Retired at thirteen: an interview with my lovely daughter.

My daughter says my Patronus is a dollar bill. To communicate with her I’ve had to rebuild my entire vocabulary around Harry Potter metaphors, so I rebut with, “No, my Patronus is a hundred…but I like your thinking.”

The Harry Potter thing goes too far sometimes. I once asked her what she understands about our financial situation and her reply was, “Master has given Dobby a sock.”

Wonderful. Splendid. I’m a ragged little house-elf.

But on reflection it makes sense: when I drop her off at school her friends’ parents are dressed for work and their neck-tag lanyard thingies are swinging in the breeze, but I’m in Birks and cargo shorts and a t-shirt from the last race I ran. They go to the office; I go home.

The sock, I’ve explained to her, is a metaphor for the fundamental principle of achieving FI/ER: make money and keep it and put it to work for yourself. But I wonder sometimes if she gets it, so a few days ago I thought it’d be a good exercise to suss out the rest of her financial knowledge by interviewing her for this blog.

Doing so would reveal the education gaps I need to fill, and maybe posting the transcript will spark a valuable exchange of information with readers: how do you give your child a proper financial education?

In this interview I’ll call my daughter “Hermione” because the universe demands it. Be aware that although I haven’t changed the substance, I’ve edited our comments for readability. And note that I made sure she understood there were no right or wrong answers.

So here we go.

Early Retirement Dude: Do you know how your friends feel about their parents and their jobs?

Hermione: {Names several friends whose parents are employed.} Myrtle is kind of confused most of the time because her [biological] dad keeps moving around. I think he’s got a farm right now. And so to go to school she has to wake up at five o’clock in the morning and has a one-hour commute. So she doesn’t like to spend time at his house except maybe on the weekends.

I know Hortense has gotten used to her mom not being home because she works the night shift and when she’s home she’s really tired.

ERD: How do you think your mom and I got to be retired so early?

H: Well, pretty much you worked hard and did a whole bunch of math, which I don’t know much about, and you were able to save up enough money to buy good investments, to where you have a steady stream of money coming in and a steady stream of money going out.

ERD: What do you know about frugality? What do you think that means?

H: I really have no idea.

ERD [grinning]: Uh-oh. Well, we’ve got a budget and we spend money within our budget. Frugality is…OK, there’s a principle that says “Live below your means.” So if you earn fifty thousand dollars a year in salary, you might try to live on twenty-five. To give you an example, you know how we mostly stay home and watch a movie and make popcorn instead of going to the theater? If we went to the movie and bought popcorn it might be forty or fifty bucks, but if we stay home…

H: Mmm-hmm. It might cost like five dollars.

ERD: So you get the idea. Are there ways you practice frugality?

H: Well…it doesn’t have much to do with frugality, but when I’m crafting I’ll save the boxes from things I get, and with that you kind of lower the prices.

(I should explain at this point that my daughter’s a very artistic kid. “Crafting” is what she calls making her own doll clothing and accessories and backdrops and so forth from hot glue, reclaimed materials, etc. Then she’ll dress up her dolls and assemble “sets” and shoot video of them and use iMovie to make short music videos and action films. Budding director? Maybe. UCLA is expensive, but you never know.)

H: From clear plastic from boxes, I don’t have to buy rolls of clear plastic because I already have them. I’m pretty new to frugality.

ERD: I don’t know if you’re as new to the idea as you think you are–maybe you’re just unfamiliar with the word? Now…you’ve made a couple of decisions that a lot of people would consider to be…unusual? Like, you don’t want a cell phone and you don’t want to be on Facebook. Is that a frugality thing?

H: To be honest? Texting my friends [on the iPad across wifi ] is all I really want to do. And there’s no reason for me to be on Facebook because all I’d do is get rewards from games I play. And then I’d never be on again.

ERD: Do you want to tell me about building your own bicycle? The one you built at the bike co-op?

H: It took months to build. It was cheaper than buying a new one but it didn’t work out because it’s so heavy. It’s hard to push up the hill.

ERD: So we try to be frugal but sometimes it doesn’t work out. How do you feel about the exercise of building it?

H: Well, it was fun, and it gave me some experience so when I’m older I’ll at least know how to replace handlebars.

ERD: So it might help you be frugal in the long run.

H: But now it’s not quite worth it.

ERD: Have you thought about what you might want to be when you grow up? Mom and I aren’t going to be able to fund your lifestyle. And college is expensive. But we don’t want to place limits on you for what you do for a living. [Chuckling.] Not gonna let you sell drugs, though.

H: I don’t really know, but I probably should start.

ERD: It’s OK. Thirteen is pretty young to make that decision.

H: I’ve heard this quote: you don’t get what you want, but you get what you need.

ERD [LOL]: You’re not a Beatles person.

H: What?

ERD: Never mind.

H: So…I really don’t know.

ERD: Let me put it this way…if you had your dream job, what would it be?

H: I’d like to be a Lego master builder–

ERD: Oh, nice.

H: –because I like to be creative for a living. Or I could work for a company I could be creative for. A computer graphics designer. I’ve always thought it was fun to design miniatures. They’re really fun to make and they don’t require too much materials. I mean…anything that lets me work with my creativity.

ERD: Do you think you’ll want to be retired early someday?

H: Well…I see you guys and it takes a lot of work. Um, so…I don’t know. If I get a job I really like, I’ll probably keep doing it. And I won’t want to retire unless I start hating it.

ERD: What would you do with the money you earned if you didn’t want to quit your job?

H: I’d probably save most of it because you never know when you’ll have to pay something off. Like, any random day you could get hit by a car and you’d have to pay off a hospital bill. I mean, I’d spend money on food and that kind of thing. If I saw a nice computer or something I’d do some research or something to see if it was really as nice as the advertisement made it look. And I’d shop around.

ERD: Comparison shop.

H: Mmm-hmm. Like, online shopping is probably gonna save you money in the long run.

ERD: Do they ever teach you about managing your money in school?

H: Uh…not yet. Right now we’re just learning the basics of math. Next year we’ll be doing square roots and stuff.

ERD: The math behind early retirement isn’t really that complicated. Addition and subtraction and multiplication and division.

H: But if I want to get into computers I’ll need to know more math.

ERD [laughing]: And then money management will get even simpler. You know, in my experience schools don’t do a good job teaching money management skills.

H: And that’s one of the most important things you need to know.

ERD: Well, among many other important things. OK, do you have anything you just want to say?

H: Not that much. I mean, I see how it works. It happens once a week.

ERD: What happens once a week?

H: You sit down and work on our finances and whatnot.

ERD: You mean when I do our bookkeeping?

H: Yeah.

ERD: I get kind of grumpy.

H: YEAH you do.

ERD: Let me ask you this…yard sales. What did you get a while back?

H: Buying from yard sales is definitely worth it. I got a whole giant bag of paint for five dollars. One tube of that paint would’ve been like seven dollars. And it was unopened. It [the bag] was worth maybe a hundred dollars. And that’s the most I’ve ever gotten for five dollars.

And if the object itself has paid out, has paid for itself, and you don’t need it anymore, go ahead and yard-sale it.

At that point we ended the interview because we had to split to run some errands. I played it later for my wife and she was impressed.

I’ve been afraid for a long time that our daughter doesn’t understand that money just doesn’t appear by magic. People have to work for a living. But I feel a lot better about that now; that she’s soaked up more financial knowledge than I’d feared.

Anyway, that’s the transcript of our interview. I hope you comment on all my posts, but I especially hope you comment on this one. Even if you don’t have kids yourself, maybe you learned about money management when you were one. Either way, help us all out by leaving your thoughts.

And one last thing: since I led with a Harry Potter joke, I should probably close this post with another one. Bring it full circle and all that.

Nah. Screw it.

Author: ER Dude

Sick of your job? After a thirteen-year career, Early Retirement Dude fled corporate America for good. You can do it too! Visit or email

12 thoughts

  1. “Well, pretty much you worked hard and did a whole bunch of math, which I don’t know much about, and you were able to save up enough money to buy good investments, to where you have a steady stream of money coming in and a steady stream of money going out.”

    She’s got it! Haha- I think our 2 year old would flunk at the moment, but he is starting to get that we don’t always give him what he wants!

    When I was younger, I saw money simply as the tool that helped me to get the things I wanted/needed… so I would work for it. I knew saving was a good thing, but I had no concept of retirement, investing or the freedom money could afford if I used it wisely. I hope to be able to pass along a good message to our son as he gets older!

    1. >When I was younger, I saw money simply as the tool that helped me to get the things I wanted/needed

      Right…it’s not the principle that gets more sophisticated, but the application.

  2. Pretty much what my daughter would say, but I bet my daughter has been further indoctrinated into the world of early retirement and finances. She’s a huge a math nerd (runs in the blood from me and she’s 1/2 Asian; fulfilling racial stereotypes and all that). I was a little worried, too, that my daughters (almost 11 years and the other 12) would think $$ is something easy to get and easier to keep and grow.

    From talking to them often I can tell they get it on an elementary level – we saved money, it keeps growing, and we use a small part of our total savings each year to pay for necessities, and as long as we’re doing okay, pay for fun stuff too. They also get that we don’t live like ordinary people. Mom and Dad don’t work, we do cool stuff (or lazy stuff) all day and we go on months long vacations all summer. We also host their friends at our house frequently and our kids and their friends think that’s pretty cool. Kids these days (oh god, that phrase…) don’t seem to have much time to hang out and be lazy. So much structure, activities, and go go go.

    1. Soaking it up through their skin works…however you can impart the knowledge short of holding up liquor stores, I guess.

      Are you doing the Bank of Dad? We’ve started that. Amazing how much change starts coming out of dresser drawers when the concept of compound interest clicks. 10%/year on our side…

  3. Bahaha! How adorable. 🙂 Your little one certainly knows more about money and finance than I did at her age. 🙂 I think it’ll be a great lesson for her to see you retiring early. She’s already got a good leg up in life!

  4. It sounds like your daughter has a good amount of insight into what she likes. How old is she?

    Five years ago, I asked my kids what I did (I’m a homemaker who blogs) and they said “works on the computer” so they were right. I think it’s time for another interview and to ask some questions about finances.

    1. She’s thirteen. Good to hear that you’re specifically educating your kids about finances too. One of the questions I asked her but didn’t get into was whether she knew if her friends were learning about finances at home, but she wasn’t sure. I guess that’s the standard money privacy thing, but still…

      Mind a RT, by the way?

  5. This this amazing, you should be very proud of your daughter, I think she is light years ahead of most kids her age.
    My kids are quite a lot younger (6 and 4) but I am starting to teach them some basics about the cost of things and where money comes from etc.
    Love the Harry Potter theme 😂

  6. I wonder whether her response also had to do with where you live? Do kids all have cell phones, live on Facebook, get their own cars when they get their license, etc? How much peer pressure does she face? Friends of mine moved their company from SF California area to a small town in Washington state 30 years ago and are still there. They left the ostentatious values of their old area for the new and never looked back. Their kid did not whine for things he did not have because no one around had them either and they did not have the TV marketing machine on that entices because they never had a TV.

    1. >Do kids all have cell phones, live on Facebook, get their own cars when they get their license, etc?

      Arghh. Three weeks ago she started high school and we got her a phone for coordinating rides, etc. Now she won’t put the damn thing down and we’re having to manage her use. Feels awful to be nagging her about too much screen time, however, when 1) I spend several hours a day writing and working on this blog, and 2) several of my friends, including my bestie, live out-of-town and we socialize via Xbox Live and PUBG.

      Your friends sound like they’re in a nice situation.

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