Sunday, November 25, 2007

Stranded on Money: Lessons from My Daughter’s Curly Hair

My nine-year-old daughter has bouncy curls that are tighter, smaller and cuter than Shirley Temple’s famous curls. Her hair has taught me a lot about financial management. At best the curls catch light---especially the sweet light of the afternoon-- and dance like candle flames. At worst, the curls become matted like the tangled silken threads in one of my discarded, half-finished embroidery projects.

Here’s what my daughter’s curls have taught me about money and saving.

Daily maintenance pays: Her hair remains knot-free if it is brushed and detangled every day. Likewise, my money remains knot-free with daily maintenance, which includes a balance check, budget tinkering and other steps of well being.

Knots happen quickly. When my daughter goes to sleep with wet, unbrushed hair, she wakes up the next morning with a big ball of knotted hair. Likewise, financial tangles — a forgotten bill, a lost opportunity for savings or earnings, a bounced check-- can happen overnight when I neglect daily money maintenance.

Consult experts, peers and friends. We learned a lot about curly hair maintenance from reading different books and articles about curly hair. For my own tight nappy curls, I’ve tapped into various websites and forums that specialize in hair care for African-American women. The same process has been applied to my financial education. I read lots of publications, books and blogs about money and frugal living. I’ve listened to the lessons on financial discipline from my parents and I’ve gratefully recalled the words of wisdom from a dear friend, who used to constantly preach to me about the value of delayed gratification.

Learn from everyone, including children: When I told my daughter that I was planning to write this piece, I asked her for advice about hair care. Her words of wisdom: "Make sure you have the right stuff."

Get specifics: Hmm? That was my reaction when my daughter recommended that I write about the importance of stuff. My follow-up question: What do you mean by stuff? Her reply: the right brush, clips, conditioners and shampoos. Aha! The financial lesson: Pin down the experts and ask for specific, practical advice. Too often, I’ll read an article or hear a lecture about money that’s not real to me or not applicable to my daily life. Or maybe I just don’t understand because I have failed to ask the right questions. But to make the advice and tips work for me, I need to ask specifics and dig deeper for practical applications to my here-and-now situation.

Tap into the right tools: The Denman brush is so awesome for my daughter’s curly hair and my tight, tight curls. I love that brush! It’s great for detangling and grooming. The right conditioners and shampoos also work well for our hair. Likewise, I’ve put together my own arsenal of financials tools: the right books, a financial tracking system on my computer, the right savings plans and budgeting techniques.


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