What Do I Know?

The 40th wedding anniversary of my parents, Bob and Mary. I’m the daughter on the right. January 2001

I was comfortable and making decent money when I was in my mid-thirties.  Then, I let fear take me down. I’d already survived a big career change and started my own business which was doing well.  All the bills were getting paid, but I worried that I didn’t have enough money to send my kids to college. 

I’d started a fund for each of them when they were babies based on my dad’s good advice.  After my divorce, I was limited in what I could put in there.  That worry drove me to expand my business where I had seven employees, was taking phone calls on weekends, and could afford to pay everyone else except myself.  On top of that, I let my fear of affording the repairs on my 80-year-old house propel me into buying a newer house.

I was locked into 5-year contracts for rent and phone service at my office, but I couldn’t just close my business because I felt obligated to serve both my clients and employees.  Instead, I found a way to sell it to one of my employees, and went back to just working for myself.  At the same time, the costs to run my new house and taxes rose to such a level that I had to sell it, too.  My expansion failed because it was based on fear.

Ironically, the next year, that college fund shrunk dramatically when the Great Recession hit, one year before my oldest son was going to college.  It was all a great reminder that I had forgotten to live with what was enough.  I felt like a complete failure.  I was lucky though, my mom and dad lived nearby and kept coming to soccer games and orchestra concerts.  That kind of quiet support isn’t there for everyone.

Looks like my sister had a secret to tell my dad. Either 1968 or 1969.

But, I didn’t decrease my dreams. I used the quiet time to slow down, pay attention to subtle signals, and notice opportunities. I learned to recognize when I was forcing to make things work and got in my own way. That was my sign to step back and reassess. I put back in place all the financial tools and techniques that my dad taught me.  I’ll be honest, it took me awhile and there were days when I came home from work, fed my kids canned soup and rice for dinner, and went to bed by 7 o’clock.  On the weekends, I never got out of my bathrobe. 

But, I kept plugging away and slowly built up my client list again.  This time I had faith that I could bounce back from anything.  Falling into the awful place taught me that I was the kind of person who would always get back up again.  I find it funny that my impatience and intolerance of boredom actually are the traits that saved me.  I gained strength and found a new sense of gratitude deeper than anything I’d ever experienced.  My dad was still there and his no-nonsense ways to handle money were still there.  Except this time, I paid closer attention.

My dad, Bob Frank. Sometime in the 1930s.

My dad was born several months before the Great Depression hit. He grew up with the mindset of living on less and examining the value of everything you had or wanted. He never had a chance to learn any other way.  The first ten years of his life were his training ground and saving money became a reflex.  Without knowing it, he passed on what he’d learned to my sister and I.

With renewed vigor, I searched for college grants that  didn’t need to be paid back instead of loans for my son. Over the next several years, I sent all three of my kids to a good private college.  I got creative and learned new ways to save on incidental costs. I found it was actually cheaper for my daughter to do one semester at a college in Scotland than to stay in the US.  She loved it.  When they all graduated, I actually had money left over to help them pay down their student loans which we kept at a reasonable level.

I was lucky to have my dad and his wisdom.  I’d like to pass that on to you so you can afford your dreams, live a comfortable life, and enjoy some leisure in your retirement.