In March of 2009 my dad gave me a book for my 27th birthday. At this particular point in my life, books weren’t exactly on my wish list radar. I was only two years removed from being in graduate school, so needless to say reading books was pretty low on the priority list. As I revealed this gift by holding it up to show other family members I tried my best to remain enthusiastic…while secretly hoping for a gift receipt to fall from the pages.
A short time later while eating cake and ice cream I glanced over at the book. The book was The Total Money Makeover written by a guy I’d never heard of named Dave Ramsey. I recall feeling offended that my dad would give me a resource promising a “proven plan for financial fitness.” I had a good job, was living on my own, never asked my parents for money… and certainly didn’t feel like I needed any advice when it came to personal finance!
When the celebration ended I returned home and promptly tossed the book in the corner of my room. Several months passed before I was mentally prepared to engage with the book. When I finally did explore the book, something inside the front cover caught my attention. To my surprise, I discovered my dad had written a page-long letter to me explaining why he believed I should read the book.
Now feeling guilty, I committed to giving the book a try. As I worked my way through the first couple chapters, my demeanor shifted from “this is a waste of time” to “this is good stuff.” I recall being particularly fascinated by a chapter that discussed debt and car payments. Below is an abbreviated passage from the section:
“The average car payment is $464 over sixty-four months. Most people get a car payment and keep it throughout their lives. As soon as a car is paid off, they get another payment because they “need” a new car. If you keep a $464 car payment throughout your life, you miss the opportunity to save that money. If you invested $464 per month from the age of 25 to 65, you would have $5,458,854.45 at age sixty-five.”
I recall reading this paragraph a few times, captivated by the limitless potential of compound interest. Could the average car investment really result in that much money? How might inflation impact those numbers? What if I contributed more than $464 a month? Do I have time now to return the car I recently purchased? Needless to say, this book had me hooked and eager to learn more!
While I could write several pages detailing how this book has impacted my life (see my book summaries page for my key takeaways), I’d rather focus on the powerful moment my dad created when took the time to hand-write a note that ultimately persuaded me to give the book a try. Had my dad not taken the extra step to write a heartfelt message, I am not convinced I would have read the book. And had I not been convinced to read the book, it is hard to predict when I would have developed a passion for lifelong learning.
Being intentional about creating powerful, life-changing moments for our students is a mindset we push hard in our district. We realize fewer and fewer students come from homes where parents generate these life-altering experiences for their children. Therefore, we encourage all staff members - not just teachers - to look for opportunities where they can create defining moments for students. Whether it be words of encouragement, conversations about goals, or notes of appreciation, we believe all staff members have the ability to positively alter a student’s trajectory in a few short minutes.
To bring this story full circle, I want to share that I have attempted to create defining moments for my students using a similar approach to what my dad did back in 2009. As a high school principal, I started giving “The Total Money Makeover” to students as a high school graduation gift along with a note explaining why I thought they should give the book a try. Although I am certain some of graduates who were gifted the book also searched for a gift receipt hiding in the pages… I am hopeful at least one student has changed their spending habits - and their attitude toward lifelong learning - as a result.