Growing up, there are so many things that we learn from our parents. When I was a kid, I dreaded the lengthy talks and lectures…whatever the topic was for the day. But luckily, some of them stuck in my bullheaded brain!
As a young girl, I was taught to save my money. My sister and I were the only children in our small extended family so we were spoiled a little by our grandparents, our aunt and uncle, and great-aunts and uncles. Holidays often meant that we would receive cards in the mail with a few dollars. Early on in my life, my dad opened a savings account to put away my extra money. Then when I got my first job, my dad taught me to save half of my money…but that I could have fun with the rest of my hard earned cash. Just before college, my dad took me to the bank to open my very first checking account and even helped me get my very first credit card. He taught me about balancing a checkbook. Even more importantly, he taught me how credit cards work…like, how they REALLY work. My first credit card had a credit limit of $250. Can you believe it? $250!!! That seems like a joke these days. I bet you can’t even get a credit card with that low of a credit limit. My dad taught me about monthly payments, interest, and credit history. He made sure that I knew how missing payments and getting out of control with spending could effect the rest of my life.
As I entered into high school, by dad began sharing his knowledge of investing for college and investing for retirement. He taught me about compounding interest and the difference between starting to invest at age 20 and starting to invest at age 50.
I think the most important financial lesson I learned from my dad, which didn’t become important to me until much later in my adulthood, was the financial security of not having a mortgage on your home. Early in my high school years, my parents bought a piece of land in a really peaceful part of Wisconsin called Door County. The piece of land was right on the water. It was his dream to build a home there to retire in. For many years my parents worked on that land together and made it just beautiful. And when it came time to build a home, he shared with me his thought process and his plan to build it without having a mortgage on it. That way…he would have security in that home. Nothing could ever happen that could take the home from him.
That thought process began to resonate with Kevin and I after we purchased our second home in the Phoenix area. Our first home was small, but perfect as a starting home. After having 2 kids and advancing in our careers, we decided to buy a bigger home (after all, isn’t that he American dream?). We made a nice profit on that small home and invested it into a large, beautiful home in a nice community. We were proud to have family come visit…it even had an extra bedroom for guests. But, after living in that big beautiful home for a couple of years, we realized that keeping up with the Jones’s wasn’t making us any happier…it was just draining our bank account faster each month. We became resentful of the big house with the big mortgage. We could afford the mortgage, but we no longer wanted to afford the big mortgage. But…the housing market crashed about one year before. What were we to do? We were angry that we had bought into the lie that bigger and better would make us happier.
At the time we were feeling stuck, many Americans were walking away from their mortgages because they were upside down. Many were short-selling their homes. Many more were just hunkering down and waiting for the market to recover. These were all options that we could have considered. But, the conversations I had with my dad as a teenager and young adult about financial responsibility and credit history never left my mind. And we were just too resentful of our big mortgage to hunker down for 10 years.
After doing some investigating and planning, we sold our home and broke even. The profit we had made from selling our first house which we had invested into the big house made the difference between breaking even and selling at a loss. That…had been a great financial decision.
So we were rid of the big house with the big mortgage, and what we found instead would make our family and friends shake their heads in wonder. They “wondered” why on Earth we would buy such a wreck. We found a bank-owned home in the city with 1.25 acres of land that was in disarray (understatement) at less than half the price of our big beautiful home.
We were happy to be there, happy to not have a huge mortgage, and happy to be working with our hands fixing the place up and turning it into a productive homestead with gardens and farm animals. We started working toward our goal of being 100% debt-free and mortgage free by living a very frugal life and paying down our mortgage as quickly as we could. Shortly after we moved to this place, however, we felt a tug on our hearts from God telling us that this new home wasn’t our long-term home, but an opportunity. Because we’ve learned the hard way not to say “No” to God, we got busy learning skills and improving the house and property. After 4 years of hard work and paying off 60% of the mortgage, we sold that home for more that twice what we paid for it and bought our new homestead in the Missouri Ozarks.
Thanks to early financial education from my dad, a shared financial thought process with my husband, and guidance from God, we became 100% debt-free and semi-retired by age 40.
So these days as I lecture my children about responsible spending, debt-free living, and ways to save and invest, I hope that they are truly listening and learning. Even though they are nodding their heads with blank stares on their faces, yawning and looking out the windows, I hope they learn from our example and make wise financial choices. I hope one day that Kevin and I can tell my children how very proud of them we are for making very well thought out and responsible financial choices.
For me, it started out with great guidance from my dad. Thanks, Dad! I was listening! I appreciate the time you took to teach me and for recognizing that financial responsibility was a topic that I needed to learn.