Yesterday I talked about all the great financial lessons I learned from my mother. I’ve got to give my father some love too, since a big part of my financial belief system comes from him. If my mother keeps me balanced and reminds me to live a little every now and then, it’s because I’ve been heavily influenced by my father’s hyper frugal ways.
My father is the kind of frugal that you really don’t appreciate when you’re a kid. The kind who, if you ask him for some money so you can go to the mall with your friends, will hand you a $10 bill. But some of my greatest childhood memories are of time spent with my father doing very primal things, like helping him plant seeds for our garden, going to the horse farm to load up the back of his car with manure for said garden (yes, we really did that), cooking and baking, and going on fishing trips. Looking back, you realize these are the kinds of things that really matter.
Here are a few great lessons I learned from my father.
cooking (and experimenting in the kitchen) is awesome
My father loves to cook. Not just cook, but make up his own recipes. He’ll take a recipe he finds and experiment with it to try and make it better. Sometimes the experiment is a flop, but other times it’s delicious! My father’s no professional chef, but he’s developed a pretty good sense for flavors and how they blend together, so he can intuitively put a dish together to achieve a certain taste. All too often I ask my dad to give me the recipe for one of my favorite meals he makes and he tells me he doesn’t really have a recipe. He’ll give me a basic guideline and then it’s up to me to be creative and figure out how to put the ingredients together to make a dish as delicious as his.
It’s this kind of creativity that keeps eating at home interesting. If your choice is between boxed mac ‘n cheese and a professionally cooked meal at a restaurant, of course the restaurant meal sounds better. By learning how to cook meals from scratch and making it a fun, creative activity, eating at home becomes more exciting.
My father also has a philosophy of not ordering food at a restaurant that he could easily cook at home. When you’ve built up your cooking skills and can cook a piece of meat to perfection, make great side dishes, and create flavorful sauces, it starts to seem downright silly to pay a premium for the same dish at a restaurant that you could make yourself for a fraction of the cost at home.
anything can be a vacation
I have to attribute this to my father, because I really don’t think it was my mother who suggested that we stay on a pig farm for a week one summer. While my classmates were taking family vacations to the Bahamas, Disney World, and Europe, my family was going on road trips up and down the east coast. The only criteria for picking a vacation spot was that there had to be an amusement park somewhere along the route, since my siblings absolutely loved roller coasters.
We’ve been to Amish country, learned how they make maple syrup in Vermont, and taken a train up Mount Washington in New Hampshire, where I still remember how it was so windy that my mother was afraid I would blow right away. These vacations might not be as glamorous as a European cruise with stops in five countries, but they were fun, educational, and created lasting memories. There are so many beautiful and interesting places right here in our own country that expensive international vacations just aren’t necessary.
don’t let other people get to you
When I was a teenager my father told me that one of his mantras is “who gives a shit?” My dad is the king of not letting things other people do get to him. He believes if there’s nothing he can do about it, there’s no point in getting upset about it. He doesn’t care if people are weird, if they make stupid life decisions, or if they have different beliefs, as long as they’re not hurting anyone. Instead of getting annoyed by these people, he chooses to be amused by them.
He’s very mathematical, so he’ll look at trends of many people doing things he doesn’t understand or finds weird or stupid, and question why so many people behave that way. For instance, instead of saying that people who believe in ghosts are stupid, he decides to focus his energy elsewhere, looking to popular culture to try and understand why we view ghosts the way we do and what “rules” we’ve created for the way ghosts behave and interact with humans. He took something that he thinks is stupid and turned it into a fun thought experiment.
I still have much to learn from my father in this respect. I get annoyed with others pretty easily, but I know that if I follow my father’s advice more, I could let go of the stress that comes with giving a shit about things I have no control over.
Approach everything analytically
As I said, my father is very mathematical, so every problem has a solution that can be deduced through logical reasoning. You can’t ask my father a question and have him give you a simple answer. He’ll give you his gut reaction, but then immediately his brain will start ticking and his head will sort of tilt to the side and he’ll look off into space. That’s how you can tell he’s analyzing and trying to figure out the best possible answer to your question. He’ll mutter a little bit as he shuffles through all the information stored in his head and finally give you a well thought out answer based entirely on facts.
It’s thanks to this influence that when my company started offering a high deductible health plan with an HSA, I opened up Excel and created a spreadsheet analyzing my out of pocket costs for the new HDHP versus the regular health plan I was previously on. Whenever I’m presented with a dilemma, I try to channel my father and quantify the pros and cons of both choices so I can arrive at an answer that is based in fact, not emotions.