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The Simple Habit That Paid for Half My Son's Mission and Built Our Relationship

Tithing, fast offering, supporting an active family, stockpiling a year’s supply of food, paying for braces: How do I make ends meet? As a young husband living on a teacher's salary and with so many other financial tugs pulling on our bank account, I often wondered how I'd ever be able to help my children finance their missions, if they chose to serve in that capacity.

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I knew that saving for a mission was important and starting early was critical. I believed strongly that when my children grew older that they should get part-time jobs so they could pay for a large portion of the costs to serve a full-time mission.

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In fact, President Spencer W. Kimball said in May of 1981:

“It is your privilege now to begin to save your money. Every time money comes into your hands, through gifts or earnings, set at least part of it away in a savings account to be used for your mission. It is your mission; it is your opportunity and responsibility" (emphasis added).

President Kimball went on to say,

“How wonderful it would be if each future missionary could have saved for his mission from birth. How wonderful it would be if every boy could totally or largely finance his own mission and thereby receive most of the blessings coming from his missionary labors.”

I had read many quotes like this one from President Kimball along with other articles and tips and ideas on simple savings plans, but no one suggestion seemed to fit our family’s dynamic. After pondering this for quite some time, I was reminded of my mission and had an idea.

While serving my mission in Honduras, I was reassigned to Alabama following a bone tumor surgery. My first companion in Alabama, Ryan Anderson, had been reassigned from his mission in Spain after recovering from kidney stones. Over the years, Ryan became one of my closest friends, but there was one thing he taught me that I thought might help my family dilemma of saving for missions. He taught me how to cut his hair while we served together in Alabama.

One of my first purchases after my mission was a $35 set of hair clippers, which wound up being one of the best investments I have ever made.

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After the birth of our oldest son, Dawson, I put the money-saving plan into action and began to cut my son’s hair. A few times I nicked his ear. Sometimes I missed a spot (sometimes I missed many spots!). But month after month and year after year, he'd let me cut his hair—even as a teenager! He never got the best haircuts, but he never complained about it.

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After each haircut, I would 'pay' myself $15—the typical rate for a local barber’s haircut. Once in a while, if we had some extra money or if I thought I'd done a really good job with his hair, I’d give myself a $5 tip. I kept the money in my closet and watched it grow over the years.

This habit turned out to not only benefit a growing mission fund but it also strengthened my relationship with my son. Each month, when Dawson needed a trim, he'd follow me into our little haircut area and let me cut away. Once seated, we would talk about school and friends and life and challenges he was facing. I had 20 minutes each month to talk with him one-on-one and give him advice and counsel. I enjoyed every minute. The time spent in dad’s barber chair became time for fun conversations and deep talk that helped us to bond as father and son.

After 18 years (over 250 haircuts!) and after receiving his mission call, payday came for my son on the day he graduated from high school. I couldn't have been happier to share this money with him, as he’d been a more-than-patient son and haircut recipient for many years. He had truly ‘earned’ this money and it was my delight to turn the savings over to him.

In all, nearly $4,000 had been saved—enough to cover almost half of his mission expenses—all because of a $35 investment and hair cutting lessons from a mission companion 20 years ago.

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Of course, Dawson also worked as a lifeguard and washed windows to help him earn his share of the mission’s costs, though. And when he leaves for the MTC later this summer, his mission will nearly be completely financed, which thrills me. But even more than the amount we were able to save, I’m grateful for the relationship we were able to build. This truly was an inspired way for my family to work together and teach our children to save for their missions. The 20 minutes of conversation each month for the last 18 years between me and my son are something I consider to be priceless.

All images courtesy of Eric D. Richards

Great Mess to GreatnessOver the last four years, Eric Richards has delighted youth and adults through his upbeat fireside messages on CD and his book, Preparing for the Second Coming.

To learn more about the Atonement of Jesus Christ, check out his latest work, Great Mess to Greatness: 10 Scriptures That Will Forever Change Your View of the Atonementthe perfect gift for teens, young adults, or parents from Deseret Book stores and deseretbook.com.

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