What Grandpa Taught Me About Money

My grandfather passed away last week. By the end, he was pretty angry to still be alive, so it was an expected, good change for him, but sad for the rest of us. I flew down to Portland this past weekend for the funeral.

My grandpa owned a printing store he had started with a partner of his in 1961. His obituary said “He retired 15 years ago” which simply means that at 72, he sold the company to his son. He still went to the office every single day until his mid-eighties and managed the payroll long after he “retired.”

I interviewed him once when I was in high school about how he picked his job. “Well, I was walking down the street on my own one day and I got hungry, and I walked into the first place I saw. And I’m still in the printing business. No one decided what they wanted to be, they just did what they could to get money.” (How’s that for a great financial phrase?)

This got me thinking about how early retirement is not only available to the lucky few born into the right socioeconomic class, but it is also a phenomenon we can enjoy in our current time period. The blessings of freedom include living at a time with so many choices. Not only can we choose our occupations, but we can choose what to do with our own money. We don’t currently have to worry about the draft, a worldwide war, or helping our family stay afloat after the Great Depression (the Great Recession was a minor blip in comparison). Despite the circumstances he faced, my grandpa was a successful businessman. As I flew home from his funeral, I reflected on the things I learned from my grandfather about business and finances:

  • Don’t be afraid to try – My grandpa started The Advertiser newspaper as an entrepreneurial pursuit. It was an advertiser or “shopper” with all the local businesses listed. The Advertiser was fairly successful and led to good community relationships with other businesses and I’m assuming some free advertising for his printing company. He also eventually sold it to the local newspaper.
  • Make your life what you want now – Grandpa didn’t have the luxury of retiring early. I would argue that he worked until he was forced to stop. But he wasn’t a workaholic. Grandpa was a man of predictability and order. He spent his morning in the tavern drinking coffee, smoking, and meeting with friends. After a bit more time in the office, he spent his afternoons at the Elks club drinking, smoking, and talking with friends. He worked hard, but he did it around his life. He set up his life the way he wanted and made work fit.
  • Don’t mix family and finances – One year I asked my grandfather if I could work at the shop for the summer. Being the colorful character that he was, he immediately shouted: “There ain’t no d@%n way in H#%L I’m going to let you work there.” Though he passed his business on to his son, he also explained to me (calmly, years later), that he doesn’t ever hire relatives because it’s too hard to deal with. What happens if they’re lazy or not good at their job? What if they want a raise? It’s too hard to maintain a successful business relationship with family.

A death always leads to reflection on life, relationships, and lessons learned. I’m grateful to have known my grandfather. I will miss him.

Grandpa

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8 Comments

  1. Please accept my condolences, although it seems like you are reluctanty accepting the fact that he was ready. I love reading about the financial wisdom that others have received from family members. Unfortunately, my own family could use quite a few lessons on being responsible and conscientious with respect to money.

    I wish that more people would realize that they can work hard, but do it around their life – it’s possible for all of us, not just Grandpa 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      Thanks for your thoughts. It’s nice to reflect on a life well lived.

  2. J

    Hi Maggie. I’m sorry for your loss. Please know that you are in my thoughts.

  3. I’m sorry for your loss. I do think that current generations actually place an unhealthy emphasis on what we do. That is, we tend to define ourselves by it. It used to be that a job was just a way to pay the bills. Now we have to find meaning in it. I’m not sure that’s great.

    I think it’s great that your grandfather had a legacy to give his son. And I suppose we should admit that an 87-year run ain’t half bad.

    • MaggieBanks

      I agree with all of those things. I read an article once (wish I could remember where) about how our generation is all wanting to be Steve Jobs when in reality, society needs people who will work in all the other jobs we need to live. For every one Steve Jobs, society needs like 10,000 people that are willing to do the work.

  4. What a lovely tribute to a man who clearly meant a lot to you. Especially love your comment that early retirement is a privilege not just in terms of opportunity, but also of timing. We think about that often — how lucky we are to live now, when this is even an option for us.

    • MaggieBanks

      I would have been interested to get his opinion on the whole thing. But he probably wouldn’t have been able to wrap his mind around it. Again, you do what you can to get money. That’s still how most people think. It’s all about getting money.

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