June 16, 2013

The Thriftiest Man Alive: My Dear Old Dad.

 By Amy

Cheap.  Tightwad.  Frugal.  Thrifty.  Whatever you call them, these folks care about saving money.   Growing up, I figured I knew the tightest man alive....and I was related to him: my dear old dad.

I always loved my dad.  He was friendly to everyone he met, honest, hard-working, kind, and told the best stories.  But, man was he was frugal.  Not stingy; He always gave generously to those in need...but with us kids?  Ha!  Forget about it.

If we wanted a new pair of jeans or money for the movies, he directed us to The List.  On the fridge.  With many hard-labor chores to choose from.  (Jobs beyond our regular un-paid household chores.)  We were paid by the hour to haul hay, move pipe, pull weeds (my personal most-hated chore), hoe the garden, move rocks, or anything else he or my mom needed done around the house or farm.  I have a vivid memory of kneeling in a muddy field, trying to force the end cap onto the last irrigation pipe while cold water sprayed all over the place, in my face, soaking my clothes.  I was sputtering mad.  I wondered, "Why, oh why, can't I just have an allowance like other kids?"  Sheesh.

Here's a little example of my dad's *cough* thrifty nature.  Every year my family went to the Eastern Idaho State Fair, and every year I hoped for some of that delicious fair food.  The funnel cakes, turkey legs, and elephant ears seemed to cry out to me, beckoning me with their glorious smells.  But, my dad, determined not to pay the "outrageous" prices of the fair, would troop us all out of the fair and take us down the street to buy a bag of value burgers at Arctic Circle.  Then we would all climb back into the station wagon and head back over to the fair.   I begged my dad every year...but he stood his ground.  So, as I got older, I earned money before hand, so I could buy all the greasy, overpriced fair food I wanted.

Yep, he was frugal all right.  

When my mom and dad went on their honeymoon, my dad brought a loaf of Wonder bread and a package of bologna.  And that's what they ate as they drove all the way to Canada and back. 

I remember salvaging rusty nails from falling-over buildings, then pounding them straight with a hammer to be re-used.  I've seen, on several occasions, my dad sporting baling twine as a belt to hold up his pants.  How was the paint color picked for my bedroom walls?  It was the paint in the clearance section.  As was our carpet.

I remember when the grocery store had a sale on turkeys...my dad rolled up to the cash register pushing an entire cart of frozen turkeys, boasting that this was the best turkey-hunting season he'd ever had.  I just rolled my eyes.

We rarely went out to eat.  The only exception was when grades came out at school.  If we all got good grades, he took the whole family out for dinner.  I think my dad figured that success in school was worth a splurge.  And, let me tell you, at an all-you can eat restaurant, it was almost painful to watch my dad get his money's worth. 

To my dad, "debt" was included with those other bad four-letter words.  To my knowledge, the only times he ever took out a loan was to finish school and to build his home, and he worked his tail off to repay his home loan within a couple years.  

My mom was also frugal, very artistic and creative; she used her creativity to make do on such a small budget.  She grew vegetables, sewed and patched clothes, made food from scratch, and even designed our home!  My uncle drew up the blueprints from her plans and my dad looked for good deals on material and supplies, like the lumber in our home, which came from the old elementary he attended as a boy.  He also learned how to do electric work so that he could wire our house himself.

To my dad, a splurge was stopping at the the day-old bread store and grabbing two expired Hostess Raspberry Zingers or one of the Hostess Fruit Pies. (always cherry!)

He loved a good read, which, for him, meant a thorough search of the "Thrifty Nickle." (never heard of it?  It's the older, paper version of Craigslist).  He was always on the hunt for treasure. (Or in other words, used farm equipment.)

My dad (yellow hat) shoveling snow off the roof with his brother, my Uncle Marvin
He always provided us with clunkers to drive to high school, since he didn't approve of teenagers using up their savings to buy cars they couldn't afford.  We had to pay for our own gas, but, as long as we didn't get in a wreck, he graciously paid insurance; we learned to drive carefully.  He taught us something else with those cars: humility.  One beauty I drove in high school was the product of a paint experiment gone wrong, that he had bid for and won.  It was a leper car, peeling everywhere with large bald spots showing the metal underneath.  My choice was to drive the Peeling Wonder and be mocked by all the other kids at school or ride the bus.  I chose the car.

My dad didn't just teach me to work hard and save money, he also taught me, without knowing it, that being wise with your money leaves you with the freedom to do some really cool stuff!

He donated generously and quietly to humanitarian and church funds (consistently gave a 10% tithe of his income) and served his neighbors gladly.  He often helped sponsor local boys and girls when they served as missionaries.  When neighbor boys didn't have the money to pay their fees for scout camp, he would have them come work, doing jobs on the farm that I'm sure he could have finished faster on his own.  Somehow, their measly hours of work always magically equaled the exact amount they needed for scout camp.  He wanted them to go to camp, but he also wanted them to work for it. 

Though we didn't get all the "stuff" we wanted, my childhood was amazing.  My dad bought us a used fish-hatching tub for our swimming pool and we had hours of fun in there, as well as on the swing-set my dad welded from metal pipes.  We ran the hills, floated huge, hollowed out zuchinni boats down the canal, and played for hours on end in the tree house that my dad and big brother built from old wood and leftover materials.  We were taught to work hard, but we also played hard.

Sledding with his grandkids!  Check out those falling-apart coveralls...ha!

Around the campfire with grandkids.
We traveled from Idaho to Washington D.C. to see the sights and learn about American History.  Did we stay in hotels?  No way.  Did we fly?  Yeah right.  We drove a pick-up truck with a camper, the kind that sits on top of the truck.  Us six kids all rode up top on the big mattress, laying on our stomachs in a row looking out the long window.  We loved waving at the cars in the opposite lanes.  (Ha! We got some weird looks!)  We spent hours up there while the countryside rolled by, laughing, fighting, reading, napping, and jostling each other for space.  At night, we just pulled off the road to sleep.  (Ok, a few times we did pull into a KOA...that was LUXURY!  We got to swim in a REAL POOL!)  One kid even had to sleep in the cab of the cab of the truck every night cause there wasn't enough room in the camper!  It wasn't glamorous, but, hey, how many other kids from good ol' Shelley, Idaho had been to our nation's capital as well as Canada and the California coast?

Though we weren't spoiled in the material view, we were taught good values, had some amazing opportunities to see the country and we had a ton of fun.

Dad telling one of his famous tales.

When I was young, I honestly thought that my family didn't have much money.  It wasn't until I were older, that I realized my dad chose to live that way.  He made good money as an engineer and inspector at the nuclear site; farming was just his evening hobby.  I now understand that when he was young, money was always tight for his large farming family, with financial success depending on the market and weather.  They lived the motto, "Fix it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."  To my dad, that was the right way to live.  So, though we weren't hard up for money, us kids never knew the wiser.

Now that I am a grown-up, with a husband and baby of my own, I am SO grateful for my dad.  He wasn't cheap...he was smart--both with his money, and with his kids.  Because he and my mom taught us to live a frugal lifestyle, I learned that I have to work hard to get what I want...or to be creative with what I already have!  Which is helpful since my husband, my baby and I are living off student loans while he's in grad school full time.

Dancing with my dad at my wedding reception

My Dad with my new-born son.

I used to call my dad a tightwad, but now he's my hero.  And, though I don't plan on living quite as frugally as my dad, (No expired twinkies, thank you very much!) I'll always try to remember his lessons:

Work hard and save up for what you want.  

Be patient and look for good deals.  

Do good for others with your money.   

Be creative with what you already have.
And, probably the most important: Happiness comes from following God, spending time with family and friends, and serving others--not from "money" or "stuff."

Oh...and I definitely plan on making my kids earn their own money.  We will have A List on our fridge.

And...I'll probably ship them off to Grandma and Grandpa's farm to move some pipe, too!  Ha!

Now it's YOUR turn! What have you learned from your dad? (or grandpa!)  And, if you appreciated this, please LIKE or SHARE.  Thanks, friends! :)


  1. I love this! I really admire people who are thrifty, especially when they don't have to be. I think it's often a sign that they care more about people than about "things." You have a great dad. And BTW, I really liked your mention of the value burgers at Artic Circle. Growing up it was always very exciting when Artic Circle had a bag of burgers for sale for five bucks -- that was a treat around our house!

    1. Thanks, Lalove! haha...Oh Arctic Circle...now that's classy cuisine there! :)

    2. Nice job Amy! That was an awesome walk down memory lane... and made me appreciate dad more :). But he didn't have me fooled - I KNEW we had more money and was resigned to the fact that dad was going to be that frugal no matter how much he made. I didn't mind too much though - I'm a cheapo at heart and knew he was just being smart with his money - and we learned lessons we wouldn't have otherwise and still did some pretty awesome things :). And it may have carried down a generation - I just paid Livi $2 for doing a bunch of work - she wants a Nook off KSL and has 23 dollars to go :).

    3. Haha...I guess I was young enough to be fooled. And you paid her two dollars?! Ha...glad to hear dad's cheapo tradition will be carried on through the next generation! :)

  2. Amy, that was an awesome post. In fact, it made me teary-eyed. I have always loved your parents so much. I have always admired how happy they are. Also, while reading this I sometimes got confused and thought I was reading about my own dad. Last week I was at their place and found a huge stash of used baling twine out by the barn. We have used it for so many different things ... but I don't remember seeing it as a belt. I do believe my dad still uses a leather one he bought in Mexico about 30 years ago.

    1. Thanks so much Hannah! Your comment made me feel so good. :) I love my parents too; it's cool to see how spending tons of money really isn't necessary for happiness. Haha...yes frugality (bordering on hording) runs in both sides of the family, I think! Never know when you'll need a good piece of baling twine. Or a pile of old lumber. Or old tires. Or a broken-down combine. Ha! (funny thing is, though, he DOES use a lot of his crazy stuff!)

  3. Indeed, your Dad is awesome! I remember checking out your sweet scores you made from the D.I. when you came to visit Utah. I also remember hearing about your trips, but not about the camper and "not so glamorous" details. I thought you guys were rich! The house, farm, tree house, canal, trampoline....etc. was amazing to a city kid such as myself. I guess it is all about perspective. I always thought you kids were so lucky! Your Dad is a great example of thrift!

  4. Ok, I'm not reading your posts anymore. Because when I do, I end up with tears threatening to pour out of my eyes and run down my cheeks! :P This is such an amazing tribute to your awesome Dad, Amy- hits quite close to home. Thanks for sharing- you are amazing!

  5. Oh what a great post. That was so sweet and fun to read!


Share your questions, comments, and compliments...we like 'em all! :) Don't be shy: we want to hear from YOU! Plus, you can let this lady know her story was heard--I promise your comment means a lot to her!

Thanks, friends! :)