Frugal Family History: Upbringing

By , December 20, 2015

Lately, I’ve focused on frugality (see Homestead Core Values: Frugality). Now that I’ve outlined our basic strategy and practices, perhaps a narrative of our upbringing and how we put it in place might help explain how and why we do what we do.

My father is a minister, and my mother was an exemplary minister’s wife. Michelle’s parents were both teachers. Both professions offer far more moral rewards than monetary. Therefore, both households survived and thrived through frugality. The children in these households learned from experience and example, sometimes willingly, sometimes not.

Michelle and I are of a dying generation, one whose parents lived through The Great Depression and World War II. They were raised in frugality of necessity. The specter of poverty and want haunt them to this day, on one level or another. They raised us with the same guardedness against wasteful practices they learned as children.

My mother grew up very poor in a large family. Her father sheared sheep and mined for a living, moving around California with the work. My father’s parents taught school much of their lives.

Michelle’s mother’s father was a traveling salesman, who died young. his raised three daughters alone. Michelle’s father grew up in small log cabins in the backwaters of Washington state, son of a gypo logger.

My father served small, poor churches his whole career. He and my mother’s frugality, resourcefulness, and strong do-it-yourself attitude served these churches well, and provided excellent examples of how one can live well on very little, and rely on one’s own skills to better one’s life. I grew up with a different concept of wealth. If we children asked why we weren’t rich, my parents replied, “we are rich, we just don’t have much money.”

Dad’s pay usually came from the offering plate. When parishioners failed to contribute enough, we did without. My mother was a true mistress in the art of making do on very little. Dad used his electrical, plumbing, mechanical, and other skills that might have earned a handsome income in other fields to save the churches the expense of hiring professionals to maintain the properties.

My parents avoided debt. In fact, they did so well that I learned a valuable lesson about the need to slowly, carefully, use debt to accumulate credit. When we asked my folks to cosign for the first car we purchased from a dealership, they found they couldn’t. They simply had not accumulated a credit history in all their years of marriage!

My parents gave me an allowance, with restrictions on its use: 1/3 for savings, 1/3 for charity, 1/3 for discretionary spending. We received plenty of birthday and Christmas gifts, and some for no occasion at all, but we were required to buy our own toys the rest of the time. I remember that by the third grade I needed to save my allowance for anything I really wanted. Since I always wanted more than one thing, I learned to prioritize potential purchases—an extremely difficult process for such a young child, but I certainly learned a valuable lesson early on!

I also went out and found work as soon as anyone would hire me. Most of my discretionary funds came to me through hard work by the time I reached middle school.

Luckily for me, my parents never regretted raising us as they did. When they spoke to my siblings and me about their hopes and aspirations for us, they didn’t talk about us escaping the lower middle class and making our fortunes, they hoped that we would find worthwhile occupations that made us happy. I never heard the old lines about making something better of myself than how I was raised.

Growing up in restricted income families, which is not to say poor, wasn’t always easy for us. While we learned the importance of frugality and self reliance, we didn’t always appreciate it. We each had our moments of dreaming of riches. At the age I began to think in terms of “following in my father’s footsteps” to the ministry, I promised myself that if I did, I would not have children, as I felt it unfair to raise kids while pursuing such a low paying profession.

As we grew older, though, we began to fall naturally into more frugal habits, and eventually found we could live comfortably without a large income. By the time we married, Michelle and I both aspired to be happy and fulfilled, and secure enough to appreciate life. We set out to be rich without having a lot of money.

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