Today, I’m going to celebrate the biggest financial lesson that each of my parents taught me in a pair of posts. This morning, I’ll discuss my father; this afternoon, my mother.
When I think back to my childhood memories of my father, they always involve him working on something. He was not a man to sit still for very long.
Most of the time, he worked at a factory job that provided hourly wages. There were some periods of layoffs (I remember money being really tight then), but the work was steady most of the time.
When he would come home from work – or before he left for work, depending on his shift – he was usually engaged in some sort of side project, usually to earn money.
For him, the biggest project was always his small fishing business. We lived near the Mississippi River and he owned a small motor boat. During periods of nice weather, it was a daily routine for him to put lines out on the river to catch fish. The routine of putting out lines, letting them sit overnight, then hauling them in the next day was one that brought significant money home if the fish were biting.
The easiest route to sell the fish he caught was via a local fish market, but he also worked hard to cultivate direct customers to sell his fish to, usually charging them a price higher than what the fish market would pay him but lower than what the fish market charged their customers.
I helped with this on a limited scale, particularly during my high school years. I would prepare lines for him so that it was easy to put them out on the river and he’d pay me $1 per completed line. It would take me about fifteen minutes to get a line ready to go, so I could earn $4 per hour if I focused. I would also go out on the river with him.
His second big project was gardening. He maintained multiple large gardens that produced more vegetables than we would eat, so he’d usually sell the extras (or sometimes give them to people). This wasn’t a huge money maker for our family, but it certainly kept us in food during the harder times.
He kept up other odd gigs as well – raising rabbits (and eventually selling or using the meat), raising a few hogs, raising chickens (for the eggs, mostly), trapping wild game, collecting aluminum and other scrap metal – whatever he could find that would either directly put food on the table (cutting down on our food costs) or provide some income.
If one of the income streams wasn’t working out, he didn’t wallow in unemployment. It just meant he needed to turn his attention to something else for a while.
If the factory was closed, he’d leap into gardening and fishing. If it was winter time, he’d still fish (by cutting large holes in the ice), but he’d also jump deeply into trapping wild game during those periods.
During the entire time I grew up, he always made sure that there was food on the table and that if I needed something, I would have it. We always had a nice Christmas and somehow he always found the money to make sure I had the gift I most wanted for the holidays and for my birthday.
What did I learn from him, more than anything else? There’s always another way to make money if you’re willing to work for it. You can never just sit around and expect to get paid, but if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you can always put food on your table and afford the things you need – and a lot of the things you want.
At the same time, the more income streams you have, the easier it is to rebound if one of them goes away. Even now, I spend at least some of my time cultivating different income streams to provide income for our family. I don’t want to rely on just one stream of income, because just one stream can easily go away. If you only have one and it goes away, you’re in trouble; if you have eight and one goes away, it’s just a minor irritant and you can mostly recover by shifting your efforts a little.
It’s a valuable pair of lessons, ones I keep close to my heart.