Who Is Key to Your Financial Autobiography?

Image: Loveable piggy bank covered in hearts, Pixabay.

This post was originally published at my old blog, Cheap Bohemian.

Here’s someone else for the panoply of towering intellectuals who knew the value of a buck. His name is J.J. Wormser.

He was a gifted electrical engineer and inventor whose employers read as a Who’s Who of cutting edge technology companies: Bell Labs, Continental Electronics, Southwest Research Institute.

If the Internet existed and the electronics companies of the 50s and 60s had been as good at hyping themselves as the dot.coms are, he would have had a ribbon of Google hits as long as this.

As it was, he was just my dad. But, Google him: still pretty good for an old guy.

I wrote about him myself for the lit blog Dead Housekeeping here. His car-buying advice is very sound.

Image: My dad, circa 1970, next to a tall cabinet full of amazing computer stuff I can’t begin to understand.

He was a work-for-hire guy in a pre-intrapreneur world, so all his patents belong to the big boys. Product of the G.I. Bill and youngest son of a ranching family, he was considered so dumb there was no money for college when it came time. With only a high school diploma and an incurable love of tinkering with radios (later TVs), he earned a place among the holy brethren of pre-digital geeks through sheer force of will.

He was also great with money. He did his own taxes year after year, keeping every receipt in shoe boxes that came down from the shelf of his closet ceremonially every January and were neatly filed in the attic on April 16. He and my mom (who had to put herself through college) put the three of us through college all the way because by God what happened to them would not happen to us.

He used to dream aloud on long car rides about crazy inventions for everyday problems, and how he’d make all of us rich. He painted oil landscapes in the garage, with only his mind for a view. He studied sculpture and drove a VW bug, sold his beloved motorboat when my mom finally made him, and loved to snap open his menu in restaurants and say to the whole assembled family, “Order whatever you want.”

In the couple of years before he died in 1997, widowed and insomniac, he wrote us long emails about his will, his safety deposit box, and what he would do with the money if he won the lottery tomorrow. It was always about us.

But I digress.

In 1972, at age 50 he did something he’d never done: He left the Company. Lay-offs were afoot and he wanted to leave as his own man, get a better job, maybe even start his own company. The kids were sixteen, fifteen, and nine (me). Oh, and, yeah: there was a recession on its way.

So here was my dad’s great new job: floor salesman at Levitz Furniture. My shy, wise-cracking, self-taught, Melville- and Conrad-reading father was set loose in a piranha tank filled with other desperate, underemployed, middle-aged men with kids to feed. He did it 6 and often 7 days a week every week for the 10 longest months of his life. He brought home a pittance and there was no menu-snapping.

Thing is, he showed up. Every day. And when he got a solid job offer, way below market, he jumped at it and got to be an engineer again for another decade and a half.

Showing up is what I am thinking about today. Where money and love (lack of one and consequences of the other) are concerned, the people who show up are the heroes.

Who is your hero? Drop me a line and tell your story. Or let us know in the comments.

I’m revisiting this post as I begin to explore my financial autobiography, a process described by J.D. Roth at Get Rich Slowly. Check it out if you want to do your own.

Need to start a budget? Review these four approaches — soon to be five, when I add Paula Pant’s Anti-Budget.

The Traumatized Budget has a newsletter! It’s a monthly round-up of tips, tricks, and encouragement to get a grip on your money. Subscribe here.

I’m a 50-something bohemian with a mountain of debt and regrets. Can I dig out before it’s all over? I brake for poets.

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