A Financial Biography

My Financial Origins (Part I)

Human history is a series of individual stories starting from the time of Creation. Every human has a history. Every individual has a heritage. Every person has a story. When the story is told about a person, we call it a biography. Many books have been written about secular and religious people whose lives have impacted our world. The story about Jesus Christ of Nazareth is the most recognized story as recorded in the four Gospels.

There are a few people who have had their financial biographies written. The financial biographies that most impacted my young life were Baruch: My Own Story, an autobiography by Bernard Baruch, and Buffett: Making of an American Capitalist, the biography of Warren Buffett. These men were both very successful in investing in the U.S. stock market. They both amassed great wealth during their lifetimes. They both chose to use their wealth to benefit society. Baruch was a public servant for many years. Buffett is giving away the majority (up to 99%) of his wealth (over $50 billion) to charities.

The two points in common with these men mentioned above are that they were financially successful and available to serve their communities. It can happen for everyone. If we learn to manage our personal finances well, we can be available to serve God in any way He directs.

I know my legacy comes from Scandinavia (52%). Many of these people were merchants and were good at trade. Business is where my ancestors excelled. The balance of my heritage comes from the United Kingdom. The British were also good in finance and trade. I will explore how God has led in the personal finances of my life and some of the family heritage that has shaped my relating to money in the way that God directs from Scripture.


My great-grandfather's obituary noted that he was a "good, honest man and had the reputation of paying his bills on time, even during the Great Depression of the 1930s in the U.S.” A story was told about “how he received a letter from the oil company commending him for always paying his bill promptly, contrasted with most other customers who had to be reminded that their bill was overdue.”

My great-grandfather attended church each Sabbath, no matter the weather. He was generous and provided resources for building Seventh-day Adventist churches and schools. Giving must have been one of his spiritual gifts.


My grandparents put five children through Seventh-day Adventist schools. One was my mother. Three of these children graduated from college. One also received a degree in physical therapy. When the La Sierra University Church was being built, my grandfather helped install the electrical wiring. My grandmother was a volunteer in the children's Sabbath School.


My parents came from families where everyone had to work hard and be careful with money. The 1930s, when my parents were growing up, were financially challenging in the U.S. My mother paid her tuition, room, and board, plus tuition for a sibling. When my parents were married, my father was still in school at La Sierra College; my mother had just graduated. My father was attending school full-time, working, and having a family. There was just enough money to pay expenses, but they both determined to put God first with tithe and offerings. When they graduated from college, they had no debt but also no money.

Babies Are Born

I entered the world about 10 months after my parents were married. My father was still in school, and my mother was working full-time. My father worked as much as he could while in school. His pay covered his tuition. All their expenses of living and their new baby had to come from my mother's pay. Money was scarce, yet my father and mother were determined to put God first and be faithful in returning tithe and offerings before spending any for living.

My brother was born the year my father graduated from college with a degree in business administration. With the family growing, it was fortunate for the family finances that my father could start working full-time.

My education in personal finance started by observing my parents handle money. My father believed that integrity was an important character trait and that paying all their financial obligations on time was very important. I remember grocery shopping with my mother once a week; she used the envelope system for budgeting. When the envelope was empty, there were no more purchases made. She had a list that she used to be sure she got everything needed. My parents had purchased their first home by this time. A few years later, they purchased a vacant lot to build a house on but sold it so that they could buy a business. They incurred some debt to do this, but within five years, they had paid off the debt.

One of my father's favorite sayings was, "Forgo present pleasures for future benefits." I saw this when they sold the building lot to purchase the business. By delaying building a home, they secured a dependable source of income. They bought a better lot and built a nicer home within two years.

Before starting school, my parents began to give my brother and me an allowance. I remember that it was $2.00 per month. This is where I had my first experience returning tithe, learning how to calculate 10%, and turning the money into the church on Sabbath. I also learned about saving. My parents helped me open a savings account at the local bank. I remember taking my passbook (before online banking) to the bank and depositing money. The bank teller would add the deposit to my current balance and write the new balance for the account in the little passbook.

My parent's business was successful financially, and they purchased a nice ski boat since both sons liked to water ski. My parents returned an estimated tithe and offering each month on the business income. A few years passed, and at year-end, the amount of tithe on the business income was much larger than my parents had expected. They determined to be faithful to God, but had to sell the ski boat to raise funds to return the tithe that was due. God was more important to them than the material possession of a ski boat.

Financial Difficulty

My parents were careful with how they used money, even when money was not in short supply. My parents added a partner to their business during my mid-elementary school years, and not too long later, they determined that this arrangement was not working. They had invested the money and did not have it available, so they had to get a loan to pay off the partner and dissolve the business relationship.

During this challenging financial period, while the loan was being repaid, our family had to scale back the standard of living we had grown accustomed to. This cut in income was my first experience of seeing my parents cut the family budget to a very low level, far below what I had known during my short life. Yet God was still always first when income was received. (To Be Continued)

Dennis Carlson

Dennis R. Carlson is the director of Planned Giving & Trust Services at the General Conference.