Financial Freedom : The Story of Two Sets of Grandparents
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Recently, Pauline over at Reach Financial Independence had a great post entitled, Are You Richer Than Your Grandparents? I found the post interesting for the simple fact that my grandparents were, financially, the polar opposites of each other. One set was very, very well off. Definitely millionaire status. The other set always struggled with money.
As we continue on our road to financial freedom, I’m finding myself more and more intrigued about the people in our lives, how they view and treat money, and how their views on financial freedom have influenced me and my husband.
The Road to Financial Failure
My “poor” set of grandparents were an absolute joy. I truly adored them. They raised 8 kids, and worked hard all of their lives; grandma managed the home while grandpa did any number of things. He worked for many years on building the railroad system here. He was a carpenter, residential painter, and generally awesome handyman.
At one point when I was quite young, they even owned a cute little store. It was kind of a fluffed up convenience store. It had the basics, but also offered a wonderfully colorful display of different types of candies, and a wide variety of stuffed animals that would make any kid think they’d just walked into the kid version of the Garden of Eden.
What I remember most about the store is its vivid colors. If memory serves me, it was a shiny new place with lots of pretty things, and it housed, upstairs, a little apartment where my grandparents lived.
What I remember lots about this set of grandparents, though, is that financial freedom was always a distant, inconceivable dream for them. They had experienced financial failure for so many years that I think they just accepted that they would always struggle with money. They lost that cute little store they owned due to foreclosure, and moved a lot. My mom tells me that they never managed their money very well. As an outsider looking in (these were my dad’s parents), she could see things more objectively, so I tend to believe her.
We saw these grandparents a lot because it was generally a pretty close-knit family until they passed. We’d visit their small hobby farm many weekends, and there were always at the least three other of my dad’s siblings up there when we would go.
Regardless to say, everyone was always there when grandma or grandpa had a birthday or it was Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. I remember asking my dad a lot what he got each year for gifts, and he would always give them money, and so would everyone else, because they struggled so much financially that money was their biggest need.
It pained me to see them struggle, but I always just thought, like they did, that financial freedom or financial failure was kind of a crap shoot: either you were lucky in money or you weren’t. How wrong we all were!
The Road to Financial Freedom
My other set of grandparents, my mom’s parents, were very well off; millionaires for sure. My grandpa on this side of the family wasn’t my actual grandfather; he had died of an apparent heart attack at 41. My grandma was left to raise my mom and her two brothers alone: brothers were nine and four and my mom was eight. That same year, my mom almost died from Encephalitis, and it about sent my grandma over the edge. She married shortly after that, out of a desperate need for security, it sounds like, and the guy was a real jerk.
I’m ashamed to admit it was a blessing for the family when he died six months later, also of a heart attack. The guy was an angry, abusive man who started pushing the kids around shortly after he and my grandma were married, even though she saw no signs of this before they married. No love lost there.
A few of years after that she married again, also making her choice largely for financial freedom and security. Her biggest fear was that she wouldn’t be able to keep and feed her children after my real grandpa died. I often questioned her choices when I was younger, but as I parent, I can see now what she might have been thinking. Grandma was an LPN, but they didn’t make much in those days. Grandma often said that “LPN” stood for “Low-paid nurse”. 🙂
SO, onto the story. 🙂 This grandpa and grandma, they were pretty loaded, financially. We weren’t especially close to them; he was very aloof and I always got the feeling he thought he did grandma a big favor by marrying her. Grandma had a great, dry sense of humor that always made us laugh, but she kept it largely under wraps until my grandpa, her third husband, died.
When I brought our son, Sam, over to her house for the first time, I beamed with joy, announcing, “Grandma, this is Sam!” She said “SAM? You named him “Sam”? Sam is an old bald guy’s name!” We all laughed, expecting nothing less than complete honesty from Grandma.
Grandma and Grandpa lived in the modest but nice house he had built before he married my grandma. It was in a nicer area in the city, but wasn’t anything special, especially by today’s standards. It did have some upgrades, such as a commercial oven/stove, but not many. He had been an owner in some type of construction biz but was able to retire early because he lived frugally.
Grandma ended up working for the state for many years, and stashed away her own little nest egg out of her earnings, as Grandpa was, well, beyond frugal – let’s just put it that way. They never had expensive clothing or furniture, but they always drove luxury cars. Not “Mercedes” luxury, but the top of the line Buick and such, and there wouldn’t be very many miles on the cars before they traded them for a new one. They traveled occasionally, but never out of the country, and they liked to enjoy dinners out at nicer restaurants.
Basically, they didn’t spend much money, but when they did, they spent it on higher grade stuff. You’d never catch them buying fast food, but they were regulars at the fancy steak house near their home, and the owner of the steak house knew them well and appreciated their money.
When both of my sets of grandparents got older, you could see an even more glaring difference in their finances, especially which set achieved financial freedom and which pair did not. My poor grandparents’ quality of life continued to be a struggle, in all areas, whereas my rich grandparents sold their house and lived in a kick-tail retirement condo/assisted living community and wanted for nothing, having the community’s employees at their beck and call, due to their large bank account.
Now that I’ve had my eyes opened to the truth about financial freedom, I am determined to follow the loving ways of my first set of grandparents, but have a bank account similar to my other set of grandparents. The reason I’m determined as opposed to either fatalistic or ambivalent is because I know that financial freedom isn’t a crapshoot; it’s an active choice. Daily, we get to choose whether we will make wise financial decisions that lead to greater financial freedom or poor decisions that lead to greater indebtedness to our money. At the end of the day, that’s the real question we all need to ask ourselves – are we indebted to our money or are we free to make it work for us?
What’s one of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned about money? Who taught it to you? Who influenced the way you think, feel and act about money today?
Photo courtesy of: Chedderfish