A Matter of Perspective

Carl, in his last post, challenged me to write a few words about the topics of saving and thrift.  I come from a pretty thrifty family so here goes nothing.

I was raised in a pretty poor environment until I was in my early teen years.  Not co-incidentally, this is the time when Reagan became president and interest rates steadily declined from their astronomical levels.  I should probably back up a bit.

My mom and dad worked very hard to raise me and my sister and we not only practiced thrift to better ourselves, we had to be thrifty to survive.  Garage sales are where I got “new” books and pencils, clothes and toys.  My diet when little was all cheap cuts of meat, tuna, pasta, p b and j, things like that.  I really didn’t complain as it was all I knew.  We would shop at Aldi and I remember those shopping trips to this day.  My mom would instruct me to scavenge the parking lot for empty boxes and bags that we would use to cart the food out – the store would rebate us back for that.  I remember my mom smashing a huge fist full of coupons down and the look on the cash register lady’s face as she knew that she would have to enter each and every one separately – this is the days before bar codes.  Do you remember how fast the checkout ladies would work those registers at the grocery store?  Pretty error free, too.

I also got all of my “new” clothes at the Salvation Army, or as hand me downs from my older cousins.  I literally never set foot in a new clothing store until my early teens and remember it to this day – I was a bit dumbfounded not to have to comb through all the racks for my size as everything was grouped by size already – what a concept, I thought….I think it was a K-Mart or something.  To this day I make donations to the local Salvation Army for helping my family through the tough times.

The scariest part about being a father now is getting some sense of perspective into my children.  I fear that they have none.  They are still very young and don’t really understand the meaning of money yet.  It is too early for them to be in a program such as Carl has going for his younger family members.  But the problem, in my head anyway, persists.

When we need food, my wife goes to the closest store and gets whatever we want or need at any time.  Same with clothes.  My wife will scout the paper for sales on larger items but in general it is more a function of time than money.  This is great as I am a pretty successful businessman and want to treat my wife and kids the best I can but eventually my kids will have to be taken off the dole and make it on their own.  The eldest talks of being an equine vet someday.  I would love for that to happen.  But I digress.

Not struggling a bit leaves my kids zero perspective on what it takes to survive, manage your costs, or meet a budget.  Some of this will have to be taught by them to me later in life, but for now, they are just little kids enjoying life and I want them to have that.  It is what I got from my parents, albeit under different circumstances.

My dad took very big risks in his business career when I was younger and it was grim for a while.  The interest payments were so high in the late 70’s that his monthly payment went to interest only and he was still sinking.  Finally, with the Reagan revolution things normalized and his business thrived.  I am now in the same business.

What many don’t realize about small business owners is that we take on an enormous mountain of risk each and every single day.  Our buy/sell/staff/marketing decisions either make us money, or cost us money.  Managing inventory, information systems, all of it – each and every time we push the button we are making a decision that will hopefully benefit us.  It is difficult to explain to someone who has always worked for someone else – that concept of risk.  Sure, on a personal level they understand that if they buy a stock, it could go down – but basically, managing risk is my livelyhood.  I have to have the right stuff, sell it to the right customers, get paid promptly and all the rest, or it is curtains.

Teaching my kids proper perspective on things will be the hardest challenge I have as a parent – the second hardest is a two part deal: 1) taking them off the dole and 2) teaching them about risk (which goes hand in hand with taking them off the dole).


  1. The hardest part for you will be your credibility with your kids when you threaten to “cut them off” if they don’t behave in a rational way.

    I think if your dad said that to you you’d know that he meant business and was the kind of guy who’d do what he said.

    Your challenge is to make them think the same.


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