From the April 2007 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

My Two (or More) Sons

Good fathers strive to be fair in how they treat different sons, even though each child clearly has his own temperament and money personality. In many families, there's one son who saves and another who spends, or one who puts aside every penny and another who couldn't care less. As a financial advisor, you can help fathers (and mothers too, of course) sort out what's best for each child and for the family as a whole.

John Cullum, a financial planner with Abacus Planning Group in Columbia, South Carolina, says he has always given his two sons allowances commensurate with their age and taught them to budget for what they want. His older son, now 18, started his own antiques business in high school and takes pride in paying his own way as much as possible. When John explained that he would pay for both college and graduate school if his sons chose a public university, the older boy immediately decided to comply so he would be able to graduate without debt.

In contrast to his "self-directed" older son, John describes his younger son, now 16, as "other-directed" ("If he had more money than he needed, he'd give it away"). Despite the differences between the two, John feels comfortable that he's taught both of them the money skills they will need to make their way in the world.

In another family I know, a father is providing financial support to two sons in their 30s. One, a hard worker with a business that provides a marginal living, needs supplemental funds that his dad is glad to provide. The other son, who is now working and going to school after a long period of personal crisis, has a history of being irresponsible with money. The father has decided to leave trust funds for both sons, even though only one of them needs such restrictions on his inheritance. He believes this is the best way to prevent friction between the brothers, should the spender son discover that his more frugal sibling was left a legacy outright. All things considered, this makes good sense to me.

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