Money and Parental Influence

Last week I mentioned in my blog that my father had worried that I might be a spendthrift, based on my behavior towards money as a child. (I was not.) His interest in managing money well came right out of both of my parents’ life stories.

Both grew up in coal-mining families near Manchester, England, well acquainted with grinding poverty. Even after coming to Canada at about age 20, they initially lived close to destitution, despite being very hard workers.

During the Great Depression they did not have to appeal to the government for what was then called Relief, nor did they need to turn to the soup kitchens of the day. Instead, with a plot of land on which to grow vegetables, they relied on their own hard work and resourcefulness to stay a step ahead of hunger.

Though they didn’t rise above real poverty until in their thirties, they were never poor-minded. Even when impoverished through no fault of their own, they were the proud working poor who would be horrified to think someone else should provide for them. They were not paupers.  

My father stood 5’4” and my mother was about 4’11.” As homesteading immigrants from England to the harsh prairies of Western Canada, they had no savings to fall back on, and no family to rescue them. They knew that if they were ever to come to a place of basic financial security it would be by their own ingenuity and hard work.

They were not complainers, but occasionally they gave us glimpses into how exacting their pioneering life had been. Once my mother spoke of a time of drought early in their days in Canada when she walked three miles across the prairies to the nearest neighbor to exchange a few turnips for a few carrots so there could be some variety in their diet. All of this helps me to understand why they lived so carefully right up to the end of their lives.

In the summer of 1929, about 25 years after their arrival in Canada, and now approximately 45 years old, my parents moved from their small plot of land into Estevan, three miles to the north, and bought a stucco bungalow at the corner of Third Street and Souris Avenue. This was a part of my father’s long-range plan to become a merchant. He had already built a small bakery on Main Street, and my older brother, Wilf, had left school at age 15 to take a crash course with a baker on Fifth Street.

But only months later, the Christmas season of 1929 turned joyless with the infamous stock market crash in November of that year that ushered in the Great Depression. The situation was complicated by the serious drought that turned some parts of the province into what was called a dust bowl. That decade was often referred to as the Dirty Thirties. 

I was four that Christmas and there were no presents. One of my earliest memories is of the pall that seemed to rest on the family during that season. I learned later as an adult that my parents had feared they were going to lose the house, which in fact they soon did. And the bakery was under a similar threat. 

To face this crisis my father rented a vacant store up the street from the bakery. There he started a second-hand store. His hope was to make extra income to save the bakery.

Eventually, the store evolved into a furniture exchange. The bakery also slowly evolved into a small grocery store. But they never lost an awareness that poverty might return at any time. They never ceased to be frugal.

I review this family history because I know that in ways both conscious and subconscious it influenced my psyche. Kathleen’s story also includes a beginning in near-poverty; she and I are together careful with money but not as frugal as my parents were.

My father’s primary financial counsel was that one should always put a little aside for “a rainy day.” Five years into our marriage for the first time we had a fixed though modest income as a student pastor in Lexington, Kentucky. We then took this advice seriously and began a lifelong practice of saving something, however small that amount might be. Three years later, at our first church after seminary I remember committing to save $22 a month.

I wonder now if our parents’ history and example were training that made it easier for us to answer the call to pastoral ministry. Training in how to live modestly and to stretch a dollar takes away a distraction that might impede a life of ministry. I don’t recall ever asking a church we were going to serve what the salary would be. 

At the same time, how could Kathleen and I have guessed that from our humble but hard-working beginnings a calling to the pastorate would place us in fields of service both in Canada and the United States, and for brief periods in several other countries of the world? And we are indeed thankful to be in retirement years, living carefully but without financial worries and able to give some of our means even now to the Kingdom.

Photo credit: (via theritters flickr.com)

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2 thoughts on “Money and Parental Influence

  1. Very interesting Pastor Don and in many ways a parallel with my own experience. If we had not been frugal before, our marriage, while I was a student in grade 13 and Lorraine was a poorly-paid insurance clerk, forced it upon us. I don’t know how we thought that we could go to university with a small baby, no furniture and a nest-egg of $300, but we did, graduating 3 years later with 2 rooms of furniture, a second baby and a car. Our first 3 pastorates did not enrich us any and, indeed, challenged our faith. The upshot is that we too have been able to save more money, thanks to Lorraine’s careful management, than I ever imagined; our whole family borrows from us, and because Lorraine has always managed our money, the family refers to her as “the Bank of Lorraine.”

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