ARBOR WEALTH: Walking six miles through snow to school

Margaret McDowell, Arbor Outlook

“And you, of the tender years, can’t know the fears, that your elders grew by.” — from “Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills and Nash

The Dust Bowl and the Great Depression surrounded my Uncle’s early years and he never forgot those difficult times.

He served in the Navy, survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, and married and started a family just after VE Day. The economic climate continued to improve after the war, and his children were raised in the boom years of plenty. 

Smart enough to understand that his kids could never relate to his Depression-era childhood, he devised simple methods for their economic education. Necessities, like food, clothes and school supplies were provided, but if the kids wanted something beyond that, they had to negotiate their services for pay. When my cousins would go to their Dad and ask for an opportunity to make money, my Uncle would smile and say, “Okay, let’s bargain.” Then he and his child would discuss in detail what job could be done to earn extra money, what the payment would be, and how the task should be accomplished. After its completion, a careful inspection always ensued before payment was rendered. My cousins understood the concept of “working for money” and “doing a good job” long before any of the other children in my family.

When they accepted jobs as part-time teen employees, my cousins were prepared for job interviews, knew how to get along with their bosses, and expected their work to be evaluated. They knew how to assess the value of their own services, and how to determine if they deserved a raise. Even how to ask for one.

Periodically my Uncle would bring the kids into his home office and enlist their assistance in monthly bill paying. Each child would be asked to ascertain one bill amount, fill out a check, and address and stamp the envelope. Sometimes they would discuss the family budget, and how much money was allocated for various monthly services. 

My Uncle would even ask the kids’ advice on vacation planning and budgeting. So when the family would travel, the kids knew how much a particular hotel room cost.  Soon the kids were chiming in about whether the family should spend their allotted vacation dollars on an upscale dining experience, eat fast food, or make sandwiches in the hotel room.

He never “lectured” about walking six miles each way to school through a dust storm (it’s a snow storm for us from the Midwest). But in a calculated and gentle way, my Uncle taught my cousins important homespun economic lessons. Once, money management wasn’t widely discussed with children. Now, smart parents are starting financial literacy and economic empowerment within the family unit at an early age. 

Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC, AIF, a syndicated economic columnist, is the founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, (850-608-6121 —, a “fee-only” registered investment advisory firm located near Sandestin. This column should not be considered personalized investment advice and provides no assurance that any specific strategy or investment will be suitable or profitable for an investor.