrepreneurship and living below one’s means I keep.
  • Read more from Personal Finance Insider.

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When my dad was 16 years old, he woke up very early one morning to see his dad quietly leave the apartment for the darkened streets of Antwerp, Belgium.

He was meeting his business partner under cover of night to divide up cash and goods from their business so he could take my dad and grandmother away from the encroaching Third Reich to Lisbon, Portugal, and then ultimately for the United States.

There was no real estate investments to tie them down. And in any case — the Nazis would have claimed any property left behind for themselves. The fact that his business involved diamonds made it easy for my grandfather to hide his wealth, since diamonds are small and portable. 

Like my father, my mother was also a teenage refugee from Nazi-torn Europe who left her home with little more than some personal belongings.

The money lessons they taught me was to stay light on your feet and not acquire too many possessions — especially not real estate. 

For example, even though they believed in America, I distinctly remember my father’s nervous directive to start packing our bags during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis — always one foot out the door.

Money advice from your parents is not always the best for your own life

While some people believe that old-fashioned ideas about

money management

are the best kind, my own experience has taught me that it’s important to understand the origin of these lessons, and why they are passed down. Some of my grandfather’s and father’s money advice has held up, and some of it has not. 

As young adults, my husband and I ignored a lot of financial advice that I got from my family by beginning our married life as homeowners

We have continued to own homes and over the decades, this has been a major source of increasing our wealth. My husband and I learned a lot about owning and selling real estate over the decades, and have not been afraid to learn more as market swings occur.

I also think that in light of the protections and potential rewards that come from buying things with a credit card, the advice to only pay for things in cash might not be the best, either.

Some ideas might be worth holding onto though, especially if you can see the fruits of it today

There are some pieces of advice that I got from my family that did work, however. I think that ideas like living below your means and saving a lot for retirement are evergreen.

That said, one piece of advice that has really stood the test of time in my mind is the idea that entrepreneurship is the greatest key to enduring financial success.

Owning a business not only enabled my grandfather to successfully move his family out of harm’s way, but it allowed him to quickly build a new life in New York City and leave something behind for my father to inherit. 

I think encouraging entrepreneurship is especially relevant in current times. Since the pandemic, more people than ever are starting their own businesses and succeeding at them.

But for refugees, cash on hand and liquidity is still the most important thing

However, with the war in Ukraine dominating the news and our attention, we are once again reminded that being a refugee makes one’s immediate cash needs the most important priority viewpoint on money as well as politics. 

Money is what matters, we are reminded, as refugee aid groups report that cash is the thing that refugees want and need most — more than blankets, food, clothing or anything else.

While we try to stay ahead of unfolding events and world politics, there is much that foils experts’ abilities to forecast and predict. So we need to gather information from many different sources and then trust our gut. Like my grandfather did.

Determining the best avenue for your own life and times and what will work for you and your own circumstances is the crucial element that will lead you to success.

Jackie Fishman is a freelance writer and homeowner living in the suburbs of Washington, DC with her husband, her cat, and his dog. Covid-19 and four grandchildren have been co-conspirators in making her leave the walkable urban streets of her Arlington condo for the leafy cul-de-sacs of Maryland. She is not sorry.


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