Think before You Spend…

            Lupe and I have learned through trial and error. Our trials and errors have helped us become more adept with managing our money.  It’s one of the most important, and varied doctrines for lives everywhere on this planet.  At least for human lives anyway.  Heidi, our Pup couldn’t care less how much money I have in my pocket.  What would it be like to have no concept of what money is??  All our pets care about is how we treat them and if we provide them with something good to eat. 

Try to think back in your life when you were very young.  When did you begin to understand money?  When did you become aware of money?  When I travel back, in my mind, I see my Dad, to my left at a counter.  His wallet is in his left hand and his right is extracting some paper bills.  I’m looking up and to my left.  I think I see the shadow of someone on the other side of the counter.  Seems like I remember walking on a wooden plank floor.  An old Hardware store maybe??

            I remember my Dad exchanged those bills for something tangible.  Nails maybe?  I think I remember them resting on the counter.  They were in a course, heavy, brown paper sack.  I think I remember watching my Dad scoop the nails from a rusty metal bin.  Heavy and scratchy on the bin as he scooped them up. I remember him using a massive metal scoop to move them into the sack.  I was maybe 3, maybe 4 years old?  I think it was cold outside.  I think I had a snuggly coat on.  A coat with a soft, cushy top that gathered around my neck?  Seems like it was soft and red plaid in color?  I think I had some water from some snow melting off my shoes.  It melted into the grain of the creaky wood floor.  I was purposely stepping on the water entering the grooves of the grain.  Then I heard the wood planks of the floor give and squeak just a bit.  Someplace old and worn.  I remember a hot wood stove in the middle of the store.  The wood floor around the stove was more worn and was darker in color.  The place where people repeatedly gathered close to the stove to shuffle and warm themselves.  Dust in layers everywhere.  Murky, dirty windows that had not been cleaned in a long time. 

The door into the store rattled a nice tinkly sounding bell as we walked in.  I remember hearing the bell softly peal out as customers entered and left the place.  Every time I heard the bell, I would hear the door securely shut into its worn recess, behind them.  I was warm, comfortable, and exploring all the shiny, inviting things on the racks everywhere.  My Dad was there close by.  My curious hands helped me explore.  The tools, the packages.  They all had different colors, textures, and weight.  That may have been my first inkling of something called… Value.

            To take home some of that value, we had to make an exchange. My Dad gave the shadow behind the counter something papery from his wallet.  Then he carried the heavy sack of nails as we made our way to the door with the tinkly bell.  What do you remember??  What is your earliest memory of that entity, that image, that perception of… value?  As we get older, that perception takes on a life of its own.  What matters?  What matters to my Mom and Dad?  We need some food.  We need some clothes.  We need some shoes.  We need a car.  We need some gas for the car.  We need some tools.  We need some nails.  Then in addition to all those things, come the things that we begin to learn, really… do not matter.  The candy.  The comic book.  The bell bottom pants.

            Let me tell you the story about my cool pants.   When I was in the 5th grade at Eugene Field Elementary, my Mom bought me some bell bottom pants.  1968 would have been the year when I was in the 5th grade.  Smack dab in the era of Bell Bottom pants.  I don’t remember how it came to be, but I remember Mom had found me some signs of the times, crispy new Bell bottoms.  The bells were big enough to almost cover my shoes when I looked down at them.  Seems like I remember them being a light tan color.  Plaid in design and a raised texture to my touch. 

            I was mister cool dude when I made my way up and down those halls when I was wearing them.  I found coolness value in those pants.  Were they necessary?  No, not at all, but I was a-struttin and a-glidin my way down those halls.  Coolness value establishing itself in my mind.  It was the only pair of bell bottoms I had.  So nice to find them in my closet all ironed and ready for my next runway walk at school.  I felt so in tune when I made my way into school every day I had them on.  Problem was, I only had one pair of them.  My Mom had her own beauty salon in Clovis New Mexico at that time.  She would leave for her salon every morning just before the bus arrived.  Mrs. Miller would pull up in the big yellow school bus every morning.  She would be there to pick me and my siblings up and take us to school every day.  The bus would arrive at our house just a few minutes after my Mom left for her salon.  Just enough time for me to carry out my clandestine plan.  When I peered through the window and saw Mom’s car leave the driveway, I would scamper to the dirty clothes hamper.  I would dig through the dirty clothes until I found them.  My prized bell bottoms would be there somewhere.  Not all pressed and ironed, but a few requisite shakes, would knock out most of the wrinkles…  Another day of struttin and glidin.   Wrinkly gliding.  Then when I got home, Mom would still not have arrived from her salon yet.  Enough time for me to quickly disengage from my bell bottoms.  Then I would dig a place for them back into the dirty clothes hamper.  Mr. Cool dude at his sneaky best…  I need to tell my Mom about that.  Maybe someday I will.  Maybe I won’t.  I’m glad my siblings didn’t spill the beans on me. 

            Well, in the 5th grade I came to realize those bell bottoms had some value.  At least to me they did.  That was about the time, I started thinking about how to gather some money so I could buy another pair, on my own.  I think I pooled the money my grandmother gave me for my birthday and the allowance my parents gave me.  I remember going to the JC Penney’s in town with my Mom.  She let me look over the assortment of bell bottoms they had on display on their big wood tables.  I still needed a little more money before I could make my purchase.  My radar began looking for any honest money I could find.  Well, I might have found a dollar or two in unexpected places that somehow, made their way into my pockets.  I made sure Mom and Dad noticed my extra contributions for getting our daily chores done.  They rewarded me with a few extra dollar bills.  My original bell bottoms were starting to get a little threadbare from my repeated dives into the hamper.  I remember counting out my money, over, and over, and over again during those weeks.  I was finally able to make my way back to Penney’s and make my happy purchase.

            What is value to you?  What matters most to you?  I was immersed in a household of striving to make things better.  My Mom and Dad worked hard to provide for us.  Our home was a large part of what they poured their money into.  I was expected to help my Dad and Mom with the improvements they implemented on our home.  I learned to hand my Dad the tools and sweep up the sawdust and leftovers of our projects.  Home became the focus of my early years.  Our home was where I came to every day.  Home was where I found refuge and solace.  The place I came to after my tentative and exploring expeditions into the edges of my growing world.  Home was soaked into my bones.  I left my parents’ home and started my trek into the world.  My trek into finding where I fit in.  The place where I was most comfortable in my bewildering human journey.  I found that home was the tenet I wanted to establish most.  A few months before Lupe and I were married, I acquired our first little house.  Over time that house become the canvas I painted our home upon.  It was one of the most important parts of establishing our united trek into learning to manage our money. 

            We acquired our second home while we were still living in the original.  We had managed to pay off our first home after it was completely renovated.  This opened the ability, for us to focus our finances on improving the second home.  I worked on that one for 3 years before we ever moved into it.  The nice thing about the renovation of our second home, was that we didn’t have to live in it while it was happening.  I would be immersed in my creation until I was too tired, or it was too late.  I would leave my tools where they laid and lock the doors and leave it until I came back, another day.  Lupe and the kids would be my cleanup crew when we came back together.   Lupe and I were looking for every extra hour available at our jobs, to finance the renovation.  We both worked long, extra, grinding hours.  For years.  Every extra dollar we could come up with was directed to the projects on the second home.  Finally, after 3 years, it was ready.  Such a beautiful, grounding experience.  We had a second, newly refurbished home.  Inside and out.  We moved our furniture in and spread ourselves into the new, bigger, more comfortable digs. 

            We decided to sell our original home.  It sold in 1 week after we had moved into the second one.  Those resources opened other doors for us.  Everyone approaches their quest to find their way into their financial establishment in different ways.  Some of us strive to gain credentials and education to earn more money.  Some of us strive to acquire holdings that will support and expand our financial horizons.  Some of us do both.  Some of us inherit from the investments and savings our parents and forebearers provide for us.  Different stories for every one of us. 

            Something that I have learned over the years is the fluidity of what money is.  It’s a power, a force, a medium that will take us to different echelons.  For me, material success has to do with access.  The ability to access more varieties of experiences.  Financial security and travel are important parts of what Lupe and I strive to attain and experience.  As I have become older, the frivolous things I purchased in the past, are just not that important anymore.  Now our purchases have a more, do we really need this? — kind of bent.  Saving and frugality has become a united mindset for Lupe and me.  According to her, I am not as tenacious with this as she is.  Probably not, but I am getting better. 

            The saving and frugality have made it easier to strengthen our financial security.  After that, the other point of our access can come alive more often.  Travel has always been in our DNA.  It was why Lupe and I met in the fall of 1977.  In January of 1976, my father accepted a transfer to another Air Force Base.  In 1976, my father was working for the Civil Service at Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis New Mexico.  In January of that year, my Parents and my siblings flew to Spain where my Dad started his almost 4 year assignment.  He started working at Torrejon Air Force Base, just a few miles outside of Madrid Spain.  I stayed behind in Clovis when they left.  My best friend John and his Mom were kind enough to let me live with them.  I stayed with them until I graduated from Clovis High School in May of that year. 

            Two days after I graduated I flew to Spain to be with my family.  I was there that summer of 1976 until I started school in the fall.  I started college at West Texas State University in Canyon Texas, just south of Amarillo.  I was fortunate enough to spend two summer college breaks and one Christmas break with my family in Spain.  My parents were frugal to the core.  They worked hard and saved their money.  On every one of those visits to be with my family in Spain, my parents had accumulated savings.  Enough saved for several trips mapped out for us as a family.  I gave the eulogy for my Dad.  I thanked him for opening our horizons.  I thanked him for all the places we were able to see and experience.   He helped us explore the inner-city workings of Madrid.  We learned about the Metro, the subway system in Madrid and all the places it would take us to.  We were able to experience the magnificence and the macabre as well, of the bullfights at the famous bullring called Las Ventas in Madrid.  We were able to see the ancient Roman aqueduct of Segovia.  We explored the tight meandering streets of the fortress city of Toledo where swords and armor were their art and trade.  We ate delicious food with the Spaniards on their late hour restaurant schedules.  We explored the stupendous Valley of the Fallen. The enormous, grandiose tomb of Spanish Dictator Francisco Franco.   

            We stood at the top of the Eiffel tower and looked out over the Paris horizon.  We tried to peruse what Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa was thinking when we stood in front of her at the Louvre in Paris.  We looked up at the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican in Rome.  We were mesmerized by Michelangelo’s frescoes and his perception of faith.  We stood in the Colosseum in Rome and tried to imagine the Gladiators in their fighting quest to stay alive.  We walked close to Big Ben in London and drew our coats in and around our necks as the cold, thick fog spread everywhere.  I remember paying homage at the grave in the floor of Charles Dickens, in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey.  I remember walking around the Statue of David in Florence Italy.  The massive creation of Michelangelo left me absolutely awestruck.  He was breathing.  He looked like he could come off that huge pedestal and be ready with his sling if Goliath came back alive.  I remember the bold, red, and white shirts of the Gondoliers, as they steered us through the canals of Venice.

            Those journeys of exploration became an imbued part of my chemistry, my being.  My traveling to Spain was why I met my Lupe.  She’s from a place in Mexico called Delicias, Chihuahua.  As a child she became keenly aware of the history of her Mexico Lindo.  She was aware of the Spanish invasion of the Conquistador Hernan Cortez.  Lupe knew the historic changes that came to the Mexica, the Aztecs when he and his men stormed their island protected capital of Tenochtitlan.  Lupe knew of the melding of Spanish blood with the blood of the Aztecs and the Mayans.  She knew that melding was written in the roots of her own history.  Lupe was enchanted with everything Spanish.  The elegance of the Castilian Spanish language.  The books, the movies, the songs.  Her desire to learn more about Spain and my having visited Spain was why we met in the Fall of 1977. 

            For Lupe and me, those two parts of our lives are central and defining.  First, to gain lasting, ever widening financial security for the future of our lives.  The other one is the access to be able to explore the world as much as we can.  I took Lupe to Spain about 14 years ago.  We explored some of the places I remember from my young years there.  We have explored some other interesting and vivid places on this planet that live in our memories.  Our quest is to see as many more as we can before we leave this plane.   We want to see, inhale, experience, and make more of those lasting, shared moments. 

The defining way to be able to make those things happen?  Like my neighbor Wes told me years ago, in his deep, gravelly, West Texas Drawl… “Work hard and Save your Money.” 

Think before you Spend…  Steven