My parents have always instilled one very important value in me and that is to live below my means. They taught that to me constantly and consistently mostly by how they chose to live themselves. To change the world, simply live your life the way you think things ought to be and if it is the right way then other people will follow your example and you will indeed change the world. Meanwhile you get to live in a world where things work as you think they ought.
If you have, say, $500 per month you can afford for rent then the most you will actually pay is $400. You will live in a lesser place and learn to like it. Most of the excess is saved.
When the time was right for me to have my first car my parents bought me a good used car and instructed me to open a bank account and start making “payments” toward my next car so when the time came I could pay cash for it. You can collect interest in preparation of the purchase or you can pay interest and borrow the money. So you effectively get double by getting interest on the one hand and not paying interest on the other. Strange that poor people are most likely to buy on credit and get less for their money than rich people.
Keeping in mind this monetary value system that my parents held above all other things came one of the greatest gifts they could have ever received. They asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I told them. I told them I wanted nothing but cash.
“But Jimmy,” my mom said, “don’t you want some toys?” I do need to say I was about 10 years old at this time. “There are all kinds of things you want, you talk about them all the time!”
Now here is the best gift I ever gave my parents, it was the knowledge that I had understood and adopted their single most precious value. “Toys,” I said, “are a lot cheaper right after Christmas. It is OK if there is nothing for me under the tree Christmas day. I want to take the money you would have spent on me and go to the store after Christmas and I will spend it all and I will spend it on things I want. I noticed last year all the toys were about half off.”
The light that went on in my parents eyes. The joy on their faces. The pride. The love. The greed. Our little boy has grown up into a financially smart person! Christmas was never so grand as the fairies and elves that danced in their heads at that moment.
To be sure, my parents got off cheap that year. When buying gifts you always spend more than you intend and this way they likely gave me what they intended, and maybe a little less because they knew what I was up to.
What was under the tree on Christmas was hard to take. It really was. I got the socks and sweater and the kind of gifts an un-poor child doesn’t want as a wrapped gift at Christmas. But there was an envelope and it had cash in it. I don’t remember how much money it was but we’re talking about 1968 so the amount would not have the meaning it should today.
A day or two after Christmas mom took me to the store. I had been warned ahead of time when I first asked for cash that they might not have what I wanted most when the time came. Well fuck me Jesus they had everything I wanted and they had other things I hadn’t thought of. One thing was 10% of the price it was before Christmas, 90% off! That’s the one I wanted most and wasn’t even going to ask for because it didn’t seem worth the money. Yes, at that age, I was acutely aware of what things cost. Everything was marked down at least 50%. FUCK!!! In total I’m pretty sure I got triple the stuff I could have hoped for otherwise.
I so enjoyed that Christmas. I enjoyed pouring glow-in-the-dark plastigoop into molds and cooking up worms and spiders and other creepy crawlers. Somehow what I enjoyed most was the case of fat candy canes I landed for a shockingly low price. Those candy canes were over an inch thick and about 10 inches long as I recall, more rods than canes because they had no curve, just fat sticks of hard peppermint candy. I remember taking them with the cellophane intact and carefully breaking them up with a hammer. For what seemed like forever I walked around in a perpetual state of peppermint heaven.
So for Christmas that year my parents got the unexpected gift of seeing their little boy reach a level of financial maturity. Similarly I learned the fantastic rewards of delayed gratification with a plan. The little guy can indeed beat the system, he can have a happy and carefree life financially. But it takes a little patience and planning and discipline. Do that and you can have so much more than otherwise. It is staggering.
I give you this knowledge for your Christmas present. Use it wisely.