A lesson from Uncle Marshall


My family roots are in the dairy farm country of Central Pennsylvania.  My grandfather and four of my uncles were dairy farmers.  Uncle Marshall was one of them.  He also drove the “milk truck” which picked up the milk from the other farms in the area and delivered it to the local dairy.

As if that wasn’t enough work, he was also a part time janitor at the local high school.  Uncle Marshall worked hard and lived a simple life.

I spent a good part of my childhood summers at my grandfather’s farm.  I would see Uncle Marshall every day when he stopped to pick up the milk.  Often, he would invite me to ride with him as he drove his milk route and delivered milk to the dairy.

I cherished my time in the cab of Uncle Marshall’s truck. He loved to sing, tell stories and jokes and laugh as we drove from farm to farm.  Every once in a while he would slip in some wisdom. 

One day he asked, “If you find yourself in a hole, what’s the most important thing to do?”

“I don’t know,” I replied.

“Stop digging!” he said right before he went into one of his belly laughs.

While at the time I thought this was just another one of Marshall’s jokes, I realized later in life what a wonderful bit of wisdom he had shared, especially when it comes to debt.

If you have put yourself in a financial hole, the most important thing to do is stop digging (spending).  Living within your means is a crucial step in developing a sound financial plan. If debt reduction or maybe even being debt free is of interest to you, here are three things to ponder and possibly change in your life.

Want to vs. have to

When do you do things with the most energy and enthusiasm: when you “have to” or when you “want to”? Many people recognize that they function at their best when they are doing something because they want to.  Do you tell yourself you want to get out of debt or you have to get out of debt?  Your attitude toward debt and the possible solutions can either help or hinder you in your efforts.  What are you saying to yourself about your debt situation?

Stay out of the store, or off the website

Anytime you “go shopping”, whether online or in a store, you are being attacked by marketers who want you to buy their wares.  They are very good at what they do.  If you are guilty of unplanned purchases, stop exposing yourself to those who are trying to get you to spend your money.

Watch out for the coupon or sale trap

Using coupons or taking advantage of a sale is great if you were going to make that purchase anyway.  When it isn’t great is when you are induced into making a purchase you weren’t going to make.  I typically don’t use coupons, but about 9 months ago I grabbed the grocery store coupons from the Sunday paper and went shopping.  One of the coupon items was a two pack of pie crusts.  I like to eat pie, but I am not a pie maker; still, it was such a great deal so I bought them.  They are still sitting in my refrigerator, and I am sure they need to be thrown away.  Even though I saved money on the pie crusts, it was wasted money and an unnecessary expense.  Saving money means making a deposit, not using a coupon.

My Uncle Marshall didn’t have much, but he lived a very happy life.  He knew that happiness doesn’t come from our “stuff.” He taught me a lot about life — and whether he knew it or not, something about personal finance, too.

Thanks, Uncle Marshall.

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