Monday, June 11, 2007


My wife and son and I visited my sister and brother-in-law yesterday. They sold the home they built in 1954 and have lived in ever since and are moving to an apartment in the home of their daughter, my niece. Around the lunch table, we got to chatting about the difference in outlook regarding financial matters since that time. It was a fascinating discussion.

My sister came to Canada in 1949 at age eighteen. She was married a year or two later. In 1952, she and her husband built a new home. By 1954, they only owed $2,000 on that home, sold it for $10,000, and built another larger and nicer home for the $8,000 they now had. Since that time, they have never had a mortgage. Imagine that. Every penny that they would have spent on mortgage payments over the years they were able to save or invest instead. As you might imagine, they have done very well.

They are not alone. Immigrants to our lands of opportunity (Canada and the United States) typically worked very hard, saved every spare penny, invested in a home, and prospered. They didn't want or need twenty or twenty-five or thirty year mortgage amortizations. They wanted to pay their homes off as quickly as possible. They worked, they saved, they did without. Sacrifice pays off. Delayed gratification and a strong work ethic was what made these people prosper. It sure wasn't cushy, well-paid jobs. Most immigrants came with nothing, couldn't speak English, had little education, but made better lives for themselves and their children. They took the jobs no-one else wanted. There was no whining, no complaining, and certainly no "I want my fair share" at someone else's expense.

Today, there is no delayed gratification. We want everything now. In order to get it now, whatever 'it' happens to be, we borrow. As a consequence, we pay more than what the 'it' we want is worth. We finance cars, vacations, furniture, toys and gadgets, everything. And then we pay and pay and pay and wonder why we never get anywhere. We could learn a lot from the waves of immigrants who came, saw and conquered. They didn't come to live in distinct societies and expect to be accommodated while they scorned everything around them, expecting to live at the taxpayers expense. They learned English, they adopted the ways of their new homeland, they acclimatized. We, their children, owe them everything.

I'm sure someone out there is thinking that if he or she could get a house for eight or ten thousand dollars, they could succeed and prosper too. At the time in question, my father made 90 cents an hour, working a back-breaking labour in a union shop. My brother-in-law made a few cents more. Many others made much less. It didn't matter. Everyone prospered. There was no more opportunity then than there is now. In fact is was very hard for these people to get jobs because they couldn't understand the simplest instructions, at least at first.

Many of these immigrants, like my sister and her husband, have retired. Newer generations of immigrants are now taking their place in Canada and the United States. I wonder how they are going to fare?

I guess we'll have to wait fifty or more years to get that answer. I plan on hanging around to find out. At age 111 or so, I certainly will have seen it all.


  1. I think it really depends a lot on priorities. We are all content with something different.

    One of the things I liked so much in Thailand is the way there was a general contentment with the way things were. That's not to say that no one ever wanted more.. but it wasn't to the level of craving.. and it wasn't "right now".

    I can't imagine what will happen here in the next 50 years. I'll send you a postcard from Pattaya and let you know my impressions then.

    My guess is the dog will continue to chase its own tail, never be satisfied with anything.



  2. My father is Cuban and my mom Panamanian. His first job here in the states, was driving a sugar cane truck from the Everglades to Miami. There was even a time, when my dad held three jobs so that my mom could stay home with my sister and I. She was always a stay at home mom. Family was top priority.

    My husband's family did the same thing. They both came from Cuba. My mother in love stayed home to take care of the children. Once they were a little older, they tag teamed. His dad held two jobs. One in the morning and one at night. His mom worked as a seamstress, but was home by the time they came home from school.

    My family always had food on the table, a roof over our heads, and we were always properly clothed. We lacked nothing. If we didn't have the money for it, we didn't buy it. My siblings and I didn't ask for much. They raised us to be conscientious. I always felt we had it all and we did.

    But I agree with you. We live in time where we have to have it "yesterday." Living like that we don't learn to appreciate things or be grateful. Very sad.

    We are blessed with five children and I'm a stay at home, homeschooling mom. It's a sacrifice, but well worth it. Have we followed our parents steps? No, we have fallen into the credit trap. But we've been working our way out.

    We have shared our mistakes with our children and they see the difference and understand. They are all good stewards with their money, talents and gifts. We can see that they don't want to do the same mistakes my Knight and I have done. I only pray that they continue on this path. In the end, God will bless them for being good and faithful stewards.

  3. I put a post up about national borders and the freedom to cross. It would be interesting to get your libertarian perspective. :)



  4. Chani: You're right. It does depend on priorities. Everyone should follow their own dream. If that dream is to sit on a porch and drink beer or smoke dope until the grim reaper comes to summon that individual, that's fine, as long as I don't get the bill for the cirrhosis care, and the costs of supporting the lifestyle without an income. Laissez-faire.

    Lady g: It is your parents and mine who made our respective nations great. Millions of hard-working, responsible, non-complaining individuals who sucked it up and did what had to be done.

    I spend a lot of time teaching my son about money, responsibility, honour, etc. Sometimes, if is a difficult chore because all around him kids get huge allowances, get everything they ask for, and are allowed to do whatever they want. This is all coming back to bite us in the butt in a big way.

    Chani: I'll drop by and see if I can contribute anything useful to the discussion.

  5. Interestingly, I am right in the middle of what you're talking about here. My wife's parents built their house on the family land for $300, and had cardboard on the insides of the walls until they could afford more.

    Today, the expectations are way higher. New couples
    have to start out with a nice place, brand new furniture, a new car, and a whole pile of other things, including a fat mortgage.

    The sad fact is that it's not so easy just to buy a piece of land and build a small house. The land isn't available for one, not where I live, and it costs many times more than the house itself.

    I do without a lot of things I don't need, but even then, there are somethings I don't need that I go out and buy instead of putting the money somewhere better.

    It's a vicious cycle, and I've said it so many times in the past while... it's all about making a quick buck. Everyone wants to buy a house and sell it in 3 months for a $20,000 profit. What ever happened to buying a house and making it a home for a while? Whatever happened to realistic prices?

    The good days are gone. I wish I could be a part of them... maybe I can still, but it would require more drastic measures than I'm willing to take, as is probably the case for most people.

    I lived in Saskatchewan for 3 months a few years back, in a small town of about 100 people. The kind of place where you can buy a nice brick bungalo on a large corner lot in town for $30,000, and some houses in town for a lot less. Loved it there. Quiet, peaceful, relaxing.

    What would one have to sacrifice to do that though? No mall down the street, no theatres, no Walmart, no Starbucks (gasp). Far from family and friends. Dial-up internet (gasp-gasp)!

    Sound like the old days!

    And now, back to work with me, in my cushy but no-so-high-paying desk job. =)


  6. Andrew: There will be downward adjustments in real estate prices, but not for a while yet. The surest way might be simply to move somewhere where you can work on your own via the internet, but buy a home for 1/3 or less than what it costs in your area of B.C. Even if your wages are only half of what you make now, you would still be better ahead.

    Your time will come, but that time is not now. Save those bucks for the right time. You will do just fine.

  7. Sieg is right, Andrew.
    This is the time to save up your money for when the economy does a "correction".
    It's THEN that you get your $30,000 Saskatchewan home for $15K. All the while/in the interrim, you can be getting your plans for your business and the marketing thereof together, etc.
    It works with gold and silver, it will work with real estate, too.

  8. I don't know about Canada, but America is definitely a land of instant gratification. I often see 20-year olds driving Beamers, and I wonder what they have to look forward to. They are being raised to value material goods above all else, and they don't even have to work for them.

    How can they be developing any character when everything comes so easily? And how can they empathize with others when it is inconceivable to them that not everyone is so blessed?

  9. Part of the problem is that parents genuinely want their kids to have a better life than they themselves had as children. They give the kids everything, ignoring or not realizing that anything that comes too easily is not valued and appreciated. Just because you can afford to give your child everything doesn't mean that you should.