Three Lessons Learned on the Red Clay of Kay County

Many moons ago, my grandpa and I would go fishing in our downtime. We were fishing when I was not mowing his yard, cleaning gutters, helping move an antique dresser, eating breakfast at McDonald’s with him and buddies, or cleaning out one of his buildings. Growing up, we spent a lot of time together. In August of 1999 I moved from Oklahoma to Minnesota. It’s a decision I am thankful for but losing the proximity to family and friends did make it challenging, especially early on.

Every young person needs a mentor; for me that person was Robert K. Smith. He joined the Army in October 1946 and served in the 32nd infantry regiment in Seoul, Korea. He remained there for 15 months. He was a light truck driver and hauled supplies across the 38th parallel. The decorations he obtained were the Bronze Star Medal, WWII Victory Medal, Army of Occupation Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, Honorable Service Lapel button WWII, and the Sharpshooter Badge with rifle bar.

In March 1948 he was honorably discharged and returned to the plains where he met Mildred (my grandma). At the time he worked for his aunt and uncle building mattresses. In 1953 he opened a furniture restoration shop and in 1974 purchased a furniture store. This was the birth of the family business Smith Home Furnishings.

The frequency of fishing increased when I would return from Minnesota to Oklahoma. Purposeful conversation took place on the banks of the Chikaskia River, Lake Ponca, and Kaw Lake. It seems like yesterday that he would offer advice about popping the school bully between the eyes on the playground, how work never hurt a person, and if a cup of coffee cost more than $.50 it was too much. He has been gone for nearly 7 years but the wisdom bestowed has been archived.

There is one August day I will never forget. On this steamy morning we decided to catfish in a pond owned by cousins (mom’s side) outside Tonkawa, OK. We drove 20 minutes west on the back roads of Kay County. An approaching vehicle ahead would make a red hued smog that would make driving virtually impossible until we passed. When we arrived, we opened a steel gate and drove down to the pond. We got out of his F-150, walked to the pond, and sat our tackle on the south side of the water. After getting our rigs set we began hitting nice sized catfish (5-10 lbs). Then we moved to the west side of the pond which required walking through cattails. Soon after, a cottonmouth water moccasin slithered by us. We acknowledged it’s presence and continued fishing. About a minute later we noticed big snakes, small snakes, fat snakes, and skinny snakes swimming towards shore. We had encroached a snake nest on the banks of the pond. He found this episode comical but I had requested to leave. We only had one problem; we had to get the tackle on the south side. This required walking through knee high cattails which coincidentally was the snake nest. His preferred method to “scare” the snakes was to take his fishing pole and swish it through the brush and briskly walk through. Needless to say, he carried the tackle back to the truck.

He passed away in 2010; it was a sad time for our family. We knew he was in an awesome place but selfishly knew his absence would leave a void in our lives. I miss our conversations and he was always my phone a friend when I was in a bind. For today’s post I have decided to write about the three most valuable pieces of advice he provided to me during our 30 years together.

Marry someone who shares a similar value system and life goals

Marriage is not temporary! It is important to spend the rest of your life with someone who shares the same concept of life. I am no expert but have been married 11 years. Regardless of how much you love your spouse there will be occasional disagreements.

Honesty, hard work, and discipline were three values I learned from grandpa. I believe his faith in God and acting it out is why those three values were most apparent in him. Have you stepped in Barnes and Noble and seen the self-help section? It. Is. Huge! How to win friends, 7 habits of highly effective people, the power of positive living, Women who love too much, I could go on forever. Our philosophy has always been to rely on one self-help book which instructs on raising children, contentment, confusion, discipline, excuses, failure, fear, setting goals, gratitude, grief, hope, integrity, occupation, justice, lying, money, marriage, rejection, sex, and temptation. This book can be purchased for $20 and the title is simple: Bible.

Religion, giving, saving, budgeting, kids, retirement, intimacy, politics, and the past can be relationship killers. I am not advocating you spend the rest of your life with someone who views each of these just like you but you better be on the same page and accept each others thoughts and feelings. The key is communication.

Spend less than you make

The fictional character Wilkins M. from the Dicken’s novel David Copperfield said the following, “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery”. Grandpa said it this way, “Make sure to spend less than you earn.”

You cannot out earn your stupidity and it is critical to live below your means. Have you ever wondered why so many professional athletes or friends who pull large incomes struggle with finances? It is because they do not budget, cannot out earn their stupidity, and are unable to delay gratification! They want what mom and dad have and they want it right now even if it took mom and dad 60 years to get it. They also want what all their broke friends have; status symbols.

One of my favorite personal finance books is written by the late Dr. Thomas Stanley called The Millionaire Next Door. The book is a summary of his study on traits of PAWs (Prodigious Accumulators of Wealth) and UAWs (Under Accumulators of Wealth). Stanley’s main point was PAWs did (3) things:

– Spend less than you earn

– Avoid buying status objects

– Take risk if it bears reward

It is not how much you make, it is how much you spend!

Help others

Grandpa was always willing to help people. Throughout my life I watched as he gave money, time, loaned his van to a friend who needed it for a medical appointment, and how selfless he was volunteering at the Lions Club, funeral dinner committee at church, and Tippers Club.

Billy Graham says, “Give me five minutes with a person’s checkbook, and I will tell you where their heart is.” Get In the Green was not created to boost your status. It is not about showing people up. Rather, it is about strengthening relationships, career autonomy (i.e. not being married to your job because you are broke), and making a difference in the world. If your income is transferred to Visa, ACS, Wells Fargo, BMW Financial, and Chase then how can you make an impact?

Now I will get a little political. I have heard the argument that federal, state, and local governments are designed to care for their own. My rebuttal is the federal government is $20 trillion in debt, there are 15 states slated for budget deficits in 2016 and 2017, and local government does not have the robust financial architecture to make the full impact. My point is there is no more efficient way to direct resources than by your doing.

We are all complex beings, having complex pasts, with causes and organizations that resonate with our being. Would you consider trying to do a little more this year to help others? This could be donating money, time, or simply saying a prayer for someone or something who needs help.

This article could have stirred up memories about someone special in your life. Maybe you have fond memories of a grandparent like Robert K. Smith. We would love to hear about the individuals who have molded you and the wisdom you have learned from them.