Money & Life Lessons from My Immigrant Father


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.


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.


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!





Money Tip: Ask for Job Perks


There are many things that I miss about being self-employed. Being the owner of a small business has both its perks and major difficulties. I really miss having the government subsidizing my travel. However, I don’t miss the employee headaches!  Trying to keep key employees happy without breaking the bank was very challenging. Payroll taxes in Canada are ridiculous high, as much as an extra 10% on every dollar of wages.

I found giving an employee a monetary bonus was sometimes less effective as an incentive than giving them a memorable experience. Giving an employee some tickets to a sporting event like hockey, football or baseball was really appreciated. Theatre tickets and taking the spouse out for dinner worked wonders for employee morale. Conducting a business meeting inside the clubhouse lounge, after playing 18 holes of golf, was ten times better than a stuffy conference room.

Small companies are more apt to be creative in job perks. You may have to be bold and ask or even make suggestions to your boss. Bigger companies tend to offer a wider variety of deals.

Here are just a few possible job perks:

  • Discounts on purchasing company’s stock
  • Child daycare services
  • Gym memberships
  • Educational reimbursements
  • Discounts on cell services & data plans
  • Preferred pricing on computers & mobile devices
  • Group rates on car insurance
  • Preferred pricing on car leasing or purchases
  • Adding vacation days to a business trip to do some sight-seeing
  • Ask to take your spouse on a business trip with you

I learned the hard way that job perks sometimes are more effective than offering more money. I used to offer my plant  workers who were on piece work extra money for increasing production. I came to realized that some of them preferred a shorter work day over money. I put in a quota  system in giving them the option to get paid extra for every piece over quota or go home early.

The results were so amazing that I added a weekly production quota for the whole crew. Beat the quota and the  company paid for lunch on Friday. Pizza or chicken for lunch, along with some soft drinks was a small price to pay for the increasing production.

My humble beginnings started here!

It only took me 10 years  to get to here and I was a lot happier!


This is where I now work five months of the year. I am really happy if I can par this hole! You will have to guess how long it took me to get to this point in my life.


Remember that even a taxable job perk is cheaper than having to pay for it yourself. Hopefully, your boss values your work efforts and is open to creative job perks.        You will never know if you don’t ask!

If happen to be a boss reading this post, remember to reward the people who work for you!

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