I think the first memory of my father may have been him sitting at the kitchen table writing checks to pay bills. My parents were middle-class; hard-working people that weathered the recession of the late ‘‹Å”70s and started over after moving back to South Carolina. I saw my parents pawn their rings just to keep the mortgage payments current. My father never let his bills get behind no matter what he had to do. We never had a lot of money and I never understood why our family did not go on vacations, eat out at restaurants or own brand new cars. I did not have the latest in fashion nor did I get to take a senior trip; however, I did learn a valuable financial lesson from my father that has saved me financial heartache many times – – live below your means.
Growing up I never paid much attention to how much money we did or did not have until I was a teenager. It was then I realized that my parents could afford more than we had; however, my father did not believe in spending money just because he could. If we needed something, he would make sure we had it but he never believed in buying something to “keep up with the Joneses” or just to satisfy a desire. I thought this was cheap and cruel until we went to purchase my mother a new car.
My mother’s car was finally beyond repair so bright and early Saturday morning we were off to buy a new car (finally, a brand new car). I picked one of the most expensive cars on the lot knowing there was no way my father would ever be able to buy that car. It was then I overheard a couple of the employees talking about my dad. One commented to the other that he could purchase anything on that lot. The other employee expressed doubt because he said my dad was not that well off. The first employee laughed and said that with a credit score like my father’s he should be shopping at the Mercedes dealership. It did not impress me at all because I knew my dad could not afford the payments on a Mercedes or so I thought.
A few weeks after while I was helping dad wash our new car, I asked him about what the employees said about his credit score. He reminded me how no matter how tight things were that he always paid his bills before they were due. He also reminded me that even though we may have the money to afford some of what we wanted him and mom did not buy things just to have them or to spend money. My dad also explained to me that they never counted overtime, bonuses, tax refunds or other money as income because it was never guaranteed. My dad said that if I never tried to live above my means – – spend more money than I earned – – that I would always have what I needed and some of want I wanted. I would also not need to worry about getting a loan when I really needed one.
To this day, I remember that lesson and although I strayed when I was younger, I am now practicing that lesson in my financial life. I made the mistake of budgeting overtime wages and using credit cards to purchase things that I could not afford but wanted. I am blessed that my father loaned me the money to dig myself out of that hole so I could learn from my mistakes and make better financial decisions. Now, my husband and I still own the home we purchased 20 years ago rather than trading up as our incomes increased. It may be smaller than the homes of our friends; however, it will be paid in full in just 10 more short years whereas their homes still have 25 years or more on the mortgage. The same principal has us driving paid in full vehicles that may be older but do not have huge car loans attached to them.
My father may not live like a king but he has the credit history of a saint. He never tried to be something he is not and that is the best financial, and life, lesson my father has taught me.
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