Buddy ‘Cake Boss’ Valastro lives a pretty sweet life. He’s parlayed his gig as owner of Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, N.J., into a hit TV show on TLC. And Today Show viewers voted his cake the best in America.
But things weren’t always so great for the small-screen star. “My father was diagnosed with lung cancer on my 17th birthday and was gone three weeks later,” he says. The death was a terrible shock for Buddy, his mother and his four sisters—and, since his father didn’t own life insurance at the time of his death, a terrible burden. “My dad was the heart and soul of the bakery, and when he died there wasn’t anyone other than me who could try to fill his shoes,” says Buddy. “The day after the funeral, I had to go to the bakery and find a way to keep things going.”
Buddy ended up dropping out of school in order to work grueling 12- to 18-hour days six days a week. With hard work and sacrifice, he was able to keep 30 people employed and to support his family. But things would have been a lot easier if his father had put a life insurance policy in place. “I could have hired more staff, worried less and had time to grieve,” he says.
Buddy recently served as the spokesman for the Life Insurance Awareness Month, an annual initiative from the nonprofit Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education (LIFE). Here’s what he has to say about the importance of life insurance and other kinds of back-up plans.
Why do you think some people aren’t buying the life insurance they need?
Some people think they don’t need life insurance or think of it as something they can do without. Or they say they have other financial priorities. The fact is you never truly know what life will throw at you next. Life is crazy in so many different, unexpected ways. Whether it’s doing something silly like having a wedding cake delivered to the wrong wedding or something more serious like facing the death of a loved one: Life happens! That’s why you purchase life insurance—to make sure your loved ones are protected. If you love your family, you need to get it.
Why do you think your father didn’t have life insurance?
The irony of the situation is that my dad did own life insurance for many years. When my parents started having kids, my dad bought life insurance. But about six months before his diagnosis, his policy expired and he didn’t renew it. I’m not exactly sure why. Cost might have been an issue. My dad was 54 years old and smoked, so coverage was getting more expensive. He was also a very busy guy, and probably thought it was something he could do later.
What would you say to someone on the fence about buying life insurance?
You have no idea what tomorrow may bring. Our family certainly didn’t. So don’t take any chances with your family’s financial future. Get your life insurance planning done—today.
How long did it take for you to buy a life insurance policy after learning you’d be a dad?
I got life insurance when my first child was born. I’ve gotten more as my family has grown—my wife and I have four beautiful kids. And now that my business has really taken off, I’ve worked with my insurance advisor to add more coverage to make sure that everything that I’ve worked so hard to create will get passed on to the next generation.
How else do you prepare for life’s unexpected events in your personal and professional life?
When it comes to my professional life, I always have a backup plan. If one of my elaborate cakes gets damaged while we’re delivering it, I always have extra sponge cake and sugar flowers on hand to create something new. I take the same approach in my personal life, and especially with my family. Losing my dad at a young age taught me to plan for all of life’s events, and that’s what I’ve done in order to protect the financial future of my family.
How did you feel about being asked to be the spokesperson for Life Insurance Awareness Month?
It’s an honor to be associated with a campaign like this. If I can prevent other families from having to work as hard as mine did to keep things going following the death of a loved one, I’ll consider it a job well done.
What cake would you most encourage people to try?
People’s taste buds are just as different as their life insurance needs. While one person might like red velvet and only need some life insurance, another person might like chocolate mousse and need a bit more life insurance to protect the financial future of their family. When it comes to cakes, it’s always best to try a little bit of everything in order to pick your favorites.