Personal Finance Lessons My Childhood Taught Me

When I was a child, I lived with my parents and two older brothers in a very rural area. To put this in perspective to your own timeline, this was the 1980s, in which many homes were wired with cable television, a dedicated phone line, and even such modern amenities as consistent electrical power, which were all things that were absent where I grew up. My parents were both strong believers in self-reliance, and this belief floated through every aspect of our lives. Here are a few brief tales from those days and the lessons I learned from them.

Three Important Things I Learned from My Childhood

1. The more you rely on things, the more helpless you are when they go away

Companies are therefore able to get away with charging you more for the things you depend on. A regular part of our life was dealing with an absence of electricity, particularly in my early childhood. The power would go out and the electric company could take days to fix it. I remember more than once when I slept in the living room for warmth with my brothers and the electricity just suddenly coming on at seven in the morning, all the lights in the house flashing on and the radio coming on very loudly all of a sudden, waking us all up.

Once, we visited my mother’s grandparents, who were still living and lived in a large city. While we were there, the electricity turned off, and so we calmly did the things we usually do when this occurs: get out flashights and candles, warn everyone to not open the fridge for twelve hours, do a brief inventory of the pantry, and so forth. Meanwhile, my great-grandmother (who actually lived her childhood in a pre-electrical grid era) was completely panicked and almost hysterical over this.

To this day, whenever I rely on a service, I make it a point to occasionally reflect on how I would survive without it, and if life without that service doesn’t seem to be much of a loss, I seriously look at removing it. The lesson here is to consider what you really need and what you really don’t, and live life accordingly.

2. Want free food? Grow and catch your own

My family was able to survive over long periods of neither parent having employment because we all knew how to grow food in our enormous garden (multiple acres, literally), catch fish in abundance, hunt, do small-scale farming, and even more importantly, how to prepare the food and store it long-term even without the use of electricity. I know how to can vegetables and meats without much effort, I can hunt for various types of wild game, I can skin and prepare for eating pretty much any type of wild game and fish, I can quickly prepare a trot line for catching a lot of fish at once, and I can forage in any local wooded area for all sorts of things that are edible (I’m even going to do a photo diary of this in the somewhat near future). This is what I did growing up.

These skills might seem trivial to you, but it’s easy for me to envision scenarios where all of these skills could be huge money savers and even life savers. If someone set off a low-grade nuclear weapon over the area where you live, killing the electrical grid in a two hundred mile radius and rendering your automobiles unable to run, what would you do? To me, knowing what to do then is a personal finance skill.

Let’s get more realistic – what do you do if you have no money and need to put food on the table? Many people would seek out a charity or maybe even steal? Me? I’d head to the vegetable garden or, lacking that, head to the woods or to a pond. The lesson here is to practice basic skills when you have the chance, because they come in handy when you need them most.

3. You really don’t need much for entertainment

When I think back to those days, almost all of the fun things we did cost nothing at all. My most enjoyable childhood memories were all free things: building complex irrigation systems in the mud in the garden, jumping off the garage roof and learning how to roll when I hit the ground, sitting on the porch and

talking to my grandfather about

his bootlegging days, reading books from the nearest library (my mother used to drop me off there during her shopping runs), and so on.

This was true for the adults as well. My father spent his time mostly discovering ways to fish creatively with almost no equipment (homemade trot lines, using garbage as bait (which worked surprisingly well), and so forth) and making his garden the envy of everyone around. My mother absolutely loved to prepare and store foods that we grew, caught, and found; now that it’s just my mother and father living at home alone, she cans more food each year than they could ever possibly eat (and I catch some of the overflow, actually).

In my early adult life, I got caught up in some very expensive entertainment, simply because I had more money than I had ever even comprehended in my life to that point. Now that I’m older, I realize that most of the things I really truly enjoy have very little cost – reading, preparing food, and so on. I guess the lesson here is to appreciate hobbies and entertainment that have little expense.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

Loading Disqus Comments ...