I do remember the movie ET coming out in 1982, and I confirmed via Google that Michael Jackson’s Thriller album was first released. In 1982, I completed my freshman year in high school! Late during my freshman year, I finally realized how important grades were to the college selection process, the college scholarship process, and ultimately my career. I’m pretty sure that my freshman year was the last time I got a B until my second year of graduate school. You can say I was very driven to be the best I could be at everything I tried, because I found personally and from watching others that good things happen to those that are committed to excellence. My grandpa used to say, “make your own luck!”

I’m pretty sure it was around this time that something that had a great impact on my life happened. One night I was up late, and I walked into the kitchen and my Mom had notebook out with a lot of numbers printed on it. I asked what I thought was an innocent question, and my Mom said it was the “budget.” Thankfully, my Mom spent a lot of time with me explaining what a budget was, what all the categories were, why the amounts were what they were, and most importantly answering a slew of my questions.

Needless to say I learned a WHOLE lot in a little time. I learned that after taxes we didn’t have a lot of money to spend since my Dad was the only one working at the time, I learned that paying for our house and keeping it running costs a lot of money and food for a family of 8 costs a lot of money! I quickly appreciated why I rarely had new clothes, the latest toys, and why our big vacations every year were camping. I also learned why we rarely ate out as a family (one time a month), why we ate all the parts of a cow that we got from my grandpa’s farm (can you say beef tongue), and why we always had “used” cars! I also learned about the part about giving your “treasure” to your Church, because the budget had a defined line item for that spend!

Appreciation for the Oesterling family financial context was great, but the life lessons were more valuable. Here are the three lessons that have stuck with me for more than 30 years, and I doubt I’ll ever forget them:

  1. Don’t spend money you don’t have. My Dad said I would rather have less stuff than the worry about how I’m going to pay for things that I can’t afford. The only debt my parents ever had was the mortgage on the house. I’m proud to say that Aunt Lee and I have lived this, and I worry a less about money as result, because we don’t owe any one a penny!
  2. Set a budget and stick to it. In today’s world, you can spend money so easily, and a budget will let you understand what you really have available to spend on things you want after you spend money on things you need (e.g., housing, car, church). It is important to create a budget where what you spend on the things you “need” and “want” is much lower than you make after taxes or you’ll never create savings for the big things you really need (e.g., family, house, retirement). Ask Aunt Lee, she’ll tell you that our annual budget is still one of the most important things we do each year! One of my college professor at Purdue always said “Failure to Plan is planning to Fail,” and if you want to have less worry in your life a budget will help you plan your financial future.
  3. “If you’re smart you can spread a dollar a long way” was something I always heard my Mom say. I watched her clip coupons, find things that were used vs. new, and bargain! Today, Google, Amazon, and eBay allow you to find the best bargain on most things with little effort. The master of bargain shopping is Aunt Lee – we shop for clothes at TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and yes Goodwill. Someone at work asked where I got a shirt recently. They thought it must be a $30-$40 shirt, and I said proudly $3 at Goodwill thanks to Lee. I think everyone was shocked, but I was proud J. My frugal approach has helped save my company more than $10M over the past 10 years, and the phrase my team hates to hear from me – you don’t know you’ve found a bargain until someone says no!