12 Financial Lessons from my Parents and my Background

Learn from your parent’s financial mishaps, don’t follow.

I want to start by writing that I love my parents very much. They taught me many great lessons as they raised me,  but they have not made the best financial decisions.  Both Mom and Dad have high school diplomas. My dad worked labor at a Steel Mill for 40+ years; mom worked various retail jobs on/off. 

My parents have been in debt their entire adult lives. 

These debts surrounded them in the form of credit card bills, various mortgage refinances, home equity loans, and 401k loans for over 40 years. 

While my parents are mostly out of consumer debt, they still owe 64% of their original 30-year mortgage amount 31.5 years later! They never saved a penny of their money. 

Dad has been retired for 2 years and is dependent on his pension checks for income. My parents lived their lives the way they wanted to, but it was a struggle. Money stresses put unnecessary burdens on them, me, and my sister.

 My dad always told me- “Learn from my mistakes, don’t make mine. I am making them for you.”

This advice resonated with me and I want to learn from my parents’ mistakes for me and my family. 

My family consists of my wife, me, and our 18-month-old black lab. We recently married 2 months ago and bought our first home (3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths) in 2018 on a 15 year, fixed-rate mortgage. We have plans to have 2-4 children. 

I am a mechanical engineer and received my bachelor’s degree from a satellite campus of a good midwest, land-grant school. I have worked for the company I interned with in college, for just over 9 years in many roles. 

Most of my career has been spent as a technical sales engineer of sensors and my current role as a product manager at the same company. I am responsible for the profit and loss of the business segment I manage.  

I am an avid runner and road biker. I completed my first marathon in October of 2019. I aspire to complete a triathlon, once I learn to swim! The Financial FreeRunner name came from me wanting to have financial freedom to have more free time to run. 

Here are the 12 lessons I learned from them on what would help with saving money.

Imagine how thankful future you will be if you start saving today
  1. Save. And Save early.
    • My parents did not invest into any retirement accounts until they were in their 50’s. My dad’s plan was to rely on his pension and social security to live off in his retirement years. The steel mill he was employed at for over 40 years, went bankrupt multiple times, and was bought and sold a half dozen times. Through all of that a large chunk of his pension from the original company disappeared. If you have a pension, I implore you to invest in a 401k or Roth IRA/Traditional IRA (or equivalent) as well.
  2. Have an emergency fund.
    • The many times my dad was laid off, we really struggled. We never went hungry, but my parents finances suffered every layoff because they were living paycheck to paycheck. They spent all incoming money on credit cards bills, three car loans, and their mortgage. They added home equity loans, 401k loans, and balance to the credit cards with every layoff. They were stuck in a stressful cycle. If they didn’t have debt and had an emergency fund, they would have been financially stable through the layoffs.
  3. When times are good, don’t spend all your money!
    • When work was going good and stable, my parents would each get a brand new car both we brand new loans with negative equity rolled over from last years new car. Just because you are approved for a loan, does not mean you should get it. Think of your financial future. How much money can an extra $300-$500/month for 5 years grow into in 10 years? The answer is $30,000 to $50,000 if your investment makes a very conservative 7% rate of return.
  4. Don’t buy a brand new car.
    • Brand new cars have that great new car smell- I’ll give them that. Vehicles are depreciating assets. Once you drive off the lot, you’ve lost money. If you are trying to retire early, don’t buy new. Buy a 2-5 year old car with less than 50,000 miles and high reliability. If you can pay cash, do it. If you can’t pay the loan off ASAP.
  5. Plan meals.
    • Having your meals planned will help you determine what you need when you go grocery shopping. When you are there, buy what you need and avoid buying extra unneeded items. My parents had a weekly purge of spoiled and expired food that was never even opened. Planning meals will also help you limit restaurant visits too.
  6. Limit restaurant visits.
    • Eating at a restaurant is much more expensive than cooking your own food. It is also healthier. Your wallet and your heart will thank you.
  7. Pay extra on loans – vehicle, mortgage, etc.
    • Get rid of the debt as soon as possible. Imagine not having a car loan and a monthly credit card bill. Think of how much money you would save. These days, mortgage rates are very low and you should be able to make more money investing in a mutual fund than by paying down your mortgage. I have a mortgage and pay approximately 18% extra because we want to be mortgage free by the time we retire early.
  8. Avoid debt.
    • You can finance everything and anything these days. Don’t. Be comfortable with what you have. If there is something you absolutely need to purchase save your money for it. Even if it takes months. Often times, after the wait, you will find you do not need the purchase after all.
  9. Grow fruits and vegetables
    • Here in the US, fruits and vegetables are relatively affordable. What’s even cheaper is growing them yourselves. In Indiana, we can easily grow tomatoes, zucchini, garlic, green onions, corn, squash, berries, peppers and more every year. You can also learn to can to save for the winter months too.
  10. Find free/cheap hobbies
    • My cheap hobbies are all outdoor activities. Jogging, hiking, biking, and gardening. I also like reading. Find a hobby that suites you that is not expensive. Bonus if you can make money off your hobbies by creating a product or service.
  11. Live a healthy lifestyle
    • Healthy lifestyle will keep you healthy. Unfortunately medical expenses continue to rise, invest in your health to avoid this expense. Staying healthy also means you can keep a job and an income.
  12. Save for your children’s education
    • ESA and 529’s are great financial vehicles to save for your children’s education. If you start early and you can avoid having to put you and your child into debt.

My parents could not afford to help me pay for college, and I took on many student loans that I still owe today. Even though I worked and probably could have afforded it out-of-pocket if I saved. 

Oh if only 31-year-old Freerunner could send a note back to my 18-year-old self on what not to do… 

My wife is a registered dietitian at a local hospital, she received her bachelor’s and master’s degree from the main campus of the same land-grant school. 

We met in 2017 and married in 2020. Like me, she is an avid runner. She is also into anything lifestyle/health/fitness related and is a bookworm. 

She was much wiser than me as an 18-year-old and took on no student debt. She also had financially savvy parents that started an education fund for her the year of her birth. 

Our current gross income is below. 

Our families annual income 2020

Our income is our greatest tool to getting out of debt and getting to financial success. We will not be playing any “get rich quick” schemes, we will be investing a large percentage of our income into savings and retirement. 

The higher our savings rate gets, the quicker we will get to our financial goals.


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