RULE# 17: Learn to live cheap

As your father I think the greatest disservice I have done for your futures is to not teach you the way to live cheap.

By living cheap I have to turn first to my parents who understood the concept very well.

Both my Mom and Dad grew up poor. With my Dad being raised by an aunt and uncle while your great grandmother recovered for 7 years from TB, and my Mom was raised by an aunt and Uncle after the death of her mother and the abandonment by her father as an infant. Both grew up in world where luxuries were few and far between.

Your grandfather living on $90 a month from the GI bill to put himself through Drexel while working as a bail bondsman at night. He did cheap to a whole new level- but graduated with no scholarships, no grants and no debt. He at times lived in an old store front and one room and in a  boarding house- Grand-pop understood cheap.

He worked as an engineer and still lives in the same 1,100 square foot, 1 1/2 bathroom house that he bought in 1960 for $10,000.  Throughout my entire childhood I never wanted for anything, had a great education and never went to sleep without being well fed or woke up without having good clothes to wear. By the standards of my youth I felt wealthy and lucky.

I did however clearly understand the rules, my allowance of $1.00 a week ended when I was 16 and could get a job. I never would have dreamt to ask when I walked through Sears ( Obviously in 1968 Sears had a lot different cache then it does now) for a toy or even a new shirt. There was a sort of implied acceptance to the way things were, and a satisfaction with having what we perceived as so much.

When I graduated college in 1981 I faced what Andrew and Matthew face today, a dismal economy. It was an economy where only with my Dad’s help I was able to secure an entry level underwriting job at $13,500 year, and felt like I had died and gone to heaven. Of course it wasn’t much money, but I worked nights setting up shelves at the newly opening Toys R Us’ and at a Frog Hollow Tennis club as a desk clerk to save enough money to live on my own, and eventually get married.

I remember very clearly shopping for groceries at the old Montgomeryville mart ( I can not adequately explain to you what this place was like- but to help with the image it was a low end farmers market with strip club, aptly named Mickey’s Mouse, attached) because you could get the off brand and just expired food cheap. Trying to make money last the month was critical.

I also remember the joy when I qualified for a Sears card. At the time I couldn’t begin to dream that one day I would own a American Express or MasterCard, but that $300 limit on the Sears card allowed me to charge own first christmas tree and stand along with all the Christmas shopping I needed. In very simple terms I learned to live very cheap.

Fortunately I found a field that I excelled at early on it life. I received steady promotions and raises in the 1980’s and by the time you were all born were were moderately affluent. In your lifetimes I was always able to get you more than what you needed and often get you most of what you wanted. It wasn’t a sense that we were spoiling you, but we never gave you the value, confidence and pride that comes from living very cheaply.

Don’t get me wrong, I never came from the school of thought that it was my moral obligation to get you a new car when you turned 16. But you did manage to get cars with Bobbi and my help, and the help of your grandfather and aunt. But you have all have gotten far more than my father thought possible for his grandchildren.

The standards of survival have shifted in less than 50 years from ones where a warm room and some food was living well to where lack of cable TV and air conditioning is considered sub-human living standards. And this shift has occurred because parents kept raising the standards and expectations of the children.

It may seem I am writing about not being spoiled, but this isn’t the point at all.  Because spoiled would imply an expectation or ungraitfulness, neither of which I believe exists within you. But rather it is a lack of preparation for life as it really exists.

The reality is that affluence of our times has caused us to lose an essential skill-living cheap. There is cocky confidence that comes from knowing that you can start with virtually nothing and not only survive but rebuild.  It is a confidence that stays with you your whole life that says even if life’s misfortunes such as, a divorce, illness, stock market crash etc.  occur you can survive and rebuild.

Personally I have made millions and lost millions through business ownerships, followed by divorce and stock collapse. There were times when I had enough money to last the rest of my life, followed by times where I barely had enough money to last the month. And through these ebbs and flows of financial success I had the model of my father and mothers responses to adversity to be a guide for me. I always knew that life’s success was far from a guarantee, and that rebuilding from set backs was part of the game.

I see many of my peers face these same setbacks and fall apart and give up. I see many in the generation that followed me  looking for guarantees and to have failures of smoothed out by legal actions, government intervention, debt or parental support. I think much of this is caused by two influences from your parents; the expectation that life will always be fair, and the lack of ability to survive at a much lower income.

The Greatest Generation is a term used describe the generation who grew up in the the deprivation of the Great Depression, and then went on to fight in World War II. This generation had nothing material, and were fighting to keep the one thing they knew they owned- the freedom and opportunity to create their own future.

My Generation is referred to a Baby Boomers, is best characterized by the desire to challenge traditional values and roles, and to grab as much of the new affluence of the 50’s-90’s as possible. We instilled in you our children a high sense of self esteem and worth, but glossed over the survival skills necessary to survive what life really has in store for you. We told everyone they were winners, but didn’t prepare anyone to be able to come back from a loss.

You will in your life time face financial ruin at least 2 or 3 times, maybe more often, but unlikely less. And each time you stare down the cliff of bankruptcy you must be able to look over the edge and march back with confidence to success. You will likely see periods of major economic upheaval, as well as the personal crisis of job loss or business failure. Failure is as much part of life as success- its not something that should be feared, it just is something that is.

Learn to live cheap! Save money, and wait on things you want and assess what you really need.

Used furniture, macaroni and cheese and basic cable are all God’s gifts to tell life that you are in control and that nothing it can dish out to you will take away your joy. There is a pride that comes from knowing that you can survive if everything is taken away.

 The smirk of confidence you need in life comes from the certainty that you need none of the extras to be happy, that you know not only what it takes to win, but more importantly what it takes to re-build.

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