I use this space to post my own syndicated columns. But I just received the following (which I am reprinting in full) from a reader. Why share this with you? Because it’s so easy to get cynical about our economy, our society, our politics. And sometimes an entire generation uses this cynicism to believe our best days are behind us in America. Clearly they are not.
And I hope if you pass this on to your children (or grandchildren) that one day they will be able to write the same sort of letter — detailing their success and happiness with their lives! Happy Birthday, America!
(name withheld at writer’s request, but thank you for permission to reprint your thoughts)
Hello, Terry –
As someone who has applied many of your suggestions, I’d like to share my wife’s and my financial practices with you over the years. They validate your judgment.
My wife and I both earned Bachelor’s degrees that our parents paid for in the mid-60s. After that we were on our own.
We bought our first new car—a 1966 Pontiac LeMans—using my old ’53 Mercury as a down payment. After graduation, my wife got a job with the State of Florida; I was employed in aerospace, which I loathed.
With my wife’s encouragement and support, I went back to school for a Master of Arts in Teaching degree to become a community college business professor. A National Defense Education Act loan paid the tuition. I was hired as a full-time faculty member at a local community college. Half the NDEA loan was forgiven because I worked in education; the other half we paid off at 3% interest.
We bought our first home and immediately arranged for a bi-weekly mortgage (the 8th wonder of the world). We maintained our Pontiac religiously (including rebuilding the engine after 157,000 miles) and finally traded it in on a new Datsun 260Z. We bought my wife a used Datsun B210 in good condition, which she used to commute to her job. Each time we paid off a vehicle loan we invested the payments in Vanguard mutual funds tailored to our risk profile at the time.
As our circumstances improved, we bought a used boat and trailer in good condition for recreation and became the parents of a magical, wonderful daughter. I started freelance writing as a second source of income and channeled as much of that income as possible into a Vanguard TSA as well. I took night classes in graduate school and earned a second Master’s degree in management, which raised me a notch on my community college’s salary schedule and helped me be a more effective and knowledgeable teacher.
We sold our first home at a solid profit in 1989 and rolled it into a substantial down payment on a larger home in an established subdivision. We had a bi-weekly mortgage, of course. I maxed out on my TSA contributions each year.
As retirement neared, my wife entered Florida’s DROP program, and my college’s incentive retirement program paid me almost $165,000 in incentive retirement pay when I left the classroom. Both of us were members of our state’s FRS (Florida Retirement System).
Except for $80,000 in blue-chip stocks left to my wife by her mother, all that we have we accumulated together throughout our married life. We’ve been fortunate enough to travel to the UK several times, book a cruise or two each year, and vacation at favorite places in our state as often as we please.
We retired in 2000 debt free. With our state retirement, social security, and investments, our taxable income exceeds $80,000 each year. The value of our Vanguard holdings and three parcels of vacant land is about $2,890,000; all dividends are reinvested. The value of our home (approximately $470,000) is not included in that total.
Please don’t interpret this as bragging; it’s not. It is, however, an account of what’s possible for two people who lived within their means, employed common-sense financial principles, and are deeply grateful for everything they have.