Fribble Lessons on Budgeting

August 28, 2000

You know the stories -- your parents had to walk to school, uphill, in the snow. Amazingly, the walk home was uphill as well (talk about taking advantage of little kids' lack of knowledge). How many times did you hear those stories? If you remember them, you must have learned some valuable lessons.

Not having children, I always assumed I'd never sound like my parents. Oh, how wrong I was. But at least now I know I sound Foolish, which gives me comfort as I approach (or maybe I'm already there) middle age. I've started to tell snow stories.

When I was young, we didn't have very much. An occasional dinner at McDonald's was a luxury for my parents. So was pizza night, when Dad would stop and bring home one pizza so we could have a special party. I didn't know people might have called us poor. My folks told us stories about what they did for fun even though they didn't have lots of money when they were little. And I remember those stories. I didn't think my childhood was any different from anyone else's, nor did I feel deprived.

What I do remember is that my parents didn't owe people money. They always found money to pay the medical bills, regardless of when they occurred. Except for the house and their first washer and dryer, they didn't incur any debt. No new cars unless there was cash to buy one. When asked how he wanted to pay for something at a department store, Dad replied, "Money." If he didn't have cash to pay for it, he didn't buy it. Plain and simple.

Except for student loans and home mortgages, I have also been debt-free. I've done without rather than drag out the charge card. Sure there were things I wanted, but the thought of owing money to someone was enough to quench those desires.

Since I don't have kids of my own, I get my "kid-fix" from my nieces and nephews. Next week one of my nephews turns seven. He and his sister seem to have everything kids could want and more. It's gotten so bad that I'm sure they don't remember who gave them what on gift occasions. So, I'm out of ideas. I call my sister-in-law and guess what? She can't identify anything, not one thing, my nephew might want that he doesn't already have. I've decided that savings bonds and shares of stock are the only thing he doesn't have that might mean something to him.

But will they? His father apparently doesn't tell our snow stories about the pizza parties, the special treat of going to McDonald's, or of thinking very carefully about what three or four things to put on the Christmas list because you knew Santa couldn't bring more than a couple toys to each child.

Make fun of your parents and cringe when you start to sound like them. But remember the snow stories and what they taught you. And don't be too embarrassed to pass your snow stories on to others because they help make sure others grow up Foolish. Unfortunately, I'm afraid my nephew will just be foolish.