The best example I have had for being frugal has come from my father. In fact, we often thought he was downright miserly. Somehow, it might have backfired, given our current financial situation. There may have been some moments that I thought he was just too cheap for his own good. Maybe this stuck with me and I swung the pendulum too far the other way. In retrospect, he really has set a good example and one which I wish I had heeded a long time ago.
As a child I remember asking him how much money he made. Both of my parents scoffed and said “Oh, we don’t talk about that.” They realized I would blab to all my friends, even if I didn’t realize if it was a good wage or not, it certainly would seem enormous to me. They didn’t get the blabbing part wrong. Look at me now – a blogger!
But my impression was that we were a little poorer than my friend’s families. Not by a lot, and probably not at all, but hearing frugal talk in the household, drinking powdered milk (yucch, I hated that stuff) are things that may have lead me to this conclusion. My mother didn’t work until my youngest sister turned five, and then she took a part-time job in a retail store. In general, I grew up feeling like money was not to be wasted, in case you really needed it someday.
Imagine my surprise when my parents started taking some winter vacations on their own when we got a little older but were left in the care of our aunt. A cruise, a trip to Florida…. well, well, things must be looking up in the Finance department. It was probably more like miserly intervention. My Mum had probably had enough and started threatening and there was probably a few “I deserves” on her part thrown in there too!
Next thing I know, they bought a house in Florida. Wow! I didn’t see that coming. Of course it was mortgaged, and it meant seven of us loaded into a sedan for a three day 27 hour drive door to door. Disney World, Busch Gardens, the beach, Tarpon Springs… here we come! We did this for three Christmases in a row. We had to save up our own money for any extra spending. Truth be told, I think there was a bit of Jonesying there on the part of my mother when they bought the house, and she convinced him it was an investment. I was even allowed to have a friend fly down to Florida and meet us there. I wasn’t complaining.
Sixteen years of age and a new driver, I managed to convince my Dad to let me have his car to go to the drive-in with my boyfriend. Looking back, he was pretty accommodating, though I didn’t see it as a big deal at the time. What I did see as a big deal was the scratch I put down the side when I parked too close to the speaker and scraped it a good long streak. I was so terrified of his reaction that I did not sleep a wink all night. I heard him up getting the tea and his breakfast and figured I need to get this over with. I told him what happened and immediately started bawling. He didn’t say a word but went over to look at the car in the driveway from the living room window. Eventually he spoke, asked questions, maybe appeared a little annoyed, but nothing like I expected, and nothing that I can recall now almost 40 years later. I don’t recall if he asked me to pay for repair or if he even had it repaired. All I remember now is my fear and his reaction being not nearly as bad as I had imagined it would be. Even though he was frugal, it appears money wasn’t always front and foremost in his thoughts.
I went to university but paid my way, tuition and accommodations. There was never any discussion of money set aside for me for this. For the most part, I managed quite well, being in a Coop program, so I had good employment work terms between every semester of school.
We had an older used second family vehicle, even though my Mum didn’t drive. It was there for when I was at home for my work terms so I could drive to my job. I was allowed to take it the six hour drive to university for the first weekend of every term so I could take all my stuff, but I had to bring it back the very next weekend and return by bus to university. I often wondered why they didn’t let me keep the car with me at school all term, because it just sat in the driveway at home. It was sort of an unspoken frugality that was practiced.
I could walk to university from the various places I rented during my school terms which were at maximum about 2 miles. I didn’t need a car. I only needed a car to get my stuff down there and back each term (my Coop placements were all in my hometown). Having a car at university was a want. He probably knew I would get lazy, start driving to school, drive all my friends, spend lots of money on gas, possibly get into an accident… . No, needs they could support. Wants would not be supported.
Even though I would have to buy a one-way bus ticket to get back to school after delivering the car back home (bus tickets weren’t that cheap either), and even though we got rear-ended once on the way home (not our fault, but my friend was driving), this was the standard that was expected all through-out my university years. I was envious of some friends who had cars. I would struggle home with my groceries stuffed in my knapsack and two arms breaking as I tried to carry everything the half a mile to my accommodations. I think I tried renegotiating the terms once or twice, but for the most part it was accepted by me as a no go, for what-ever reasons, and even if it did not make sense to me. Laying down the ground work for no lifestyle inflation had begun.
My last semester, I already had a full time job lined up for after graduation. I think the second vehicle might have died by this point, but that wasn’t needed as a way to get home that term. I was given a relocation allowance by my employer, whereby I could rent a van to bring all my stuff home, including some furniture that I had managed to leave there for the full four years.
I did need a vehicle though to get to work, and decided I wanted to buy my own brand new car. I planned to live at home for my first year to save up to buy nicer furniture and prepare to move out on my own. I had my eyes on a Toyota Tercel and went shopping for it with my Dad earlier in the semester, so he could help me to negotiate. They asked for a $100 deposit, which my Dad put down on his credit card. (I don’t think I even had a credit card then). I fully expected to pay it back, once I started working full-time, because money always ran a little short by the time I got to the end of each school term.
Imagine my surprise when I picked up my new car in May, and Dad said I did not need to pay him back the $100. It was a graduation present. A very generous graduation present, I felt. $100 from my Dad felt like $10,000 at the time. Maybe it was a little bit of foreshadowing to how he is today.
Fast forward, and after a couple of years of apartment rental, it’s time to purchase a home. Dad lent me some additional money for my down payment. He set an interest rate that was lower than what I would pay but better than he could get in short term interest bearing investments, so it was a win-win! I actually didn’t even pay this money back until I was married a few years. He wasn’t asking for it but I didn’t want to be indebted to him any longer, especially now that I was a mother and with many family responsibilities. Since he was money savvy, he saw an opportunity to help his daughter out and himself, all at the same time.
He continued to be quite thrifty, was good at repairs etc. so it wasn’t usual for him to bring in any experts. He cheaped out on house painting, leaving it to my Mum to do. When she said eventually, that was it, she was doing no more painting, she was too old for this, he had to address. He asked Huey, Duey and Louie aka my husband and my two BILS to help him paint the living and dining room and hallway one weekend, instead of hiring painters. My Mum didn’t want to be around so asked me to take her out for the day which I obliged. So by mid afternoon, the guys were getting hungry. “Do you have anything to eat, Grandad?” Oh, sure, he said and made them bread and butter sandwiches*. They still laugh about Grandad’s cooking prowess to this day. Not only was he frugal on getting the painting done, but he didn’t even have to score for a pizza!
Years later, Dad took ill suddenly and was diagnosed with a brain tumor on his pituitary gland. After surgery, he needed hormone replacement therapy, and getting exactly the right dosage is always a matter of trial and error.
At one point, he had so much estrogen in him he was calling us to talk on the phone regularly, crying in front of us and shopping up a storm! I kid you not! He went shopping for a sports car with my husband once (didn’t buy one, thankfully)! He bought new windows for their house and my mother was in her glory! We said to him “Who are you and what have you done with our father?”
Since he was under close supervision in those early days, the doctors immediately spotted the overdose and cut it back, a little too far, and he went back to his miserly self but worse! Let me tell ya, those hormones play a big part in this I have witnessed!
Single but Satisfied
Life changes in an instant, and he lost my Mum unexpectedly 9 years ago. 7 years her senior, we never expected things to turn out this way.
He is 89 years old, lives in a rented apartment, still drives and comes to dinner most Saturday nights, bringing a bottle of wine for every meal. He’s still frugal, but he’s no longer cheap and has become quite generous. He complains about how much his stock broker is making off him, but still has quite a bit invested in the market even at his age.
He knows we have cut back and are living frugally, which pleases him, I think. But I could never tell him the extent of our debt, because I don’t want to disappoint him.
I must say that, as much as I miss my Mum (she was always the life of the party), it has been good to get to know my Dad even better in her absence. I often think about their situation, since The Irishman and I have the exact same age difference.
In retrospect, I think my Dad has the right amount of frugality and I think that at the end of the day, I do too!
* You must go visit Liquid Independence’s Toast Sandwich Recipe. Who knew that there really was such a thing as bread and butter sandwiches? I guess, Dad did. Pass the cheese, please. 😉
Just remember ~
Time is money, but money also takes time!
Images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
milk – imagerymajestic
Disney – David Castillo Dominici
student walking – Ambro
Toyota – tiverylucky
helping hand home – jannoon028
bread and butter – rakratchada torsap
man on phone – stockimages
My Dad – Simon Howden
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