The best FIRE gift I could have given my father

by J. Money - Published June 21, 2019

local pub

[Happy Friday! Please enjoy this guest article today from fellow reader, and blogger, BC from FrugalWheels.com. I only hope my own sons will give me such a beautiful gift like this come Father’s Day 2035! ;) Congrats on the epiphany, BC!]

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My gift to my old man whenever a special occasion comes along is almost always a book. I read a lot, and he does too, and every so often I come across a book that I check out from the library that I know he will be fascinated by. As a writer myself, I like that I am spending gift money on supporting authors.

This year was no exception (other than the book arrived in the mail a day late – shame on me for not going to my usual local book store). But this year I gave him something better – the best gift I think a son can give his father.

I told him he was right.

I’ll explain. My dad, brother-in-law and nephew took a walk down to the pub on Father’s Day. We’d be having dinner with the rest of the family later, but this was a little side outing, just for the boys. My dad and I are very different people in a lot of ways, and we always struggled to connect. I’m a professional writer and photographer; my dad was an assessment specialist for the state. My dad’s primary concern was finding a job he could retire comfortably while supporting a family; I took the long weird road because I needed a job that matters and took advantage of my creativity and challenged me. We fought tooth and nail when I was young, my old man was pretty strict and harsh, and though as I grew older we buried all hatchets and get along now, we didn’t really connect on much.

Until I found FIRE. I started reading Mr. Money Mustache and later Budgets are Sexy (Shout out, J$!), and realized that saving and investing could help me buy my freedom. I diligently read all I could and cut expenses. Though my pay as a writer started off low, it’s gone up as my colleagues leave the business and my value has increased with my skill. The side gigs I get with photography make for a lucrative side hustle on top. As I developed my FIRE muscles, it started to really dawn on me. Oh $hit. My old man’s been telling me this all along!

My dad is sort of an OG of FIRE. He figured out the mechanics of FIRE well before a movement came along. Though he chose to work until 55 to get full advantage of his pension, he could have left earlier if needed. He is definitely what FIRE folks would call FatFIRE. I won’t go into too much detail, but let’s just say he’s pretty well set.

My dad lights up now when I bring up finances, and my current ideas, progress, plans. He asks me a lot about these new-fangled things, like Wealthfront and cryptocurrencies. It’s given us something to connect with, along with our love of reading history books and our love of bicycles.

So as we talked money, I was cognizant of my nephew’s presence. He’d just graduated high school and I hoped he would pick up some of what we were talking about, thinking it more effective than talking to him directly. My dad talked about starting early. I mentioned that while I was happy with my progress, I wished I’d started at my nephew’s age. If I had, I might be FIRE’d today. I looked my dad straight in the eye and said, “I should have listened to you – you were right about investing.”

Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but the look in his eyes told me everything. He was nearly speechless.

I really do owe a lot to the old man’s frugality. We always lived below our means. It made it much easier to adopt a FIRE mindset. Coming from a frugal background, and having lived on tiny amounts of money and survived as a young adult, made living a FIRE lifestyle a breeze. It was just about being conscious of spending. It took thought, but it wasn’t painful.

Last year I got a pretty sizable raise, mostly because I would be doing two people’s jobs. My parents had taken me out to lunch for my birthday, and upon learning this my dad had some advice. “Make sure you’re saving at least 15%.” I laughed. “Dad, I’m saving 50%.” The look on his face was priceless.

But not quite the same as when I told him I wished I’d listened to him earlier. I think for Father’s Day, it’s something that will mean more to him than some book I bought.

If you’re curious, BTW, the book I bought is Surprise, Kill, Vanish by Annie Jacobsen. It’s basically about the entire CIA’s history with more inside info from legendary CIA operatives than anything I have ever seen, and as a journalist myself I am jealous of her impressive sourcing. I heard her on the Joe Rogan podcast and I had to check it out of the library.

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BC is the brains behind FrugalWheels.com, a blog about biking and pursuing financial independence in a small (cold) town. FIRE isn’t just for software engineers living in Colorado – it’s achievable for people with lower incomes too!

[EDITOR’S NOTE: If someone in your life has been sharing the good financial word with you over the years, be sure to thank them this weekend! You don’t need a special day to do it! ;)]

// Link to book above is an Amazon affiliate link

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Suz June 21, 2019 at 9:33 am

I love this story. Because of my father’s advice and modeling behavior, my 2 siblings and I are all second generation FatFI. I did thank him repeatedly for starting us on this path and I knew he was appreciative and glad he had played such an important role in our lives. He’s gone now, but I still find myself thanking him out loud many times. His principles and methods that he shared and showed us are being passed down to our children as well. I have no doubt he will spur 3rd generation FI. He’d be thrilled…and honored…to know that!

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2 Suz June 21, 2019 at 9:36 am

And. Side bar: I also credit my father for my love of coins and paper currency. We accompanied him on numerous trips to coin shows growing up. I was the only child who carried that obsession into adulthood. :)

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3 B.C. Kowalski June 21, 2019 at 10:21 am

That’s awesome Suz! Thanks so much! It’s funny to me that FIRE is what brought me back to some of the things he tried to teach me when I was young. FIRE wasn’t too hard for me when I found it because a lot of the values were there already, because of the old man (but I wasn’t saving much).

A story that always stuck out early on involved sneakers — it was the late 80s and all the kids had Nike Airs or fancy reeboks or whatnot – and I had Kmart shoes. Kids want to fit in, and with some Christmas money in hand I was determined to buy some of these overpriced shoes. My frugal dad thought it was ridiculous but took me to a mall store to buy them.

I found the pair I wanted, and my dad said “OK, this is your money, and if you want to buy them, you can. But first we’re going to take care of these other errands and you’re going to think about it before we come back.” Duh, of course I was going to buy the shoes, right? Nope. By the time I got back, I realized it was kind of silly to spend that much on shoes. My mom and grandma thought my dad told me no, but I insisted it was my decision. That one has always stuck with me; I almost never buy anything on a whim, and definitely not since I started on FIRE.

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4 J. Money June 21, 2019 at 10:58 am

Haha… I remember those days too :)

Except for me it was Payless shoes! I had to beg my parents to get me Nikes even if they were the cheapest most basic model they could find, and boy did they sure find those haha… Best $29.99 they ever spent in those days, at least to my 6th grade self ;)

Suz: Your dad sounds amazing!! Especially that hobby of his ;)

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5 B.C. Kowalski June 21, 2019 at 12:21 pm

Nice! Yeah, the funny thing is I do wear shoes like that now – my sister works for an online shoe company based here in IceTown so I get crazy good deals. I got a pair of Nikes for $20!

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6 Liberty @ Love Liberty Shelter June 21, 2019 at 4:52 pm

Love this! Thinking about how we hope to bless our kids with financial knowledge, backed up with walking the walk, make the hard road toward FIRE worth it.

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7 B.C. Kowalski June 22, 2019 at 11:03 am

Thanks Liberty! I’m now trying to pass this on to my niece and nephew, hopefully leading by example. My dad’s lessons stuck in there somewhere, but it took reading MMM and BAS and others to reconnect me to them. But the core was there, thanks to the now happily retired old man haha

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8 LeeAnne June 22, 2019 at 7:57 am

Great story -thanks for sharing. You were lucky you grew up with a parent (or parents) who were financially savvy. I wasn’t as fortunate- and it took me a bit longer to catch on to being smarter with my money. Luckily I tripped across J’s blog right when I was really ready to be smarter about saving and planning for retirement- I was partially there but the blog was the kick in the butt I needed to really look at it and be more actively involved in it. You mention in your post and I agree – the lightbulb can go on at any time and you can really make a difference in your life financially, even if you didn’t get a lot of guidance/direction from your parents growing up. (Actually, when I reflect back, mine have shown me a few things not to do!). Congrats on your journey and accomplishments!

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9 B.C. Kowalski June 22, 2019 at 11:08 am

Thanks LeeAnne! You’re definitely right – the light comes on at different ages for different people. It took me awhile. I haven’t always had the closest relationship with my dad and we don’t always see eye to eye on things but the more I started down the path to FIRE the more we connected. MMM and later BAS were the kicks in the butt I needed, I think because they were a different way of looking at this stuff that I responded to – less of “this is the correct adult thing to do” and more to a rebellious “stick it to the man” way of thinking that’s more likely to get excited about this stuff. I’m glad you liked the post and thanks for reading! I’m honored J Money allowed me to share it on here.

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