As a member of Generation X, I grew up in the 80s. While there were many problems in that decade, like inflation, Black Monday, and the Cold War, personal finance was much simpler then.
There were fewer choices and people just plain tended to save more of their money. Maybe that’s what our child’s eyes saw then, but we certainly didn’t have fancy cell phones and HGTV to spin our fancy.
My family didn’t use phrases like “financial independence”, “live below your means”, or “be frugal.” Those virtues were just part of our day-to-day lives.
As far back as I can remember, personal finance has always been part of my life. It wasn’t taboo to talk about money. I grew up in a household where money was discussed openly. Talk of the household budget (or what was affordable) was a common conversation.
Growing up Frugal Meant Zero Luxuries
My dad was an Accountant. He worked for the Department of Defense. Other than working a few part-time jobs over the years, my mom was primarily the keeper of the house. Lucky for me, my grandmother also lived with us. And get this, she owned her own small business.
We certainly weren’t poor. We lived in a small ranch-style house. There were two Chevy Caprices parked in the driveway. There was never fighting or arguing about money among the grown-ups. I’ll tell you, growing up in a household where your parents were on the same page about their hard-earned dollars was a blessing!
I was an only child, but oddly, never spoiled (dammit!) I was loved, cared for, and maybe even overly protected. To my occasional chagrin, I wasn’t lavished with lots of toys. Yeah, I got the shaft. No hard feelings, Mom…
I coveted what my friends had, with serious envy. One time around age 9 I complained to my folks that my stuff didn’t add up to the stuff my friend Robert had. Grandma told me to move out if I wasn’t happy. Holy sh*t, Grandma!!!
She even proposed that I might be happier if I moved in with Robert’s parents. That pretty much cured me of Robert’s envy. No hard feelings, Grandma…
My dad had his approach to handling my little requests. I wanted an ATV, a pool, and every new Nintendo game that was released. Guess where this is heading…
When I would ask my dad for these things, he would remind me that I had chores to do. Nice redirection, Pops… My main summer chore was to rake up rotten apples. After I raked up the apples, I had to mow the lawn. It smelled like a modern-day spa smoothie.
My dad’s theory was that the yard work would take my mind off of my wants. When I was finished, I would be tired and would forget about what I was asking for. It worked most of the time.
When I look back on my childhood, I don’t feel resentment. We’ll sometimes reminisce about life in the 80s. I give my parents flack about how cheap they were, and we laugh about it now. At this stage of my life, it’s easy to understand where they were coming from.
It’s not as if I had no toys or anything nice. My dad took me to the occasional ball game, fishing trips to Canada, amusement parks, and even took the family to California on vacation. We weren’t destitute. We were just, well, the 80s…
How I grew up and the influence of my parents and grandmother had a big impact on me. That influence shaped how I manage my finances today. Goes to show that success with money in your later years can be traced back to your childhood.
Frugal Role Models
I mentioned that Grandma ran a small business. She owned an Alteration Shop. Not a lot of money on that gig. Despite that, she was a saver.
Back in the day, she would always buy savings bonds as well as certificates of deposits (CDs.) She is 94 now and still talks about earning 14% on CDs. When I was a wee tot, she explained how compound interest worked. She explained to me the power of money when it’s not spent foolishly.
I didn’t see much of my dad until I was age 6. He served in the Army during the Vietnam War. Before then he worked in a warehouse.
Wanting to provide more for his family, he started attending college in the evening on the G.I. Bill. He earned his degree in Accounting in 5 years while working at the warehouse day job.
He’ll reflect on that time in his life and wonder how he did it. Maybe he didn’t feel he had a choice. He simply wanted to be a good provider for his family.
That alone taught me about sacrifice and trade-offs to meet goals. Earning a degree allowed Dad to earn at least a million dollars more throughout his career. He was able to retire at age 57.
In the early 80s, consumer debt was not as big of a problem. Probably because it was harder to get credit back then? Interest rates were much higher. So it’s no surprise my dad taught me to avoid debt.
Debt (so he said) made him sick. He’d even have little panic attacks when he owed a large balance on a loan. He paid off his 30-year mortgage in 13 years. Now that’s motivation…
My mom had a few part-time jobs here and there. She was also a minimalist. Clutter and crap did not last long around our house. We could’ve filmed studio sitcoms the house was so neat and orderly. What did she teach me? Less is more.
Having such strong and close role models, it’s not a mystery that personal finance became a passion of mine. Scarcity gives you a few options, and I appreciate that my folks focused on how to manage the little we had.
When I started working, saving money was a reflex. I did not want to waste it. I wanted my money to grow with the power of compounding interest. After some personal figuring out stuff-age, I decided to go to college in my early 20’s. How would I pay for that???
Taking out loans freaked me out. I remember adding up the total cost of a bachelor’s degree and the feeling of utter doom (panic attacks?!?) The fear of owing $20,000 or more in student loans was overpowering.
I almost skipped college. Instead, I buckled down and worked when I wasn’t in class.
Growing up in the 80s Made Me Who I Am Today
I am a minimalist. I am not a minimalist because I read about it on Abandoned Cubicle and it sounded like a cool way to live (but almost.)
Material possessions take up too much energy. I guess I was just conditioned living in a frugal household (thanks, Mom!) to buy quality, lasting things if I needed them. I had learned throughout my childhood, slowly by surely, to control my wants.
It’s interesting, to say the least, how much your upbringing can shape your view of the world. We can’t pick our parents, but I feel I won the lottery with mine.
We grow up thinking our parents aren’t fair and they’re stingy. Later on, especially after we’ve left the safety and comfort of home, we recognize quickly how they taught us to succeed in life. With nothing more than setting a good example.
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