4 Personal Finance Principles That Would Make Your Grandfather Proud

by A Manly Guest Contributor on September 20, 2011 · 114 comments

in Money & Career

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Baker of Man Vs. Debt.

“Look back to learn how to look forward.” -Joe Girard

Our grandfather’s generation wasn’t perfect. They had their own set of flaws and weaknesses.

But they got a lot of things right. And one of those things is how to handle your finances.

Grandpa learned his financial lessons from the school of hard knocks. He lived through the Great Depression, which taught him to live leanly, to save, and to be grateful for what he had. And he lived in a time where staying out of debt was a matter of independence, pride, and self-reliance, something he believed reflected on a man’s most precious resource–his character.

We’ve unfortunately forgotten many of Grandpa’s lessons on finance. But they’re just as true as they ever were. So today let’s dust them off and re-discover these tried and true principles.

1. Resourcefulness

“If money is your hope for independence you will never have it. The only real security that a man will have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience, and ability.” -Henry Ford

One of the things I respect most about my grandfather’s generation was their resourcefulness.

And let me point out here that resourcefulness is not simply being cheap. Nobody enjoys a cheapskate.

But while my grandfather was far more thrifty than I am, he wasn’t cheap. He was just a lot more resourceful.

To put it simply, resourcefulness is the intersection of self-sufficiency and creativity.

This combination can help our finances in several key ways:

  • It fosters a “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” mentality. If something breaks, try to fix it yourself. Use up your belongings until they no longer work–just because a new version of something came out, doesn’t mean you need it. Borrow instead of buy. Trade goods and services with family and friends.
  • It makes employees irresistible. As an employer, one of the first traits I look for in a team member is resourcefulness. I care far less for credentials and experience. Show me someone who can creatively solve a problem and I’m sold!
  • It’s essential for the self-employed. Business owners don’t have a choice in our current environment. It’s adapt or die–and constantly practicing resourcefulness will give you the flexibility to survive.
  • It’s a fundamental principle of negotiating. We’ll get into this below, but the more flexible and resourceful you can be in a negotiation, the more likely you’ll be able to arrive at a desirable outcome.

2. Awareness (The Pocket Notebook)

“Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” -Albert Einstein

Einstein was right. It’s impossible to take back control of our financial life unless we become more conscious.

My grandfather had a particular habit that made it almost impossible for him to forget the details of his life. He never went anywhere without his pocket notebook.

The Art of Manliness has explored the pocket notebook’s manly history and the famous men who used them. Carrying a little notebook with you is useful for brainstorming, writing down ideas, and keeping track of goals. They’re also handy when it comes to our finances, as they can be leveraged to help track our everyday spending.

When John D. Rockefeller got his first job as a young man, he bought a small red ledger book for 10 cents. He called it Ledger A and took it with him everywhere. Within its pages, he kept track of every single penny he spent or donated. Once Ledger A was filled up, he bought another and called it Ledger B, and continued this habit throughout his life as he rose from assistant bookkeeper to corporate titan. He considered his ledgers to be among his most prized possessions, and he taught all his children to keep track of their expenditures just as he had done.

Men from all walks of life and levels of wealth did likewise. But eventually the idea of tracking your spending in a pocketbook was replaced by the use of checkbooks. Everyone was carrying checks anyway, so it made great sense to track spending, check balances, and keep notes in the same place.

But over the last 40 years or so, the emergence of plastic cards has once again changed the way we stay aware of our spending. Credit cards have ushered in the era of “Swipe and Analyze.”

We charge all of our purchases with no tracking or monitoring and analyze them 30, 45, or 60 days later when the bill comes (or sometimes not at all). This is no way to take charge of your finances!

The extinction of the pocket notebook and the checkbook has caused us to lose touch with our everyday spending. Credit card spending causes us to be detached from our money in the same way using chips at a casino encourages us to lose more.

We all love the convenience of spending with plastic, but we need to take steps to ensure we stay aware and on top of our spending.

If you haven’t given it a try, bring back the pocket notebook into your life. Its benefits stretch far beyond just your spending and financial life.

3. Comfortable Negotiating

“Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.” -John F. Kennedy

Negotiating is a skill that’ll earn you hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of your life.

And, no, you don’t have to be a slicked-back used car salesman–or have a pushy, aggressive style. In fact, that garbage always backfires.

What you need to be is confident. Not pushy, controlling, manipulative, or cocky. Just confident.

Generations of men before us were far more comfortable and confident when negotiating. They knew the truth of the matter: We all negotiate every day of our lives.

Negotiation is simply when communication and problem solving collide. Anytime there is a problem–and you use communication to solve that problem–you are negotiating.

We *all* do that multiple times in any given day, and there’s no reason it should make our palms sweat and our heartbeat go crazy.

Negotiation is learned through practice. Practice will make you more comfortable. Comfort will breed confidence. And confidence will shatter any fear you have around it.

My grandfather understood that:

  • Value is constantly fluctuating. The true value of any item is what someone is willing to pay for it at any given time.
  • There are far more opportunities to negotiate than most people think. Most people associate negotiation with only a few specific life events… buying a house, job hunting, asking for a raise, and buying a car. However, it’s the opposite. There are few times in life when you *aren’t* negotiating.
  • You have the right to negotiate. You’ve worked hard for your money–and most vendors would rather have you communicate with them than have you walk out the door empty-handed.

Once you realize there are plenty of opportunities, that you have the right to negotiate, and that value is constantly fluctuating… negotiating doesn’t seem that scary.

4. Non-Entitlement Attitude

“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” -Raymond Chandler

An older male mentor of mine used to say to me: “You deserve nothing. Remember that.”

At first, I dismissed it as the preaching of a generation that really had nothing for a long-time. But as I grew older, I realized that his repetition of that saying was meant to remind me to be thankful.

He was steering me away from the trap of an entitlement attitude. He was urging me to see how blessed I really was.

In our current society of “I’ll take everything and I want it yesterday,” it’s great to have a constant reminder of just how fortunate we really are.

The men and women of generations past combined this blessed attitude with an unwavering work ethic. It’s a combo that we simply rarely see these days.

In the same vein, there used to be an admirable pride to owning property, transportation, and possessions without leveraging debt. Loans have existed for a long, long time, but they were sparingly used and paying them off was a primary goal.

Our modern, daily reliance on debt and financing was simply unheard of.

Whenever I let my entitlement attitude creep back in, I find myself complaining, procrastinating, blaming, whining, and moaning.

It’s times like these I remember the fundamentals of my grandparents.

They thanked, praised, hustled, and plowed forward.


I’m interested to hear what quality you most admire in your grandfather’s generation!

What other traits can inspire us to take back control of our financial lives?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!


For the last three years, Baker has shared his young family’s journey to pay off debt, sell their crap, and travel abroad over on Man Vs. Debt. Registration is now open for You Vs Debt, Baker’s 6-week online class with daily videos, challenges, and accountability forums to empower you to passionately take back control of your financial life.

{ 114 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Daren Redekopp September 20, 2011 at 4:06 pm

What a refreshing post. Another value that I admire about past generations is the emphasis on pursuing a task with excellence. There is an ancient Hebrew Proverb that sums it up perfectly:
“Do you see a man skilled at his work? He will not stand before obscure men, but before kings.”

2 John Benton September 20, 2011 at 4:15 pm

I think point four goes far, far, far beyond finances and into the realm of a great social ill in life today. Something I was literally talking to my fellow band directors about just yesterday in fact, in those same terms. You aren’t entitled to anything. You have to earn everything. A paycheck, a promotion. Even compliments. If you keep this in mind, you may not shoot to the very tip top, but you’ll go far. People respect hard work, even if they don’t believe in it.

3 Marcia Anderson September 20, 2011 at 4:22 pm

The most valuable thing my Father ever told me when I was young, was “no matter what you do, be the best at it you possibly can. ‘Good enough,’ isn’t.” This has served me well all my life.

4 Mike September 20, 2011 at 4:23 pm

“You deserve nothing. Remember that.”

I LOVE that.

I agree that just being conscious of what you’re making and what you’re spending goes such a long way. I cannot recommend “The Millionaire Next Door” enough as relevant reading. No preaching, just facts.

5 Superstantial September 20, 2011 at 4:27 pm

This is a valuable lesson. We should all do better to be frugal.

Before we deify previous generations, some perspective is required.

One thing you’re missing is that your Grandpa was also the beneficiary of massive government spending. More likely than not, if he went to university, it was subsidized by both state and federal government and much cheaper, as a proportion of future income than college and university for today’s graduates.

His house – likely susidized by veteran’s benefits from the government and cheap government loans. The price of the house itself wasn’t overinflated because he didn’t have to worry about the massive income disparity between rich and poor we have today.

Not everything great about the “Greatest Generation” was a result of their own hard work. In fact, your Grandpa and your father’s generations are the one’s who dismantled the system from which they derived so many benefits in order to ensure that (1) we’re not getting any of that and (2) only their continuing needs are met by government largess.

There are great lessons to be drawn from previous generations, but let’s not over-romanticize what they did, they do that enough for themselves already.

6 Superstantial September 20, 2011 at 4:29 pm

“You deserve nothing”
-I’m sure he meant that, the corollary, of course was unsaid (“I deserve everything and you’re going to work your whole life so I get it”)

7 Josh Knowles September 20, 2011 at 4:29 pm

Thanks for this. This past spring my wife and I went to the bank to put our income tax return into savings. The man on the other side of the desk was so excited for us. He said that he so rarely sees people coming to the bank wanting to save money, but rather they come wanting a loan.

Currently we have no debt. Our car is a few years old, but it still has lots of life left and we feel no need to get a newer one just because they’re out there or just because everyone else is doing it.

We try to use plastic as a means of payment as little as possible. Like the article says, it’s just so easy to burn through a few hundred dollars without even realizing it. When you actually see the cash disappearing from your wallet it tends not to go quite so fast.

Another thing I’ve noticed about past generations was that when they did splurge it tended to be on experiences rather than things. Thus taking a vacation as a family was generally higher on the priority list than daddy buying a new game for his XBox.

8 Tyler Rouillard September 20, 2011 at 4:37 pm

My grandfather (or pepere as we called him) instilled in my father the same work ethic, resourcefulness and awareness as he had. Growing up, I didn’t think my father had much wisdom to offer. It wasn’t until I got a bit older that I realised his wisdom wasn’t necessarily in words (he never speaks much) but in his actions and example. I now appreciate the things he taught me, simple things like the correct way to chop wood, and how to complete jobs around the house.

9 JF September 20, 2011 at 4:43 pm

You make many good points but you undermine your arguments on occasion by introducing untruths into the argument. The Depression was mostly brought on by the same thing that got us in the current recession: too much debt. Therefore it’s incorrect to imply that it is a lesson that previous generations have known and that we have forgotten. They had to learn their lesson, just as many have in the current economy. You can bet that foreclosed homeowners and people living hopelessly upside down in their homes will not soon forget this lesson, but I suspect that in 60-70 years, the lessons will need to be re-learned by a new generation. In the 1920s they thought the old lessons didn’t apply to their boom, just like we justified our own.

10 Jaken Marker September 20, 2011 at 4:52 pm

This seems useful for those reading for their futures. My grandparents would start investment funds for their grandchildren when they were born. These funds would grow over their 18 years until they were ready for college, or to go out and start a livelihood out of high school. Since they did this early on with money they had already been saving, they not only kept themselves from wasting the money, but also spent not as much as a check when the kids were old enough, allowed their grandchildren to go to colleges (most getting at least masters!), and took the financial burdens off their sons, daughters, grand sons, and grand daughters. Furthermore, can you guess what the next generation will do?

This helped 6 kids get their degree. Just a good strategy my family has found and does not take as much of a financial commitment.

11 Lionel September 20, 2011 at 4:59 pm

JF is wrong on several points. It’s highly simplistic to say that the Great Depression was caused by debt, but even if that was the case, our grandfathers were not the people who got into that debt.. My Grandpa was 12 in 1929–he was not a mover and shaker in government or on Wall Street. Our Great-grandfathers may have gotten into debt, but our grandfathers were children during the Great Depression, and learned their lessons from growing up and watching their parents.

Secondly, people are NOT learning their lessons from this recession. In May a report came out that after falling for awhile, personal debt is back on the RISE. The problem with our generation is that it has a very short term memory, and thinks that the rules don’t apply to them.

12 Jeff Rose September 20, 2011 at 5:54 pm

This is a great post that unfortunately makes me realize how much I missed by not having a financially savvy grandfather in my life.

My grandmother was a stickler for being frugal and definitely living within her means. I’m lucky for her to have had a tremendous influence on me. I might not have appreciated her values earlier in life, but as I’ve gotten older, I definitely see how wise she truly was.

13 Kenneth Johnston September 20, 2011 at 6:10 pm

@ JF I was thinking of this and that last night about relearning the lessons of the past. I am afraid what comes after the global depression is WAR and big one.
@superstantial I think you are talking about the wrong generation who gobbled up all the pie. I believe you are referring to the baby boomers while the article is talking about the ones who made those babies.

14 Philip G. September 20, 2011 at 6:13 pm

I admire the tireless spirit of my grandpa, he served in the Navy during WWII and afterward returned to complete his degrees in chemical engineering at the University of Charleston all the while working two jobs and supporting a wife and three kids. He went on to become a successful chemical engineer at Dow chemical years later. He would always remark that the financially tough years were his greatest years.

15 MD September 20, 2011 at 6:25 pm

It was definitely a differ time. They went through the Great Depression and possibly two major wars depending on their age. We have no excuses and no reason not to make something of ourselves. There are zoo many resources out there these days. If we want to learn anything at all we simply “google” it.

16 Robert Weedall September 20, 2011 at 6:26 pm

“Our”? Most great-grandparents were not even responsible for it. Oh sure there was a lot of buying things on loan, but the problem was more what we encountered in 2008, very very wealthy people with the intelligence of grass clippings and the morality of pondscum insisting that they get deregulated suddenly causing all the money to vanish.

The only way that could have been stopped is by either explaining to Jed and Bubba that NO they will have to pay the money back that they used to build their starter home on the swamp or by ensuring that banks actually didn’t give out loans that couldn’t be paid back in less than 300 years.

And the problem for a lot of young people is more working out WTF they actually want more than anything else. That is if they even HAVE a job considering the fact that so many places are expanding only their middle managament sections.

17 Bill September 20, 2011 at 6:29 pm

I loved the section on negotiating. Here’s a small story:

Back in 1991 the Spouse and I were buying a home. The owners of the home were going through a bitter divorce and the only thing they still had in common was this house. Each soon-to-be ex-spouse wanted to keep jerking us around on the price. We had made several good offers and they always wanted to inch us up just a bit. We’d hear (from the realtor) “she’s OK with the price, but he wants more”, etc.

After a while I got tired of this. I asked my wife if she would be OK with not getting this house. She was. I called the realtor and said, “our offer is now $X (a little lower than before). This offer is good for 20 minutes, then we’re gone”.

Fifteen minutes later we had a deal. We moved in in late 1991 and paid it off in 2003.

18 David Y September 20, 2011 at 7:10 pm

“You deserve nothing. Remember that.”

What a great line. We deserve what we earn.

Too many of my generation, the Baby Boomers, never learned that lesson. I was fortunate enough(though I did not think so at the time) to have parents who did not give us everything we wanted. I had to work for it, and it paid off for me in the long run.

19 Dean September 20, 2011 at 7:22 pm

A quick note – some brilliant insights here. In times when it isn’t just John next door doing it tough, but you, me and everyone around the world. From studying finance i understand there is a breaking point. We have already crossed that years ago. I now have a second job, working 7 days a week office weekdays/retails weekends, and all in the aim of exiting debt. If you can’t live within your means, you can’t live. Thankfully i’ll be debt free by January 2012, if i continued on the same path of spend and not caring i would be in debt forever.

20 Robert Weedall September 20, 2011 at 7:25 pm

I am always shocked by how much apparent wisdom the grandparents are supposed to have and how rubbish their children turned out. Were they brilliant at everything except child rearing?

21 jeff September 20, 2011 at 7:40 pm

What Grandpa didn’t tell you because he didn’t know, was that he was paying 15% of his net income for housing. This is the single biggest economic difference in the last three generations. The fact that he saved and did all the rest is overshadowed by the reality that he paid almost a third less for his biggest expense than his grandchildren do. “The Two Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents are Going Broke,” by Elizabeth Warren gives a explanation of why gramps could do many things we can’t. Good article though about mindset, just there should be a little perspective on the economics between the generations.

22 Tom September 20, 2011 at 7:45 pm

Agree with the living within your means and having a strong work ethic, but the ancestor worship is too much in this article. In being frugal and trying to protect a budget excess our fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers were short sighted and we are paying for it now.

23 Kate McKay September 20, 2011 at 8:05 pm

Robert’s objection always crops up in these kind of articles–if the Greatest Generation was so great, then how did they produce the Baby Boomers? This argument always strikes me as odd, as I think it would to anyone who is a parent or who knows parents (I’m not sure how someone could avoid these two categories, but I suppose it’s possible). I say this because I know plenty of amazing parents who have a child that turned out terribly. There is not always a correlation between great parenting and great kids. There have been several articles recently by researchers who have studied the subject and have argued that parenting has far less effect on children than we imagine–parents can only bring out potentialities and mitigate weaknesses. Much of a kid’s personality and proclivities come programmed into them.

Anyway, even if child-rearing did have a big effect, cultural forces have a large effect as well. Every generation is most like their grandparents (supposedly), because each generation rebels against the values taught to them by their parents. So it is not at all surprising that the Baby Boomers rejected their parents teachings–perhaps it was inevitable really.

As far as Jeff’s objection goes, I think if my grandpa had to pay more for housing, he simply would have cut back in other areas, not have gone into debt. It’s also important to note that the standard of living the current middle-class expects has greatly accelerated since grandpa’s time. Take a look at Levittown–these small houses represented the absolute American dream. They were 750 square feet–the size of many modern suburban homes’ garages.

24 jeff September 20, 2011 at 8:19 pm

In posting the amount of income vs. housing from three generations ago, there was in fact a difference in the sizes of homes but what isn’t usually mentioned is the lack of availability of modest homes being built over the last thirty years. Also, a generational note: My grandfather bought his home in 1942 for cash at $5,000.00 for a three bedroom, one bath house. He left it to my father, who whenever strapped for cash would get a loan against the house. After he moved out of state he gave it to my sister, who used it the same way as my father. In seventy years a $5,000.00 modest little house ended up costing $300,000.00 dollars in different loans and mortgages. Like I said before; the difference in economics of three generations

25 Robert Weedall September 20, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Yes, but to the sheer extent that this appears to have happened you cannot simply say “oh well they are great parents but there son/daughter/sentient octopus happens to be a real tearaway”. The word that might be due for change is “parents”, they might be great “people” but bloody awful “parents”.

And I’d like to see those pieces of research if you have them to hand, because to me that sounds more like “evo psyching your way out of trouble”. A great deal may come from personal proclivities (not arguing that) but to say “well it doesn’t matter what I do with my kid so long as its not activly harmful then it won’t make much difference” seems to be trying to escape responsibility.

26 Noah Kephart September 20, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Have you ever read Brokaw’s book “The Greatest Generation”?

27 Superstantial September 20, 2011 at 8:34 pm

@#13 Kenneth Johnston,
It wasn’t just the boomers, the generation who was pressed into service to fight the Nazis and who endured the Great Depression made up for it through their gross consumerism, which they passed to their kids who turned it into a perverse art.

This same generation began the run-up in passed-on debt through taking all they could get from the government, then trying to prevent their grandkids from getting it.

28 Robert Weedall September 20, 2011 at 8:43 pm

@Noah: Who, me?

‘fraid not I am afraid, but they weren’t the greatest generation. One of the most brave, generous and stalwart, but also one of the most grasping, pig headed and (on several occasions, both during the war and after) Bally Stupid too.

Just like everyother generation and every other person that has ever lived.

29 Casey September 20, 2011 at 9:18 pm

This is great stuff to re evaluate for all of us. I know being resourceful can save you alot of money and help you develop certain skill sets you otherwise may not have had. Negotiating is so big in today’s world, unfortunetley alot of people have gotten away from comfortable and have become cocky. Being honest and truthful and having confidence is good but also being able to speak and get your point across with out offending anyone is very beneficial and will help handle cocky people in negotiations.

When you expect nothing from anyone than your not disappointed and it gives you the sense of being self reliable.

30 B Townsend September 20, 2011 at 10:03 pm

I learned simplicity from my Grandparents. My father’s mother grew up on a farm acquire in the Oklahoma Land Rush. She taught me how to cook catfish back when everyone thought that fish was just a bottom feeder– she knew it was a sustainable fish down south where we lived. She did without AC in the hot summers because homemade ice tea was her quick fix. She was the one that ran the homestead, farmhouse, barn, cellar and kitchen. When things got too tough my father and his sisters were sent away to relatives until my grandfather went away to Oregon to work the railroads , make some money and return to growing crops again. They did what they had to do and I know there was a lot less complaining then in their family than I see now with any changes or difficulties my family goes through. Acceptance and a sort of peacefulness in being resourceful, careful with assets and land is something I wish I could apply to in my life today.

31 Michael September 20, 2011 at 10:04 pm

“but what isn’t usually mentioned is the lack of availability of modest homes being built over the last thirty years.”

As a real estate agent, I can say there is a definite reason for this: people don’t want modest homes!

I’ve been selling homes for 30+ years and it is amazing how much bigger and bigger they get and how much bigger families of the same income level as before now expect their house to be. Take the master bedroom for instance. It’s gone from being just a little bigger than the other rooms to having its own sitting area, large spa-like bathroom with jacuzzi tub and his and her sinks and a big walk-in closet. And most of those things people consider “musts.” When I show folks older houses they cannot get over how small the rooms and the bathrooms are! If I suggested a 750 square acre house, they’d look at me like I had two heads!

It’s not some mysterious force forcing people into large homes they cannot afford–people these days just have very big expectations and they’re willing to bite off more than they can chew to make their dreams come true.

32 Youngster September 20, 2011 at 10:17 pm

I am privileged to have both my grandfathers still alive, one a former FBI agent and the other a former CFO of an oil company. Both have had a tremendous impact in my life and my quest to become a man in every sense of the word.

33 Native Son September 21, 2011 at 1:08 am

One other major difference between “grandpa’s day” and today is that back then, you had a lot of “a” and “an” items. As in a bathroom, an automobile, a tv set, a radio, a telephone. Our modest house seems to always be in danger of being overwhelmed by “stuff”.

34 Roger W. September 21, 2011 at 3:14 am

Regarding negotiation: I work in retail for a major superstore chain, and I’m here to tell you that when you go into a chain like mine and try to haggle over prices on even the biggest items in the store, you are wasting your time. This world is much larger than it was back in the day, when Mom and Pop had to get your sale or risk dinner. All of the prices of standard retail items (including computers and other expensive office machines) are fixed by people many states away who we will never meet, and not even the store’s top management can adjust prices without risking loss of their jobs. That’s not to say that prices can’t be changed in the store. Price matching other local retailers is quite common, but there is no room left for arbitrary negotiation. The fact is, even if the phantom corporate big shots who set prices were in the store talking to you themselves, they still wouldn’t change a penny, because there are many, many other people who would buy the same product at the set price, and as soon as word gets out that we changed a price for you, then everybody else will haggle us down and we’ll make less [than the surprisingly low profit we make on the high-ticket items]. We can afford to wait for somebody willing to pay more, because we’re huge and you’re not. Sad, but true.

35 Roger W. September 21, 2011 at 3:24 am

To ramble further, I can guarantee that the guy helping you buy something would love to shave off some more, but we’re left dangling between two options: a) leaving a customer unsatisfied, robbing us of the only real satisfaction we get out of our jobs, or b) finding some dishonest way to justify a false price match, which not only makes us liars but also likely to be fired and lose our already paltry paychecks. Three quarters of us are part-timers who rely on our jobs as our sole sources of income, already feeling deadened by the pangs of being the customer’s punching bags so that our corporate overlords don’t have to. Retail is ugly.

36 Clay September 21, 2011 at 3:46 am

I think it’s better to focus on what lessons we can learn rather than debate about how great “this or that” generation. We never know what we can exactly do as human beings but the past is a good reference on what things we are capable of. Every subset of the past has its own story to tell, its own flaws and downfalls yet there are still treasures you can uncover and lessons you can still use to this very day. If the past found a way through the Great Depression surely the present can learn from past’s secrets to find its way through the Recession.
“You deserve nothing. Remember that.” Imagine those lines coming from the Past directly addressed to the Present. The Past, as much as we want to blame how Present is right now, has nothing to do anymore about this. Past’s responsibilities and faults died along with him and its time for Present to fight. Present may or may not idolize past but he surely learned something useful from him.
Just felt to say this, kinda out of topic though.

37 Brad Moore September 21, 2011 at 8:25 am

Neat article. Even better story/ info when you got to the guy’s website and see what he has done and how he has lived life.!I wanted to add to the part about the pocketbook. And correct me if I am wrong. I wrote down all my expenses for a while there and it was a lot of work – and took lots of time! I was doing some research in past few days about simple ways (mint.com, mvelopes, TMMO, etc.) to follow a spending plan and it seems it can be easier/ simpler by choosing one of ways I just mentioned. Let me know if anyone interested in my “research.”

38 Dustin September 21, 2011 at 8:44 am

I love in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech when he talks about being the best at what you do. He was addressing African Americans in his speech, but I believe it absolutely applies to all Americans.

39 Will September 21, 2011 at 9:02 am

My grandfather is Thomas Stanley’s quintessential “Millionaire Next Door.” Born in the 1930′s, he worked hard, lived frugally and resourcefully, saved religiously and invested wisely. He and Grandma have owned the same house for over 40 years, and they put enough money away for all 6 of their grandchildren to go to college. You’d never know it, though, just looking at them. You’d be doing well to do half of what he’s done in his time.

40 Dann Anthony September 21, 2011 at 9:12 am

The Baby Boomers are no failure of the “Greatest Generation.” Every generation makes its own way. What became true of the baby boomers – for whatever-in-Hell reason – is that they seemed to have a contempt for their parents’ values that the Greatest Generation did not. Maybe it was Kerouac and Holden Caulfield, maybe it was an ennui with sacrifice. But our grandparents had a healthier respect for their parents than Boomers had for theirs.

What’s kind of comical is the trend of “South Park Conservatism.” Children of the 60s find themselves in the same spot in which they put their own parents: the kids think they’re quaint clowns, and think and say things just to tick them off. “I didn’t raise my kid to tell ethnic jokes!” says the former campus commando. No, you didn’t, but your parents didn’t raise you to smoke weed all through college or spend money you didn’t have. Did their lessons take?

41 Austin Park September 21, 2011 at 9:52 am

One memory I have a my grandfather was just after I turned 16. I had saved just enough for my first car, a rare beauty 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass Sierra International Series (two-tone grey). The car was made the same year I was born. Anyway, I loved this car, but it needed four new tires. I went to my grandfather for guidance and help. He owned a mechanic shop a few miles from my house. So I drove to the shop to have some new rubber put on the Cutlass and asked,”Grandpa, can you hook me up with some new tires, maybe the “family” discount?” He said,” Of course Austin, meet me in the first bay in five minutes.” Long story short, that day I learned how to “mount and balance” car tires. This is obviously not what I expected to have happen. I might have felt entitled to the service but grandpa made me do all the work. I went home covered in grime and grease, but I have never resented him or regretted asking him for that help. This is just like my grandpa, not always providing the easy road but the correct one.

42 Jacki September 21, 2011 at 10:03 am

Interesting article. Some good points.

I would like to see more comments about “The Two Income Trap” as mentioned earlier. It is true that in grandpa’s generation, women were expected to stay home and raise the children, and while this may have been unfair for the woman who wanted and deserved a career, the fact remains that men were paid enough to support an entire family. Not so much anymore, and no, it’s not just because today’s family wants more.

While I firmly believe that women should have the right to work outside the home if they want to, I am dismayed by the current financial climate that forces women out of the home they desire to work in and away from children that need them, simply to make ends meet.

Have feminists fighting for their right to a career actually deprived me of my right to make a home?

43 Samuel Warren September 21, 2011 at 10:07 am

I really liked this article. It’s good to have reminders of where you should be in things. Especially the part about the non-entitlement attitude. That’s been my soap box for quite a few years.

To the gentlemen posting above about doing things right. I totally agree. My father was a craftsman (carpenter specifically in finish and trim) who after fifteen years in the area is sought after by people. It really amazed me to see when he gets a phone call that someone has to have him do a project for them. He’s not the cheapest, but he’s the best.

This over time has led me to a point where I realize that even though I don’t work with wood myself, I should strive for that craftsmanship in whatever I do (I do software development actually). The level of satisfaction that you can take to know you went above and beyond something that would have “just worked” is something few other things in life can provide.

44 Robert Weedall September 21, 2011 at 10:08 am

@Dave Anthony: Thats kind of wrong. A great deal of the “greatest generation’s” (I think I’ll stick with calling them WW2′s generation) had nothing but contempt for their immediate parents, especially in Europe and even more especially amongst the classes that did most of the reading and writing.

One only has to look at “oh what a lovely War” (published in the 60′s but by someone who was born in the 10′s) and other such works to see that there was a great deal of hatred for the pompous, stuff shirted chinless wonders who managed to lead an entire generation of young men into place like the Somme.

There was a profound dislike for parents who could not move with the times or change from a very victorian view of the world. People tend to have contempt for their parents because, for the most part, their parents tend to demand respect instead of trying to earn it through teaching a child things.

You might argue that they should simply get respect, but if you accept the idea that “You deserve nothing” then I am kind of wondering where you can go with the idea.

Sorry I am probably blithering at this point, just some ideas I thought to be jotted down.

45 Robert Weedall September 21, 2011 at 10:10 am

* Places like the Somme.

46 Samuel Warren September 21, 2011 at 10:26 am

@Robert Weedall
While I’ll agree that in ever generation, you are going to have people that are resistant to change, there are times when that change might not be a good thing. I think this is where the idea of wisdom comes in to play. Sometimes when an older person is resistant to change it’s fear, but other times it’s because of the wisdom they have about a given situation. If you told my grandpa that he needed to get a credit card and spend his savings he would resist that. Not because of fear of technology, but because he has wisdom about finances. Children should respect their parents if for no other reason than because of the wisdom they can provide them.

Remember that Proverbs 6:20-23 says:
My son, keep your father’s commands and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
Bind them upon your heart forever; fasten them around your neck.
When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you.
For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life,

47 Joe D. September 21, 2011 at 10:35 am

I won’t bother getting into the argument of which generation is better, as well. But, having observed the way my grandparents lived throughout their later years, and hearing the stories about how they grew up, I can draw one conclusion. They were, without a doubt, better equipped with their skills and their mentality to handle an economic meltdown than most members of modern American society.

They did it. They lived through the Great Depression in America after coming here in search of more opportunity.

As Baker points out, one big difference here between the generations is the entitlement attitude. You can argue the point all you want, but when he states that the older generation had a “blessed attitude with an unwavering work ethic. It’s a combo that we simply rarely see these days”….he’s right!!

48 Dennis Clarke September 21, 2011 at 10:37 am

My son sent me this article.He is in Taiwan teaching.The world has shrunk.

I am a retired teacher…71 years old…not a boomer.As a child I was told plenty of stories about the Depression and these stories resonate to this day.My dad started to work out of the eighth grade spending most of his working years in dangerous job on the railway.My mom was a stay at home mother.An average wage in this country did not pass 100$ a week until 1967.I always had a good idea of how much my dad made…not a state secret…so I did not expect a lot.We had a small home which my dad maintained.I do not recall anything that he could not do unlike my childrens generation most of whom cannot fix a leaking faucet.I learned and was shown how to do things…paint,glaze,roof,plumb etc.My five children are all university graduates and I hope that they have taken in some common sense from the past.

When my parents were old I still asked them questions and asked for advice.I still ask myself what would my parents do?I usually get an answer.

49 the muskrat September 21, 2011 at 10:46 am

Are you SURE we’re not entitled to a bunch of stuff? Try telling that to Generation Y.

50 Superstantial September 21, 2011 at 10:49 am

@ Jacki

First, the single income thing was only true for a small percentage of upper-middle class and upper-class Americans for a short span of history. The working poor have always needed two incomes.

Second, I don’t understand why you’re blaming “feminists” for the fact that two incomes are needed now in more households than ever. You note that families need two incomes because men aren’t being paid as much compared to required spending (I’m paraphrasing here). Feminism didn’t depress male wages. The choices made by the economic elite depressed wages – CEOs, bankers and even professional atheletes have demanded an ever-larger piece of the monetary pie. This leaves a much smaller sliver of GDP to average working people. That’s why you need to incomes and that’s why it is a huge sacrifice for a woman to stay home now. It’s not feminists who should take the blame, but radical capitalists.

51 Claude September 21, 2011 at 11:14 am

Like so many have said already I have to agree that the “you deserve nothing” line is probably the most important one here.

An entitlement mentality can be linked so so many problems and not just economic problems. I also believe the rise in depression in recent years comes from young people believing they should have everything they see on TV, getting depressed when they realize they can’t have it, and even MORE depressed when they convince someone else to give it to them (ie the gov).

52 Chris E. September 21, 2011 at 11:20 am

great article! As far as the pocket notebook, I tried this and just couldn’t get myself to stay with it, I felt as it was just another task and a burden to carry all day. BUT, what I did find that works for me is using my smartphone to track bills, notes, calendar ect. it’s my go to for these types of things.

Also, as far as tracking bills and using credit cards. If you know how to use a credit card the correct way (rarely if ever carry a balance) and monitor it constantly either through your online bill pay or something like http://www.mint.com then you’re not waiting 30-45-60 days to check your billing/spending habits. The beauty of all of this is that it is accessible through your smartphone and is easily accessible, readable and easy to analyze your habits.

53 jeff york September 21, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Hard work is its own reward. Don’t expect a pat on the back for each and every thing you do, but learn to enjoy the work for what it brings you and teaches you over the course of your career or lifetime.

54 Tim September 21, 2011 at 12:23 pm

I found with me that there’s a power in writing something down on paper– even though it’s inconvenient, I use both a notebook and my smartphone to keep track of ideas and details in my life. Great article.

55 Robert Weedall September 21, 2011 at 12:59 pm

Sorry to keep picking holes in stuff like this (I swear I don’t do this on purpose and I do genuinely enjoy the site) but “deserving” something only matters when one is discussing things that our (by and large) extraneous.

I think that pretty much no-one would argue that everyone the world over deserves food, clothing and shelter for instance? Its why we have things like Human Rights too, because people deserve the right to speak freely about the countries government if they want to. Would anyone argue that one? Or would you simply phrase it differently?

Sorry to keep doing this, just think that a sensible debate is always an important part of any idea.

@Samuel Warren: Whilst I would not argue that there is always wisdom to be gained from the past sometimes it is in learning what NOT to do. And parents can (obviously) provide wisdom, I am just unsure as to what level that is not obscured by the whole idea of “don’t question your parents because they had you”.

56 Evan R September 21, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Great article.

“You deserve nothing, remember that.” That is such an awesome line. I will be using that quote, and if you can remember the mentors name, that would be great. I would attribute it correctly.

@JD: Debt didn’t cause the depression, It was a series of events that were kicked off by the stock market crash of 1920, capped off by the “Dust Bowl”.

@Kate McKay: I humbly disagree. Parenting has a far greater affect on children than we think it does. Does that put more pressure on us by making parenting more important? Absolutely. But I for one will rise to the challenge. Then why didn’t the baby boomers turn out as great as their parents? One, because they were great individuals, fighters, negotiators, and businessmen. They were great at being adults, not parents. Two, the kids greatly outnumbered the adults like the US population had never seen before, and if the parenting skills were lacking the kids let themselves be taught by other kids, and didn’t learn good lessons. That was the epitome of teenage rebellion.

I am noticing that there are a lot of babies being born lately, and it’s possible that there could be another baby boom coming on, so it’s extremely important (whether there’s a boom or not) that we raise our kids right…

57 Marcus Byrd September 21, 2011 at 1:09 pm

The value of people could be added to this. Grand pops always understood the value of people and never always appreciated them for what they were.
He knew who could help him and and who was in need of his help. Helping people has cyclical value…. what goes around comes around.

58 Kate McKay September 21, 2011 at 1:54 pm


I humbly stand by my argument, which to reiterate is not that parents don’t have an effect on their kids–they definitely do–but that it’s not as big as we think it is. Parents should see themselves as gardeners, not sculptors.

My argument is fairly incontrovertible, at least from personal experience. I’ve had a lot of success in my life, as has my sister. My brother, on the other hand, is 33, has been in and out of jail and has been fired from 40 jobs (I’m not exaggerating). Three children, all raised by the same great parents, in the same great way…what accounts for the disparity in how our lives turned out?

But of course personal experience does not a sound argument make, so I’d recommend reading this short article if you’re interested in an introduction to the research done on the subject:


If you know of research that backs up your argument, I would be happy to check it out.

59 Robert Weedall September 21, 2011 at 2:14 pm

The fact that your grandparents weren’t as good at raising boys?

And it also presupposes that some children are essentially “born evil” or to put it better “born with a significant prediliction towards troublemaking” which is (as people will probably tell you) going to end up with the whole Eugenics arguement all over again.

Interesting article, but I’d prefer a scientific one if one exists and you possess it? As opposed to an editorial that may have an agenda to proove.

60 John S. September 21, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Yeah, no. Here’s the thing – Grandpa? He benefited from more entitlements than I could ever possibly hope to get in my lifetime. From his set 40 hour per week union manufacturing job (complete with benefits, mandatory pension, and mandatory vacation time), to his government mandated public works projects (and all the lucrative contracts that sprung therefrom) to the fact that the country was usually flush with cash because the richest boss only got thirty or forty times more than his lowest-level employee – the rest went to the government to pay for all these wonderful things. We used to have public benefits, a dole, and public housing that was worth a damn and wasn’t a system that manages to waste 41 cents on the dollar. There was no credit card debt, duh, because most people didn’t have a credit card.

In exchange for all that, we have easy, cheap credit (the better to buy yourself into debt) shoddy, foreign made goods that can never be repaired and can only be replaced (no more manufacturing jobs) and a country that apparently is under the greatest spell of collective amnesia the world has ever seen, who see men who earn thousands of times more than their lowest employee as ‘job creators’ (technically true, as long as we’re talking about India or China) and that any attempt to get some cash from these modern-day robber-barons is seen as class-warfare. I always have a hearty chuckle whenever I see these fat old white men on TV from the heart of America, who want gubment outta there hair (farm subsidies for the last sixty years in most cases)

So please, stop perpetuating the myth that grandpa was some seasoned individualist. Grandpa had more entitlements, more privileges, and a better social safety net than any of us will ever hope to see again. I’d give my left nut to have the kind of job security and benefits that came with working at any given unionized auto plant in the mid 20th century.

61 BenG September 21, 2011 at 3:09 pm

I think the key is always good accounting of the monthly budget. It’s true that we pay a ridiculous slice of our income toward housing now, but that’s just another fact of life if you want to own a home. I love the resourcefulness thrust of the article–it has never been more needful-and it’s a great way to bond with your spouse–working together to strategize cutting $200 out of the monthly *can* be a growth experience if you let it!

62 Stephen September 21, 2011 at 3:12 pm

@Claude, that’s really not how mental illness works. You don’t get depressed because the government won’t give you a car. It’s a serious, and often misunderstood, problem.

63 Andrew Shepherd September 21, 2011 at 6:04 pm

Reading this post was like speaking to my Granddad who passed 7 years ago, thank you for reminding me what he taught me before he went, i had forgotten on of the golden rules he taught me ” Repetition repetition repetition”

64 Todd September 21, 2011 at 6:07 pm

I think Frank and John S are on to something. Glad someone else feels the same way

65 Bryan September 21, 2011 at 8:41 pm

I could not agree more with #4. The entitlement mentality is a paralyzing disease on so many Americans.

66 Iverson September 21, 2011 at 9:25 pm

I liked the “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” part of the article. The sad part about that is we no longer can purchase products that last as long as they should. I still own and use tools from my grandfather that he had before my father was born. A wooden handle phillips head that doesnt strip at the tip is priceless.

67 Adam September 21, 2011 at 9:43 pm

I think that #4 is probably the most important point in this article. I see so many people each day that think they are entitled to a comfortable life at the expense of others. I also am a big advocate of using items until they are worn out. As well as fixing things yourself. The greatest gift my father has given me is the experience of working for/with him from the age of 15 until i was nearly thirty. I learned to tear down and rebuild diesel and gas engines, rebuild hydraulic pumps, water pumps, electrical work, general automotive repair, home repair, concrete finishing, excavating and dirt work, logging, heavy equipment operation…. The list goes on and on. He was always willing to include me in whatever he was working on. And he rarely cut me any slack.

He taught me that the only thing between me and success was a willingness to dive in and learn from my mistakes. I only hope that as my children grow up, I am able to pass on a fraction of the knowledge he has instilled in me.

68 Stephen September 21, 2011 at 10:44 pm

Doesn’t John S.’s comment actually prove the post instead of disproving it?

Grandpa was willing you give up 90% of his paycheck for his entitlement programs because he had a non-entitlement, nobody owes you anything attitude. Paradoxically enough! Folks these days whine about taxes because they think they’re entitled to keep their whole paycheck for themselves.

Nobody my age (I’m 23), well at least nobody my age who’s college-educated would want to work in a car factory, even for $20 an hour.They want to “follow their passion,” and factory work is below them. Mike Rowe had a good video about this if you haven;t seen it:


Any way you slice–entitled to keep their whole paycheck or entitled to a awesome job right out of college, this generation thinks its way more entitled than any other.

69 Wally-G September 21, 2011 at 11:03 pm

If you knew your history you’d know why people, including our founding fathers, whined about taxes Stephen. As for the entitlement thing, that sounds like the crap the communist in Washington feed us now while they steal us blind because we’re not “entitled” to it but they are.

But that’s what happens when you go through the Public Fool system and follow along with everyone else like sheep.

70 J.J. September 21, 2011 at 11:33 pm

I’m curious, Wally-G. Where did you learn to read and write the words you wrote?

71 Luis September 22, 2011 at 12:19 am

Wally-G: Really? Communist? Go look it up in a dictionary boy and then go to bed.

72 Gil September 22, 2011 at 1:19 am

If anyone knew you’re not entitled to anything for being born including life itself, it was the Spartans.

73 Cole Stinson September 22, 2011 at 6:45 am

I love this site.

@ Kate and Evan: I think you are both right, and I love the topic and civility of the discussion. I think Evan makes a good point about the dissonance between the quality of the WWII generation and the selfishness of the Boomers. His conclusion is the logical one, and although I won’t go into detail, my personal observation of my family backs that up.

On the other hand, Kate, I’ve read all the latest thinking on parenting, and I think your basic premises hold up to scrutiny. I also completely agree with your “gardeners versus sculptors” analogy. Now, if I could only live its meaning every day!! I love Gibran’s “On Parenting.” I try to let that be a personal guide.

At any rate, I love the discussion. Thank you.

74 Dave September 22, 2011 at 9:58 am

Being ‘entitled’ actually means something – it means you have an enforceable legal right to something. Deciding what people should and shouldn’t be entitled to is the job of politics. Also part of the job of politics is realising that nobody can have any entitlements if nobody is prepared to pay for them. It should also be part of democratic politics to realise that one can disagree about the level of appropriate entitlement without being either a fascist or a communist.

Unfortunately, the attitudes cultivated in the present consumer society amount to encouraging people to be fascist about others’ entitlements and communist about their own, while also being just plain dumb and blind about the real costs of playing that kind of game – in financial terms, and also in terms of wrecking the willingness of a society to work together to “promote the general welfare”: a phrase that ought to need no introduction.

75 Robert September 22, 2011 at 11:23 am

I think, though one of Mr Baker’s points is now irrelevant because of economic changes (I highly doubt you could get away with negotiating prices in a big box store), I think his others are excellent advice, especially the last bit. From believing we have the right to our entire paycheck and thinking the government and president are communists and Hitler for wanting any of it, to wanting to be a CEO and live in a McMansion right out of college, I think everyone, including the boomers and some of the Greatest Generation need a reality check. Pop culture and celebrity idolatry is at least at part at fault, but thats an entirely different issue. Thanks again for the great article Mr Baker!

76 John Waters September 22, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Great thoughts!

If just 50% of Americans embraced these attitudes and habits, our country would be transformed. If 75% adopted them, we’ll probably have a colony on Mars within 10 years. We’d be unstoppable.

77 phil September 22, 2011 at 4:47 pm

For finance tracking I’d recommend Chext. It’s SMS (text message) based finance tracking – basically just send a text message with the amount and it subtracts it from your total.
great article!

78 Old 333 September 22, 2011 at 5:35 pm

Hm! Enjoyable stuff. Money is changing, isn’t it? Perhaps soon we’ll evolve beyond it. Like, hopefully really soon, given my debt profile and income.

79 CoffeeZombie September 22, 2011 at 11:22 pm

Overall, a very good article! The discussion so far has been very interesting, as well. Just a few thoughts to add:

Another benefit that our grandparents had is that the cost of living was lower, and I don’t just mean in numbers (due to inflation since then). There’s a good chance, unless you lived on a farm (and, then, you worked out of your home), our grandparents may have only needed one car, in part, because grandpa could take the bus to work, thus leaving grandma with the car to run chores. As another example, our grandparents never had to pay a utility bill for the Internet. :-)

As to the point of resourcefulness, that’s a skill that is being killed by the very people who make our products. For example, cars “back in the day” really were built to last, and were much more user-serviceable (heck, I’ve read that there are people in Cuba still driving pre-embargo US cars that are 60+ years old).

Cars today not only are built to *not* last (planned obsolescence), but they are more and more often built specifically to make it difficult for anyone other than a mechanic at the dealership to work on them (so you can’t just go to Joe’s down the street; he likely doesn’t have the dealership-exclusive tool that is, by design, necessary to service whatever component on your car is broken).

Cars are one of the more popular examples, but other examples are all around. In fact, we’re all using one: computers. Some of us are probably using desktops, and perhaps even know enough to swap out, say, the video card when ours goes bad (or to swap out the heat-sink if that’s all that’s wrong with the card, but I digress). Others, however, may be using either desktops with a graphics card integrated into the motherboard (so you can’t swap it without replacing the whole motherboard) or laptops (you might be able to swap out a video card on a laptop, but it’s going to be a PITA even if you’re successful). Then, some of us may be reading this article on mobile devices like tablets or cell phones. Try fixing the video on that sucker that, oh yeah, is probably already obsolete, anyway.

I think Steve Jobs and Apple gave voice to this “hide the parts” trend in technology by referring to their iDevices as “magic.” I think they had a point: technology can be analyzed, picked apart, improvised, and so on. As far as even most technologically knowledgeable users are concerned, however, modern “devices” might as well be the featureless, black obelisk from the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”.

Anyway, on the point of credit cards, cash, and so on. First, you don’t have to be stuck analyzing your spending 30 days after the fact when using a card. Sign up for Mint, and connect your card, bank account, etc. There’s still going to be *some* delay for the payment to process at your bank, and then be uploaded to Mint, but it’s usually up within the day if not sooner (depending on the time of purchase). So, you can get an up-to-date view of *all accounts, cards, etc. you’ve set up in one place. In addition, Mint sends you an email every week showing how much you spent and where.

Someone also mentioned the idea that using cash helps to keep you from spending too much. Am I the only person who finds this doesn’t work? When I have cash, it tends to disappear into the ether, and I have no idea what happened to it. With a card, I have a record of every transaction. I may not know exactly what I spent $200 on at Target…but at least I know that’s where that $200 went (and, maybe, with some though, I could figure it out).

My solution to the whole dilemma is that people seem to forget about debit cards. It’s got all the benefits of a credit card (except maybe fraud protection…I’m not sure if the credit company will reimburse my bank account for fraudulent purchases…I should look into that), but it draws directly from your bank account, helping to prevent you from overspending (though overdraft fees can be a bitch).

80 Samuel September 23, 2011 at 12:35 am

This article is great, and has articulated what I have done for quite some time. Unfortunately, lots of my friends don’t see the art of being manly, but these same friends have tens of thousands of debt, no savings, no career and scared out of their mind how to pay their bills.

Like the article states, you work hard for your money but nobody owes you anything in this world. Bust your butt learning trades, be resourceful, save, negotiate, and plan. If you are your own man, act like it.

81 Greg September 23, 2011 at 12:43 pm

This is a great article. I enjoyed reading it, and I agree with the “points” that were made. I also believe in using something until it wears out, fixing things for further use, or doing without, as my grandfather and also my father were both this way, but I would also add something, and that is this, my dad told me and taught me that it isn’t an economic sin to buy something expensive, it’s an economic sin to buy something that is expensive and not use it. In other words, don’t be cheap, be smart.
Ex.) Did you really need that expensive watch you saw on T.V. that has now sat inside your watchbox for the last year, and never been worn?…Wasted money. I also truly believe the WW2 generation is and was the “Greatest Generation”, by their work ethic, their frugality, their MORALITY, and their patriotism. Kids of today for the most part, have a “me” attitude, are overweight, only interested in gaming on a computer, and expect mom and dad to purchase everything for them to keep them in the “popular” crowd. I am a father, and I instill in my daughter independence, morality, and an attitude of not being influenced by every “shiny temptation” that comes along which can drain her account. God Bless the WW2 generation, and all of the “ole grandpa’s”.

82 Paul September 24, 2011 at 8:45 am

Hi, just wanted to say loved this post and have enjoyed AoM from this side of the pond in the UK for a long while now!
The ‘you deserve nothing’ quote resonates with me as an old saying I got from my dad and grandad was ‘you deserve nothing, but earn everything’. I think if more people, especially my age (25), took this attitude the world would be a little bit better. Less debt means less worry, less worry means more time to enjoy life to the fullest.

Any way great post and cannot wait for the next one, keep up the good work!

83 Big Roy September 27, 2011 at 4:03 pm

My Dad had a similar phrase to your “you deserve nothing” which he used many times with me and my brothers when we were growing up: “The world doesn’t owe you a living.”

84 Horse September 27, 2011 at 7:05 pm

I am glad you mentioned the “you deserve nothing” I also want to mention that you are never too good for something. I have met very few people who were (though they thought) too good for a job. I went from computer engineer to cleaning out horse stalls in change for sleeping in the barn and some food. I learned to weld, do plumbing, mechanical, electrical you name it. I put my white collar back on but economy crashed and I am back to farm work using the skills I learned from the first job. So many are too good to get their hands dirty. Never met nobody that was too good to dig a ditch.

85 Kevin September 28, 2011 at 2:19 pm

I am 36 years old and was very close to my grandfather growing up. He was born in 1920, served in the Navy during World War II, and worked for the railroad from the time he was discharged until his retirement. Recently I started researching my family tree and discovered that my grandfather only had an 8th grade education and never attended high school. I was floored by this information because he never shared this with me while he was alive. I also learned that my grandmother dropped out of high school during her senior year. My grandmother and grandfather both lived long productive lives despite their lack of formal education and raised two sons (my dad and uncle) and owned a nice house in the suburbs. As a kid I always wondered why my grandfather had so many “old” things in his basement and garage. Why they didn’t have a big TV or alot of “stuff”. As an adult I finally get it! They truly did buy only what they needed and used what they had until it couldn’t be used up anymore. Some say cheap, some say thrifty, but I say smart. They both died in the nice home they shared together with no debt. We are flooded with so many advertisments to buy, buy, buy the latest and greatest things…at 36 I’m finally starting to realize that more stuff does not equal more happiness.

86 Dillon September 28, 2011 at 10:43 pm

I must say it is comforting to here the “you deserve nothing” phrase from many people. Far too many people live by the contrary today. My grandparents spent most of their middle years fleeing Russia to Germany then back to Eastern Russia during the 30′s and 40′s, while somehow giving birth to my father in 1944 Poland. They had overcome extreme adversity just to get here with nothing in the early 50′s. And I must say I feel at a disconnect with many others my age, as I am currently college age, because I was raised by my father and grandfather, and my father during his later years. They are not the typical role models and parents of today’s 22 year old men. I was influenced as a young American today by vastly different principles, mostly of generations past, than many of my peers, and I am thankful to have such unique influence, many of such attributes as mentioned above.

Great article!

87 Diocletian October 1, 2011 at 2:11 am

You asserted:
“From believing we have the right to our entire paycheck and thinking the government and president are communists and Hitler for wanting any of it, to wanting to be a CEO and live in a McMansion right out of college, I think everyone, including the boomers and some of the Greatest Generation need a reality check.”

Precisely how am I in need of a “reality check” by asserting my right to keep every cent of income that I earn by my own brains and productive effort in free and voluntary trade with others, and rightly denying the government’s and other people’s “entitlement” to any amount of my income or other assets that the government sees fit to expropriate from me via coercive taxation so that the loot may be redistributed to the government or to its designated recipients in the form of welfare schemes, loans, grants, subsidies, or bailouts ?

I would love to read your logical, rational, factually-based argument that unanswerably refutes my right to the exclusive ownership and enjoyment and discretionary use of all of my income and other property. I’ve heard and refuted them all, so it will be entertaining to me to see if you are ingenious enough to formulate an attempt at refuting my property rights that I have never encountered before.

In order to get your argument off the ground, you must first prove that I am a slave, obliged to live as the means to your personal ends or the ends of others or their representatives in government.

Slavery violates every one of one’s legitimate rights to one’s own life, personal liberty, private property, freedom of association and contract, and pursuit of happiness, so you must start your argument by first making a solid case that factually proves a “right” to enslave, or a “right” to violate legitimate rights, a “right” that supercedes those rights.

Incidentally, communism, like fascism and socialism, are political philosophies that are all squarely based upon the unconditional repudiation and denial of private property rights, and by logical extension, all other legitimate rights, for without property rights, one does not have the means to physically implement the others. That denial is what they all essentially have in common. They merely express it in different forms, either forcing the individual to sacrifice himself to the state (fascism), or to the state via “the people” (communism). As a result of the statist indoctrination that you and millions of so-called Americans received in public schools, you have taken the “general welfare” phrase in the Constitution and have turned it on its head, giving it a collectivistic/communistic twist completely antithetical to the Founders’ meaning by interpreting it to refer to a “general welfare state” that the government is to establish and maintain–at everyone’s forced expense–for the “benefit” of all. You all are grossly mistaken and need an education about this country’s founding political philosophy, and so do practically all of those people you send to Washington to represent you.

88 ngdoms October 1, 2011 at 11:08 am


because you don’t live in a magical bubble that allows you to have clean water, roads to drive on, electricity, safe food, safe neighborhoods, etc. etc. etc. Unless you think the private sector will magically get you there on their own free will instead of charging you out the ass for it, then by all means, please explain to me how this would work. Go live in the middle of the damn woods if you don’t want people taking any of your hard earned cash.

problem with you people is that you think every government program is a scam because a very small percentage of people may be abusing the system. So instead of trying to deal with the abuses on a case by case basis or attack the systemic problem at its core (corporate money) you just want to abolish every government program until they are operating out of a box on 1600 penn ave.

seriously…where do you think the internet came from that now allows you to spout some nonsense? you are a hypocrite, get offline and cut yourself off from the world and leave the rest of us realists alone because you are def not living in the real world.

89 gambit293 October 2, 2011 at 1:14 am

Although I’m grateful that the finance tips offered by the author aren’t quite as predictable as most self-help financial articles (save, buy low, sell high, etc.), I tend to agree with the skeptics who point out how different the world is today from when “grandpa” was making his living.

But I’d like to offer one tip that I don’t see discussed very often on financial advice sites: become a critical consumer. I don’t mean develop a taste for what truly good wine is, or read up on reviews and reliability before buying a new car, though that’s certainly part of it. I mean develop a skeptical eye towards everything that society is hawking at you to buy. Usually if you pause to think, you’ll realize that the item you covet is a) something you certainly don’t need and b) actually something you barely want.

As early as I can recall, I’ve always been skeptical of tv commercials. Who cares if the cereal is for kids, not rabbits? So many ads seemed stupid and irrelevant. Always be wary of pitches, ads, and deals that seem too good to be true.

It helps if you think back to the earlier stages in your life when you were constantly moving every other year– college, first job after college and so on. Remember what a pain in the ass it was hauling all that junk on every move? And yes, a lot of it truly is JUNK. What were you thinking when you bought that junk? Remember that feeling. Wrap it around your finger and consider it everytime you touch your wallet.

90 Max Monastyrev October 2, 2011 at 5:41 am

My Grandfather survived the Gulags, my Grandmother survived the Nazis, there is nothing more Epic than that…we’re talking about the brutal early years of Soviet Russia (not that it stopped being so, though I believe that it was a lot better after bloody Stalin and his right-hand lunatic!). If they can do it, I can certainly achieve the highest in life, no doubt, no doubt at all, after all…


91 Aaron October 4, 2011 at 8:40 pm

“I think that pretty much no-one would argue that everyone the world over deserves food, clothing and shelter for instance?”

This proposition is absolutely arguable, and I shall proceed to do so.

If we can provide food, clothing, and shelter for everyone the world over, then I think we absolutely should. Nothing would better prove we have attained genuine civilization, I think, than that we should be able honestly to say that not a single member of our species is forced to go hungry, naked, and exposed.

But to argue that everyone deserves such basic necessities is to argue that, somewhere in the universe, there is an ordination of things which has decreed that, for every member of the species Homo sapiens, there is an inalienable birthright to a sufficiency of food, clothing, and shelter, and should any particular member of the species want for any of those things, then it is an indictment of the entire species and a failure on its part to live up to the requirements ordained for it.

Traditionalists refer to this ordination of things as having been performed by God. Progressives certainly don’t talk about it in those terms, but prefer instead to take the more deist approach of arguing that the ineffable and majestic rules by which existence operates not only exist, happen to work out to exactly the same result. (“The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”) No unambiguous evidence exists in support of either formulation.

That being the case, one is forced to conclude that, if the universe operates by any rule at all, it is the one most succinctly expressed as “Root, hog, or die!” (Or, if you prefer a more overtly traditionalist interpretation: “By the sweat of thy brow shalt thou earn thy daily bread.”)

I like to hope that our species will someday contrive to overturn this apparently ineluctable fact of human existence. I’m not optimistic on the subject, mind you, but I cherish the hope nonetheless. Even if we do someday manage it, though, “deserve” doesn’t enter into it, and the more we go around convincing ourselves and one another that it does, the less able we’ll be to deal with the fact that it doesn’t.

On a more topical note, I’ve found keeping a pocket notebook to be much simplified by having acquired the habit of keeping a writing utensil in my shirt pocket, where it’s always ready to hand. I also use a drugstore-brand spiral-bound notebook, small enough to tuck in a back pocket, with a binder clip to keep it open to the page I’m using. I chose these implements with malice aforethought; with them, it takes me about three seconds to go from a standing start to taking notes — which is one of those things that only sounds silly until you notice how incredibly useful it is. It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that, and in fact for most purposes it’s better off not being any more complicated than that; the simpler something is, after all, the easier it is to acquire as a habit, and if it takes ten seconds of fumbling to get ready to write then you’re never going to do it anyway.)

92 Aaron October 4, 2011 at 11:45 pm

[If you want to argue the political points I made in my last comment, please don't do it in this thread; do it here instead, where it won't be a nuisance. Thanks!]

93 Ryan S October 6, 2011 at 12:46 am

@Robert Weedall

I agree that we “deserve” our Rights as defined in the constitution. That being said, I strongly disagree with deserving food and shelter. While those are required to survive, we still work for them. Anything deserved are things we are born with: life, liberty, and the persuit of happiness are such things that a man has inherently. Food and shelter is something a man labors for, either under the sweat of his own brow or for a means with which to pay for it. The same can be said in the Health Care debate, stating that someone deserves healthcare is entirely different than someone saying that they need health care.

94 Ryan S October 6, 2011 at 12:47 am

Aaron, my apologies, I didn’t read your last post until after posting mine.

95 Shane October 7, 2011 at 12:44 pm

One thing that really makes me mad when older generations complain about the younger generation just expect everything, is that the parents who are part of that older generation just gave the younger generation whatever they wanted as they were growing up. Many of the Baby Boomers just don’t want their kids to be unhappy, so they just give them whatever they ask for. And they are the ones who are running all these big businesses telling the younger generation that they deserve whatever product they are selling through their marketing. If you just give kids whatever they want, and then tell them that they deserve nothing when they are about to enter the real world, what do you honestly expect their reaction to be? The blame has to go both ways.

96 Jim Pettorini October 8, 2011 at 2:43 pm

A favorite memory of my grandfathers is they never complained. The did what they had to do. They did not point the finger of blame at someone else for their own situation. They managed their money, raised families, fought wars and were upstanding, law-abiding, tax-paying, voting Americans. And they were proud to be. Their memory stands as a constant reminder of what it means to be a man, in any generation. Thank God for them!

97 joel October 9, 2011 at 3:05 am

Hey Guys

I found the art of manliness site by accident a few months ago and love it!! This post is so true and like everyone else I think the attitude of our grandfathers generation is summed up by the mentality of “hard work” and “you deserve nothing”. In our generation of credit cards and multi media advertising it’s easy to fall into the trap of ” I want, I want, I want” mentality and spiralling into debt. We can learn so much from our parents and Grandparents and we need to be examples for our kids!!.

98 Diocletian October 9, 2011 at 11:04 am


you said:

“because you don’t live in a magical bubble that allows you to have clean water, roads to drive on, electricity, safe food, safe neighborhoods, etc. etc. etc. Unless you think the private sector will magically get you there on their own free will instead of charging you out the ass for it, then by all means, please explain to me how this would work.

It would work as the provision of any other good or service for sale in the private sector works: entrepreneurs, motivated by profit made possible to earn by consumer demand, build and maintain clean water, roads, safe food, electricity, neighborhood security, etc. etc. to consumers who value and desire them in exchange for proper (market-determined) payment. No one creates goods and services of “their own free will”, that is, free of charge. You are to pay for them, and yes, “out the ass” if you want top-quality goods and services. You are not entitled to these things for free. It sounds as if you believe that you are. If so, YOU are the one in need of a reality check. You certainly pay “out the ass” for things that the public sector “provides” in the form of coercive taxation. The fundamental and important difference is that when the government “provides” something, you are forced to pay for it whether you use/consume it or not. With a private-sector good/service, you are free to choose whether you will purchase it or not, and if you do not, you still have your cash available to purchase something else instead; or, if you are unsatisfied, you can take your business to another private-sector competitor.

You have had the false premise that “only the government can efficiently and cost-effectively provide roads, safe food and water, utilities, roads, security, etc., etc. pounded into your head since you were a child, and like a religious belief, you never once dared to allow yourself to think independently and critically examine that premise and consider a private sector alternative would (and can) work to produce and provide those things.
You said:

“problem with you people is that you think every government program is a scam because a very small percentage of people may be abusing the system. So instead of trying to deal with the abuses on a case by case basis or attack the systemic problem at its core (corporate money) you just want to abolish every government program until they are operating out of a box on 1600 penn ave.”

My position is that government welfare schemes are worse than scams because (1) they are forcibly funded. THAT’S the systemic problem, not “corporate money”, and that is what makes them all fundamentally immoral and unjust–to say nothing of their being unconstitutional (2) they explicitly, undeniably, encourage the development of a dependent/entitlement mentality. THAT is far a greater abuse experienced by every participant of every one of those schemes that far surpasses the abuses to those programs by people gaming them. (3) there is no real accountability, which facilitates the abuses that you speak of, perpetrated mainly by those who staff these programs, or channel people to them (social workers) because the funding is presumed to be limitless due to the government’s ability to print more paper dollars and impose coercive taxes to fund them. Those are just a few of the realities underlying those programs. Before the welfare state and the coercive taxes imposed to fund it were implemented, gross incomes were higher, the dollar was backed by silver and gold and consequently had higher purchasing power, so family members, private, voluntarily local charities and philanthropic agencies, etc., coupled with individual acts of generosity, were able to amply provide for unemployed, indigent, elderly, or infirm individuals. No “box on 1600 penn. ave.” was required. They were implemented and voluntarily financially supported by generous, benevolent individuals in accordance with their own personal standards of giving and their own private property rights.

You said:

“seriously…where do you think the internet came from…?

It’s intellectual “founding father” was J.C.R. Licklider, a computer scientist at MIT, a private research university. Although the government has been involved with the internet throughout its development, the internet was not created by the government, and the internet we know and use today is largely the result of private sector efforts. Check its history for yourself. So much for your accusation of my being a hypocrite.

99 barter411 October 14, 2011 at 11:34 am

I like the part how grandpa lived leanly, saved, and was grateful for what he had; How staying out of debt was a matter of independence, pride, and self-reliance, and reflected on a man’s character.

Hard as it is, LBYM (living BELOW your means) should be a goal that propels us to make whatever change is needed. If we have to rip the phone and cable TV out of the wall to get there then that is what we do.

100 Marguerite October 19, 2011 at 10:03 pm

It is rather off-topic, but my husband’s uncle (from India) took the negotiating part a bit too far… rather amusing to see him trying to negotiate prices with the sales clerk at Macy’s!

(More on-topic, it sounds like my mother: “why buy something you can’t afford?” “why spend money you don’t have?” — good advice!)

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