A Father’s Gift – The Best Life Lesson I Ever Learned

The most important money lessons in life often don’t come in the form of a lesson at all. Instead they come to us more like a riddle that initially does more to confuse than clarify. If we can somehow remain patient and open, every now and then when we need it most, we’re rewarded with a valuable insight.

My parents belong to “the greatest generation”. Born during the Great Depression and raised during the Dirty 30’s, they abided by the mantra of “waste not, want not”. Although I’m sure my sisters and I argued otherwise, we never wanted for anything. My parents made sure of that by always spending less than they could afford on pretty much everything i.e. houses, cars, clothes, gifts and trips.

When I was 13 or 14, our next door neighbour left a corporate job to start his own business. He apparently enjoyed some early success and wasted no time in taking a step-up in lifestyle. This included; a new in-ground swimming pool, 2 new cars, home décor upgrades and a new diamond ring for the Mrs. This was totally foreign to me. I was vaguely aware that my father’s employment success and income had increased steadily over the years. Unlike our neighbour’s though, our lifestyle hadn’t changed much.

Unable to reconcile what I was seeing I asked my father why we were being deprived of the things our neighbours clearly enjoyed so much. Without a moment’s hesitation my father replied “Because I want to remain objective about what I do for a living.”

While I had no idea what those words meant, I did seem to understand there would be no spending spree in our house anytime soon. And that was that, or so I thought. In reality, my father had planted a tiny seed in my mind that would lay dormant for many years, waiting for the perfect time to bloom.

That time came in my early 40’s. I was a banking executive unhappy in my career. A recent promotion required that I spend time in two offices that were about a two hour drive apart. To make things temporarily bearable, I rented a condo apartment at the midway point, leaving a one hour commute in either direction.

In my heart, I yearned to leave the corporate world. I was conflicted however, because I also wanted to buy a home. My years of corporate travel had worn me down and I longed to put down roots. The house I had in mind was brand new and to buy it meant I’d need a mortgage. I would also have to draw on my savings for things like a paved drive, window coverings, appliances, gardens, fences, decks, etc. etc. Buying it also meant one more thing…I’d have to stay in my job. Something didn’t feel right.

That’s when I heard my father’s words again, but now I knew exactly what they meant. Staying in a rental with no debt and money in the bank was exactly where I needed to be. It allowed me “to remain objective about what I do for a living”. Like so many poor choices, buying a home at that time would have used up precious time, energy and money. It would also have distracted me from facing a deep discordance. This was a defining moment in my life.

Within two years I resigned from the bank and started on the path that led to my calling as a Money Coach. And oh yes, along the way I’ve lived in several lovely homes.

Thanks Dad.