By Kelly Hodges
Last week my family lay to rest my Grandpa Al, at the age of 108. The quantity of years he lived was impressive no doubt, but it was the quality of those years that my family and I will remember. There are so many lessons that he taught me about life, and I’m so grateful that I had so many years to learn from him. To recall the greatness of the man, the richness of his life, and the wisdom of his years would require volumes, so instead I offer here a few of the financial lessons this very special Centenarian bestowed upon me.
1. Value Education. Grandpa Al was the oldest of 11 children raised by German immigrants on a farm in Melrose Minnesota. Born in 1904 he was raised in an era that preceded child labor laws, and at an early age he was pulled from school to help with the farm work. Missing school in spring for the planting and in fall for the harvest made it difficult to keep up with his studies, so his parents withdrew him completely after the 6th grade so he could work full time on the farm. Al agreed conditionally, that he would stay home and work on the farm as long as his 10 younger siblings could complete their education instead.
Thankfully times have changed over the past 100 years, but Al always mourned for the education he missed, and sacrificed so that his daughter (my mother) and later his grandchildren would have all the opportunities that an education brings. He was the proudest man in the audience when his daughter graduated from college, and later his granddaughter from medical school. In a time where college and even graduate school is often taken for granted, Al reminds us what a privilege an education actually is.
2. Spend Less Than You Earn. Handicapped by not completing grammar school, Al’s options for employment were limited when he decided to leave the farm at age 25. He was steadily employed throughout his life as a factory worker and later for Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee. As a hard working blue-collar employee he made a respectable income and was able to support his wife and daughter, but was far from being wealthy. That being said, Al was able to build up savings every month by making sure that the money going out was always less than that coming in. By building up savings and living within his means he never stressed about financial issues because he could always cover the necessities. There are so many who earn ten to 100 times more than Al ever did, but are constantly stressed about money because they spend it all faster than it comes in. Al lived a simple life, and by spending less than he earned avoided the stress and fear that overspending always brings.
3. Keep a Budget. My mother always said that if Al had been able to continue his education he would have made an excellent accountant. He was meticulous with numbers and kept the most detailed budget I have ever seen. These records are amusing to look back on now, to follow the price of gas from 1930 to 1970 or the price of a newspaper subscription from 1950 to 2010, but they are also impressive in their detail. Every penny that Al ever spent is documented in his volumes of budgets. I know that I (along with 99% of the population) would never be able to budget as accurately as he did, but even a simple budget is far better than none at all. Al was able to see where each and every penny went and make adjustments as needed to keep his spending in line.
4. Avoid Debt. Al never had a car payment, never had a credit card, and had no debt whatsoever in his entire life except when he and my grandmother bought their home (the only home they would ever buy, and the one they would live in together for almost 70 years). They contributed every month to the “Christmas Club” at the bank so that come December there was money to pay for Christmas. If they wanted something, they saved up their money until they could buy it. Al didn’t believe in debt, never entered into debt, and therefore avoided all the stress and hardship that comes from being indebted. No he never drove the latest make and model car, but he also owned every car he ever drove outright. Al lived a life free from worry of debt collectors, foreclosure, or bankruptcy by simply only buying what he could afford, a lesson that sometimes seems forgotten in society today.
5. Give Generously. Although a modest earner throughout his life, Al was always exceedingly generous with what he had. His was deeply religious and gave regularly to his Church. He was a compassionate soul who could not turn down requests for help from Boy’s Town, the Children’s Hospital, or any other organization that asked for his aid. Every January when he sat his grandchildren down to look over the previous year’s budget, the “Charity” column was always one of his top expenses. He cut back in other areas so he could afford to generously give. Al lived through the Great Depression and two World Wars and was able to recognize the great needs of others. Al knew that he had “enough”, and that there were others out there who did not. This is something I try to remind myself of often as I get swept up in the consumerism that surrounds me- I have enough, more than enough, much more than Grandpa Al, and I need to help out those who don’t.
108 years could never be summed up adequately in these few paragraphs, but I hope that these few lessons impart a bit of the wisdom Grandpa Al bestowed upon me. Thank you for everything you have taught me over the years dear Grandpa, I love you, and may you rest in peace.
Any opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author, and do not in any way represent the views or opinions of her employer or any other person or entity.