This guest post from Simon Cunningham is part of the “reader stories” feature at Get Rich Slowly. Some stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success — or failure. These stories feature folks from all levels of financial maturity and with all sorts of incomes.
A lot of reader stories featured on Get Rich Slowly are from people who got “saved” from bad financial habits, who were burned by their rabid consumerism and were forced to sober up, who cut up their cards and overcame tremendous debt, bought a smaller home and heated it less, took up a more reasonable hobby, and generally realized the value of family and experiences. That's not my story.
I grew up in a family that already valued those things.
- My parents grew all our own vegetables in our huge Michigan garden, killed four or five deer per year for meat, canned their own spaghetti sauce and salsa, and generally saved a large portion of their income.
- My parents took our family on outings to pick blackberries or cross-country ski.
- They tapped our maple trees to make syrup and heated our house with firewood (that I endlessly hauled indoors).
- They preached fire and brimstone regarding credit cards, were suspicious of advertising, didn't remortgage their house for fast cash, and made all our Halloween costumes by hand.
- We traveled to Europe as a family, valued education, and were loving and honest with each other.
- My parents never divorced, never shamed or abused me, and taught me frugality, patience, satisfaction, and paid for years of violin lessons.
I'm continuously learning how valuable it was to have a healthy, joyful childhood. It's my greatest treasure.
When I left my parents' home, I had the chance to live life on my own terms. But instead of drinking away my savings or buying crazy video-game systems, I committed myself to being as frugal as possible. I ate simple cheap foods, usually whole grain and legume based meals. I remember one semester in college where I made a game out of how little money I could spend on food. To my roommates' amusement, every day I ate the same thing: rice, beans, and cheese (with a multivitamin). At the end of the semester (3-1/2 months), I'd spent around $40. I was 21 years old.
The thing that convinced me to live so frugally wasn't watching my friends slavishly working bad jobs at bars to pay off their credit cards, painful as it was to observe. No, the thing that tasted so good was having so much free time. I really loved free time. I loved being active in student government or even just wandering around, buying cheap Miller beer and playing frisbee golf with friends. When your cost of living is low, you don't need to work much. I found 12 hours a week of employment while in college, and it was enough to pay for rent, food, and a bit of beer. For me, frugality has always been a source of freedom and life.
After college, I decided to go to seminary. (I knew I was going to be a pastor since I was a kid.) I found a seminary in Nairobi, Kenya that cost $4800/year including housing, a steal compared to American seminaries which often cost four times that much. Many of my fellow pastors are $50,000 in debt from seminary. I raised enough money from my faith community to cover each of the three years, traveled extensively throughout Africa while in school, finished my degree without incurring any debt at all, and was ordained last year.
Thanks, Mom and Dad
Thank you Mom and Dad for showing me a how to use money! I want people here at GRS to know what an asset it was to grow up in a home where parents taught us to be frugal but still love life, to enjoy simple pleasures and focus on what was important, to be satisfied. I hope to pass these same lessons on to my children.
Currently I have under $20,000 in debt from my bachelor degree. I have no credit debt, no expensive habits, am saving like my parents did, and still generally live a very frugal life. I hope to eventually own a home and get married. I've traveled all over the world, am working in an amazing church, and never worry about money or debt. Life is good.