Money & Life Lessons from My Immigrant Father

war

In honour of Father’s Day, this post is dedicated to my father who left this earth way too soon. You may find some of these money lessons in this post out dated but I hope that it will  inspire you to make some positive changes in your life.

The first life lesson that I learned from my Italian father is “Life is not fair!” In 1939, my father was forced to serve in a war that he didn’t believe in. He was only 18 years old at that time and was lucky to have survived. He rarely talked about his war experiences except that he ate potato peels that he found in the garage because he was so hungry.

Life after the war in Italy must have been horrific for my father to come to Canada, leaving his pregnant wife to earn some money. I can’t imagine going to another country with no marketable skills and not being able to even speak the language. He found that the streets of Toronto were not paved in gold. Two years later, my mother & I left Italy with only a suitcase and a few dollars in our pockets. A whole new meaning to “Desperate times requires desperate measures!”

I am amazed that within four years my parents who were illiterate, with no education, manage to save enough money to buy a house. They earned extra income by renting a portion of our house for many years to assist with the mortgage payments. My mother used her sewing skills to earn extra money making bridesmaid and wedding dresses.

As a kid, I never played in the backyard because it was turned into a vegetable and herb garden. It never occurred to me how much that garden help reduced our family’s grocery bill until much later in life.

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Homemade food products that also reduced the grocery bill:

  • Pasta sauce – we still make a year’s supply of pasta sauce every September
  • Pasta – my mother’s ravioli & cannelloni would make even top chefs envious
  • Pizza dough / pizza
  • Cured meats – ham, bacon, salami …etc.
  • Sausages
  • Wine & sometimes vinegar
  • Preservatives – jam, peaches, peppers, pickles…etc.

sauce

My father had a background in farming back in Italy and would often purchase some meats directly from local farmers to save money. Chickens, rabbits, pigeons and quails found their way into a large chest freezer and later on to our dinner table. For years, my father raised his own rabbits in the garage. (Rabbit is still one of my favourite meals)

Other ways that my father saved money:

  • Avoided eating out, told people that restaurant food made him sick
  • Always took a bag lunch to work – thermoses full of leftovers & coffee – ate by himself to avoid ridicule from his co-workers
  • Paid cash – never own a credit card
  • Rarely borrowed money – only from family and always paid them back
  • Car pooled to work
  • No pets, in his opinion, a total waste of money
  • Restricted vacations to going back to Italy to visit family
  • Limited his entertainment to visiting friends & relatives (plus weddings of course)

When I was in high school, my father got me a high paying summer job at the industrial plant where he worked. He stressed that doing the most boring, dirty and repetitive jobs well would guarantee that I would get rehired next summer. Following his advice, I ended up working at the same plant all through high school and university, graduating debt free. (After three summers, I was put in charge of an all student afternoon shift)

My father taught me that it is easy to excel in jobs that you enjoy but surpassing expectations doing lousy jobs can have its benefits. In my opinion, the real irony was the work experience from my summer job was more valuable in running my own small business than my university education. An argument that I never won with my father even after his plant shut down and he had to come to work for me. “You will always have that piece of paper to fall back on!”

Considering that my father was a teen during the Great Depression and then drafted into World War II, he enjoyed the simple things in life to the fullest. Despite all his hardships, he was proud to own the roof over his head. He really enjoyed sharing a home cooked meal with his friends, along with a glass or two of  his homemade wine. To honour all the sacrifices that he made, I followed a old Italian tradition and named my son after him.

wine   Salute Papa!

 

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Money & Life Lessons from My Immigrant Father

  1. These tips are Not outdated. What got your parents through the hard times is the very same thing that is making the average American a millionaire today! Great post and great advice. Your Dad sounds like he was a great man.

    Like

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