The child star suffered a dry spell when the music of the 1970s lost favor. And he lost "quite a bit" of money, he admits.
Lacking a college degree but with sufficient computer savvy, he gave himself a rigorous financial education.
Lately he's had a bit of a renaissance - what with his new talk show now entering its second season and recent co-host duties for the Miss America pageant.
Now, as he reestablishes his entertainment career, he tries to teach fiscal responsibility to his own kids.
Do you have a mentor when it comes to money?
I don't look to any one person and say they're doing it right. I look to a lot of people because nobody has all the answers.
If there was one correct way to invest, everybody would be investing that way. I follow my gut and I follow my own personal experiences. I've been in a situation where I did lose everything and almost went under.
I've found one person who I can go to, Arlen Simon. He is my financial adviser and my accountant. Before he gives me his advice, he'll go out and get other people's opinions and, through a series of high-powered friends that he has, will come back with his opinion. I will weigh it out in my mind. Nine times out of 10 I'll go with his direction.
From whom have you learned important lessons about money?
Back in the '70s we were earning quite a bit of money. The mistakes that were made I learned from.
I always live by this saying: "The first time is a mistake; the second time it's your own fault."
I learned from losing quite a bit of money.
I trusted the wrong people. My father made a lot of wonderful investments. But the problem was the growth was too fast and due diligence was not done under certain situations and (there were) too many gut feelings. That's what happened back in the '70s, too many knee-jerk reactions when growing too fast.
Your whole family, the performers, lost money? Do you know how much?
Yeah, but I'd rather not disclose it. It was in the millions - millions of dollars. And it all could have worked had there been a better business plan.
What's the most important thing you do now with your money, aside from providing for your family?
First of all, I tithe 10 percent to the church, the Church of the Latter-Day Saints.
I will take a lion's share of it and not even look at it. I put it away and I forget about it.
I invest it, and right now, given my age and the income stream that I have, I'm in equities, mainly equities. I do have some real estate.
I've garnered some great advice from the man who does my investing, and many times when the market seems like it's going to drop, he says, "Don't ever time the market. All you have to do is just get some firm, strong stocks and hold on to them."
How has providing for a family's needs changed your outlook on money?
I was fortunate enough to get estblished successfully in this business a long time ago. But for my children I want to make sure that there's enough set aside to help in their education process. Here's the dilemma: if you have too much then there's no motivation.
You have to be careful how the money is disbursed, and my wife and I have elected to disburse it over time.
My children have all expressed desires to get an education. They see what the entertainment business is from the inside out. They know how volatile it can be, rather than just saying, "I got a rich father and I'm taken care of for the rest of my life."
You've learned from your?
Totally I've learned from the past.
And that was not without a price.
Practically everything I had went back into my business. That's one thing I've learned from a lot of financially successful people - you put the money where your strengths are.
For instance, when "The Donny and Marie Show" ended in the '70s, I, for the next 10 years, invested in myself. The money that I did have personally went into recording. I would record so many different records that were never released but I used them as demos. I would just work on basically myself and my career. I invested in myself in the '80s.
The '90s was the payoff. When Joseph came along, Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," that was a nice little cash cow.
What would you say your biggest money mistake was?
To give other people control. That's the biggest mistake anybody could ever make.
The biggest lesson anybody could ever learn is to budget. Outflow has got to be less than income. If you budget your money you'll always have excess for those little knee-jerk reaction expenditures. (Laughs.)
What do teach your kids about money?
Well, a lot of people are going to disagree with this, but my children at a very early age get a credit card. And I'll co-sign on it.
Both Jeremy and Don got it when they were 14. You only give them a couple of hundred dollars' credit line but you don't bail them out. If they have to pay minimum, then that's what they have to do.
But I teach them that if they pay minimum - and I calculate it on a spreadsheet - I show them exactly how much they really will pay for that toy or whatever they bought over a year's period at 17 percent.
We set up a limited partnership for their future assets, but they do have checking accounts that they keep their little allowances in. And they get their allowance if they work. I don't dish out money to them. They have to work for their money - household chores, things like that. Then they can go out and raise their own money if they want.
Do you consider yourself rich?
No, no I don't. I'm not where I want to be if that's what the question is. You never are, and that's why I don't really concentrate too much on where I sit financially, as far as being rich. Because the same thing applies to my career: You always wan more.
You sound very knowledgeable about financial topics and yet you didn't go to college. Where did you learn all this stuff?
I probably shouldn't disclose this but I will anyway. Back in '93 I had financial advisers, even to that point I had people kind of gathering what my net worth was because we went through some hard times in the '80s.
I finally called up my financial planners and said, "You're fired. Send me all my files." It was scary because I'm not an accountant. I don't know anything about accounting but I've got computer savvy.
And my adviser in this company said, "I think you're making a big mistake."
And I said, "But you can't tell me what my net worth is. I don't get any reports."
He says, "Yeah. But you need somebody advising you, writing your checks, taking care of all this so you can concentrate on your business."
And I said, "I've been listening to that for too long. You pack up every single file of mine, put it in a box and you UPS it to me up here in Toronto."
I was doing "Joseph" - so I got in the mail about 20, 30 boxes, file boxes of stuff. I just started reading everything. And I said, "I don't even know how to prepare a 1040 form. And I don't even know how to read a tax return." So I started looking at my old tax returns. And if I didn't know the answer, I would write it down on this pad, because I knew eventually I'm going to find somebody who can give me the answers.
Shortly thereafter I moved to Chicago and that's where I met Arlen Simon. He's a great family man and all that kind of stuff, and I said, "This is the kind of guy I think I can really start trusting."
I started asking him questions. He said, "You mean you've never prepared a 1040?" I said, "No. I don't even know what a 1040 is." And I was part of a partnership and I didn't even know the forms for the partnership. But I just started going through it and I started inputting my own checks in Quicken.
And I would print out my own checks. That's why I have (bookkeeper) Anne Jackson now in Utah - she just does the legwork for me and gives me the disks and that way I can punch up and see exactly where all the money is going and where the balances are. And everything still crosses my desk.
And now I know how my partnership works. I know how my estate is planned. I got a great estate-planning attorney, and I'm back on track.
How often do you open your Quicken account?
Probably every other day. I know if I can afford to buy something. I wanted a computer this year for Christmas and I told my wife that I really wanted it and so I put it on my credit card, knowing that I've got the money to pay for it.
I want a new car. I looked at what I can afford. I can afford a new car but I've talked it over with my wife. I'm not buying a car. (Laughs).
So she has a say.
Oh, most definitely. We are so equal when it comes to finances. She knows everything about everything. I don't keep anythinfrom her.
Any other philosophical insights?
Set aside money for discretionary use. (Laughs)
You've got to play. You've got to be able to say, "I want this and I'm going to get it and guess what, I've got the money."
The books that I've read and magazines that I read (say) these moguls always say the power of saving is great. But if you don't have any discipline, it'll never work. And you save for those little fun toys and eventually before you know it you do have the money. That's what money is for - to have fun with.
Buying a new computer is one of those things for you?
I have this new program that Intel put out called Create and Share, and since I'm down here in Los Angeles all the time I commute back and forth to Utah. I just don't call home. I call home with my videophone.
So I'm setting this computer up in the family room so when I call home, I can log onto it and through a series of passwords I can boot up the camera and talk to my family as they're sitting there watching television.
Written by Marjorie Backman, a copy editor for CBS.com