Funny you should ask ... Tim Gamble

When in your life did you have the least money?
How did you manage with your budget?

It all depends on how you look at money. There have been times when I could have used more of it but when you finally figure out what money is, it’s not that important. The secret is to spend less than you make, period! Pay yourself first. Stay out of debt.

Money only matters when you spend more than you earn. If you have money and you spend it, it is the same as not having any money because you spent the money and now you don’t have it anymore. If you have money and you don’t spend it, it’s the same as not having any money, it’s simply a number in a ledger. Budgets come into play when you’re trying to figure out how to spend less than you make, how to meet your predetermined obligations. Stop spending money on things you don’t need. Know the difference between wants and needs. In the end you’ll realize that the things you own, own you. Remember that you don’t have to own the view to enjoy it.

Every one of us has been taught in some way to want more, more than you have now, more than your peers, more than the neighbor. When you fail at trying to keep up with the Joneses because someone will always have more than you, you’ll realize all you have is a bunch of nothing. The endorphin rush of buying this, that, or the other is fleeting. What you wind up with in the end is a bunch of stuff that doesn’t really make you happy. Even the richest people in the world can’t buy enough to make them happy. Start with happy and the rest will follow. Remember getting rich quick takes a long time.

If you insist on being rich, there are three ways to get there, and we did a little of each. You can earn it. You can marry it. You can inherit it. Keeping it is the battle. Everyone’s got their hand out, from the government on down. There have been times in my life when the lion’s share of my income went to paying the government, the insurance companies, and the interest on my debt. There was no end in sight until I stopped digging. When you’re young you need everything, a place to live, clothes to wear, food to eat, and it’s usually at a time when you can least afford it. You get saddled with mortgages, car payments, and student loans. Your paycheck is shredded before you spend your first discretionary dollar. You’re young. You want to enjoy the world. The years go by fast. You want to at least do what your friends are doing. What your friends are doing is burying themselves in debt. Don’t do it. Look elsewhere for enjoyment or these will be the most stressful times of your life.

I want to fast forward a bit here and say that I have no debt, I have substantial holdings and I still spend less than I make. My son will inherit a seven-figure fortune. Hopefully he’ll make it grow and pass it down to his children. I have no illusions. I know someone will blow it all somewhere down the line but at least they’ll have something to blow.

When Sandy and I were dating in college, and we were short on our tuition, we started a painting business. The summer before a neighbor asked me to spray an oil-based stain on her grape stake fence. I rented a sprayer with a paint pot, bought a couple of gallons of stain from Standard Brands, and completed the task within a few hours. She paid me $200. That was a lot of money, more than the job was worth, but she knew I was paying my way through school and just wanted to help. I told Sandy we could scale that up and make enough money for the year in just a few weeks. I went down to the local CBS station and explained to the station manager that I represented a group of students called “Students for Work” who were trying to make enough money for tuition. He said he could help. Every evening, just before the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite came on, the station ran a 30-second spot featuring our new fence oiling business and the phone number. The phone rang off the hook. I enlisted a few of my friends to help. Sandy’s job was to answer the phone and schedule the appointments. Everyone wanted to hire the Students for Work for everything. Sandy’s biggest challenge was to skillfully let them know we were only oiling fences. We quickly made thousands. We had many more “boom bust” cycles in our life together but each time we’d claw our way back as we learned how to manage our finances.

Sandy and I were living in Hayward, California. We just moved into a one-bedroom apartment. This was the first time on our own together without roommates to share the rent. We did have some bedroom furniture but that was it. No living room or dining room furniture and no kitchen paraphernalia to speak of, just a couple of pots and pans and a few cooking utensils.

It was Sunday. We were broke. I wouldn’t get paid until Monday. We had fifteen cents between us. We walked down to the Safeway and started shopping for something we could afford to eat. Sandy picked up a package of Kraft Cheese and Noodles. We could share that for the rest of the day. It was on sale for 17 cents. I took it to the cashier and told her I only had 15 cents. She was sympathetic but said she couldn’t sell it to me for that. I needed two more pennies. I said wait I think I have them right here. I slipped off my loafers and removed the pennies from the upper tongue and handed them to the cashier. This wasn’t the last time we’d be hungry and broke, but the time between was getting longer. There many more stories I could tell but they all end the same way, we’re fine, we learned, we grew.

It’s not enough to learn the lessons, now we must pass the knowledge along to our children. When I was growing up our family lived in a very prestigious neighborhood near Scottsdale, Arizona. We had no money to speak of. If I wanted anything I’d have to earn the money to buy it. My friends were much more fortunate. They had sizable allowances. They never chided me on my situation. Often when we were all together doing something, someone would pick up the tab for me, so I wouldn’t be excluded. I never expected it, but I was always appreciative. When I became a father to a wide-eyed young boy, I had to guide him through the mine fields of the “gimmies” and “I wants.” We live in a neighborhood that developed into a very prestigious place to live. I wanted to teach my son, Jeremy, the value of money, what it can do for you and what it can do to you. I wanted to pass on the hard-won lessons I’d learned from my childhood without making him suffer too much, easier said than done. I started by using coins to teach him how to count. I’d take him to the grocery store and let him buy a small item. I’d ask him how much it was. I’d ask him if he had enough money to buy it. He quickly learned how to count.

The downside, of course, is that he also learned how to spend. I started teaching him how to save. I bought him a “Garfield” piggy bank. He hated putting money in it. He didn’t see the point. I would tell him that the money in the piggy bank was for something you must save up for to buy. It still didn’t register. I opened a savings account for him at the bank. I told him that I would match every dollar he put in his savings account if he didn’t withdraw it. “As soon as you start taking money out, I’ll stop matching your deposits.” The idea really stumped him for a while, but in the end, he would put a little bit in his bank account every week and then tell me how much I owed him. I told him that if he found any money laying around the house it was his if he put it in his bank account. Sandy thought I was “nuts” for letting him do that, but I told her he’s going to take it anyway, we just shouldn’t make him into a thief for doing what kids do. Sandy and I had a large plastic coke bottle bank. We’d been putting pennies in it for years. One day Jeremy loaded up all the coins into his backpack and asked me to take him to the bank. He struggled dragging his bounty through the parking lot and into the bank. The cashier told him she couldn’t take his deposit without all the pennies being rolled up. I asked to see the bank manager to see what he could do. He said if we took the bag of change to a particular branch of his bank they had an automatic change counter, sorter, and roller. We got to the bank and the manager told us we’d have to do the work ourselves. He cautioned us not to put in any foreign coins because it would jam the machine. Jeremy was so excited he dumped as many coins in as fast as the machine would take them. The machine quickly jammed. We not only put in several foreign coins but a few lost earrings and other tokens. In the end there was over $300 worth of pennies in that backpack. I asked Jeremy if he wanted to put the money in the bank. He said, “No, I want to buy a GameCube.” I’ll let Jeremy tell the GameCube story, but it didn’t end well for him.

One of the challenges is to keep kids out of trouble. I remember my friends would steal candy bars from the convenience stores and laugh about it. They could have bought the candy bars, but it was more fun to steal them. I didn’t think Jeremy was wired that way, but I had to be on the lookout for this kind of behavior. I decided to give Jeremy an allowance of two dollars a day, paid each day. That way if he wanted to buy an ice cream cone from the Popsicle truck, he would have enough for himself and a friend. His friends weren’t like my friends. Each day they would try to figure out a way to separate Jeremy from his money. When Jeremy was eight years old, I decided to give him a credit card instead of cash so his friends couldn’t take any more of his money. I told him that the card was for food only. If he and his friends wanted to go to the store and buy a treat or go to Wendy’s for a soda, he could use his card and pay for everyone if they didn’t have any money. All he had to do is contact me on his walkie-talkie or call me and ask for permission first. This worked out well.

Jeremy found ways of earning money. He was very industrious. He’d spend some and he’d save some. By the time Jeremy was in high school he had over five thousand dollars in his savings account. I told him it was time to start buying stock. He didn’t get the concept. I told him that a share of stock was a piece of a company. “You like McDonald's, don’t you?” I asked. “You can own a piece of the company by buying a share of stock.” “Does that mean I don’t have to pay anymore?” He asked. I said, “No, you still have to pay for the food, but you’ll be a part owner of the company and as the business grows, the value of your stock will grow too.” That was a hard pass. I should have stuck with my pitch.

That $5000 would have doubled or tripled by now. Instead, Jeremy slowly started spending his savings and I stopped matching his deposits. He still had the credit card for social activities. He still had to ask me when he wanted to use the card and what he wanted to purchase. Sometimes things got totally out of control but in the end, we came to an understanding, he could pay for his friends so they could be included but there were respectful limits to his generosity and mine. When Jeremy turned twenty-one, I told him his birthday present was no more credit card. He looked at me a little bewildered and asked me if he did something wrong. I told him, “No, nothing’s wrong. It’s just time to be on your own. You’ve had a pretty good run. Now would be a good time to thank me for making your childhood so much easier.” Jeremy thought about that for a second or two, then said, “You’re right. Thank you.” I asked him if he knew how much he’d charged on my card since he was eight. He didn’t know but he knew how many times I scolded him for overusing it. I told him that the bills came to over $100,000 when you added them all up for the past 13 years. He asked, “Are you mad?” “Your mom thinks I’m crazy, but angry, no.” I explained to him that people were overly generous to me when I was growing up and this is my way of paying it forward and you will too someday.

I still don’t carry any money, just a credit card that I’ve had since 1972. The one I still share with Jeremy, although he hasn’t used it in years. When I buy something I need, I put it on the card and the bank pays off the balance weekly. Sandy and I have been a team now for over 50 years. We’ve seen our share of ups and downs financially but somehow, we’ve always managed to scrape by, living within our means and investing what we could. Now we’re in our retirement years. Money is not an issue. I haven’t had a dollar in my pocket for years. So, to answer the question, “When did I have the least amount of money?” I can’t really say.

Tim and Jeremy 2019Immaculate
Tim and Jeremy 2019

back to the stories | home

© Tim Gamble 2023 all rights reserved