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Is it my turn to brag about my Foolish parents? (loooooooooooong)

They married right out of college (well, Dad had been out a year) in 1966. The kitchen table they bought - a wood one - now sits in our house. My mom always tells me how thrilled she was to buy it. She didn't think they'd have enough money for a wood table and would have to get an old formica one. (Which she could probably sell on eBay for big "retro" bucks theses days, but i digress.) I'm wondering what they sacrificed for that table...

Dad told me that his mother gave them a box of random non-perishable food for their first apartment. Money was usually tight 'round month's end. He said if it weren't for some of the soup Granny had given them, they'd have gone hungry a few times.

They bought a 3BR/1.75 new l'il ranch in 1969 and had to borrow $700 from my mom's parents as a down payment. (The house cost $20K.) Grandmother later told Mom that she and Grandfather never thought they'd see that money again. (My parents paid that back first - and within a few months.)

They thought they'd trade up a few years down the line, but the interest rates went insane in the 70s and they stayed put. By the time the 80s rolled around, there really wasn't much point in moving, since they'd be empty nesters in ten years. So, as my dad says, their starter home became their retirement home.

They had one car until they bought a Fiat convertible in the early 1970s from a neighbor after he got over his mid-life crisis. They held onto it until 1976 when they got the first of two station wagons. They did buy new - mostly because they recognized their weakness in not knowing cars very well - but held onto cars for as long as possible. In 1986, my grandmother sold us her pristine three-year old Cutlass for the price the dealer said he'd give her. (This was the car my brother and i learned to drive in.) This repeated every few years and our house resembled a used Olds dealership. The next one replaced the 1976 station wagon (donated to Volunteers of America); the following one replaced the 1985 station wagon (given to me as a college graduation present to trade-in [$2000] for my first car). This continued until my grandmother's car keys were pried from her hands (under protest - but for the best, really). Mom drove this last Olds until Grandmother passed away and it was given to my brother.

Dad got his dream car, a Cadillac, shortly after retirement (at age 55) and said, "It finally happened: I paid more for a car than i did for my house." Mom just got her dream car, a zippy little Volvo, a few months ago, after my brother took over Grandmother's last car.

They LBYMed without thinking - raised that way. Neither were dirt poor, though my dad probably grew up pretty close but had food, shelter and clothing, certainly. (As a little girl, i once asked my Grandmother how she could afford to buy me presents all the time since "Mom says you were really poor when she was growing up!") They taught us about choices - sure, they COULD buy new cars and homes and clothes and toys, but they preferred to save for emergencies and retirement rather than max out their credit. (Mom retired a year after Dad at age 52.)

Dad, the financial whiz, leapt into the 401(k) as soon as it was offered in the late 1970s. He swears if it had been available when he started working in his late teens, he could have retired at age 40. Regardless, he plugged money into savings vehicles. (I don't know the particulars of his portfolio, but he does rave about American Funds and their very low costs.) They opted not to pay down their mortgage, btw, and used the $200+/- per month elsewhere (see aforementioned savings vehicles). It was paid off in 1999 - which my mom said seemed like SUCH an eternity when she signed the papers thirty years prior.

They weren't perfect. They bought a rental property, thinking it would pay for our college educations. They quickly discovered they were not good landlords. A year or so later, they sold it and about broke even. They still managed put us both through college. (Dad worked through college and swore no kid of his would have to do that.) In hindsight, he and i agree that i should have had a bit more responsibility in that department.

I certainly wasn't perfect, either. I wanted a basement, a big fat allowance, my own bathroom, a TV in my room, new clothes every month, a car when i turned 16...but i also learned to keep my mouth shut. It's one thing to express desires, it's another entirely to complain repeatedly about not having anything. Too much poor-mouthing could really make Christmas and birthdays devoid of presents (and deservedly so). I envied my friends but also appreciated what i had.

My parents (and like-minded parents of friends) would talk to me (and like-minded friends) about our peers who seemingly had everything and didn't appreciate it. They commisserated at how hard it was to see that and how unfair it was that spoiled brats who behaved so badly got rewarded with so many treats. (Like the gal who got a six-year old Mustang on her 16th birthday, complained about it to those of us who were CARLESS...and then got a brand new Sentra upon graduation.) They promised us that we would be "better" people because of it - building character and all that. We believed them (but we were still jealous). Now, most of the like-minded parents are retired, too, while the other parents are still working. The offspring seem to be following in their parents' footprints, whichever the case. Not exactly a statistically-significant sample, but thought-provoking.

In spite of the frugal lifestyle, they still enjoyed their lives. Hobbies, outside interests, friends, family and work kept them busy. We took Spring Break trips many a year. Dad golfed as much as possible. My brother and i were on swim teams galore. (<-- not cheap) We went out to eat to celebrate birthdays, Dad's Non-Smoking Anniversary, good grades and the occasional "just because". We had cable - and even HBO when it first came out! So, it was hardly a boring, deprived existence.

My parents now spend about four months a year in Florida (where they purchased a condo a few years ago). Their retired friends come visit (as do their still-working relatives) and they drive to see other friends who purchased homes in other parts of the state. It's great. When they're at home, they are pretty busy volunteering or golfing or lunching or working on the house - but they also take trips to see friends and family (including my brother and me). A wonderful, fulfilling life for two people who truly deserve it.

Besides the LBYM basics, they taught me how to enjoy the present while saving aggressively for the future. They taught me not to pay annual fees for credit cards and to pay off the balance every month. I signed up for a 401(k) the very second i was eligible at my first job, in addition to having $100 or so a month automatically deposited into savings. I gradually increased that amount and funneled raises and bonuses and monetary gifts into savings, too. The next year, at tax time, Dad told me i could pay the guvmint $300, or put $1300 into an IRA and pay nothing. I cleaned out most of my savings and opened an IRA. (Dad said he'd never been prouder. *sniffle*) The savings built itself back up in no time.

I married a guy who hates debt and loves to save. We wiped out my grad student loans and are working on our mortgage. We want to get that paid off and then do what we REALLY want to do. (DH - teach; me - volunteer; both - travel) I'm so glad my parents paved the way - they learned their frugalness from their parents (save my dad's father) but also did things "their way". That's the key - find out what works for you and go with it. DH and i differ from both sets of parents, but the foundation is the same: LBYM, pay yourself first and SAVE SAVE SAVE.

Works for us.

will shut up now
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