MY MOTHER is 95 years old and in fairly good shape for her age. Yes, she repeats herself quite often. When she does, I tend to let it go in one ear and out the other.
When she talks about my father, however, I listen very closely. One day, as I was backing the car out of the garage, she looked at all the cabinets my father built and said for the umpteenth time, “Sam was a smart man. Look at all the things he designed and built.”
My father was one of the wisest men I’ve ever known. He was a machinist by trade. But he was very knowledgeable about life in general, including personal finance. I still remember something he said to me when I was young: “It’s not how much money you make that’s important. It’s what you do with your money that’s important.”
One day, I asked my father when would be a good time to invest some extra money I received from my employer. He answered “yesterday”—a reminder of the importance of investing early.
He never tried to time the stock market or game the system in other ways. He was a meat-and-potatoes kind of investor. Just invest your money in a low-cost diversified fund and watch it grow. Today, my mother is still living off the money that her and my father invested. Isn’t that proof that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to investing?
Not only did I learn the basic principles about investing from my father, but also he instilled in me a work ethic that propelled me through my life. When I was a teenager, I used to watch him get up early to go to work and come home late in the evening. He sometimes did this six days a week. He and my mother also managed a 36-unit apartment building that required a lot of his time.
I used to say to myself, “How does this man work so hard?” Then, one summer during high school, I found myself working 50-plus hours a week at my father’s employer. Before I knew it, I was working six days a week, just like him.
That hard work continued throughout my career. It opened doors for me and earned me numerous promotions. One day, I was sitting in the office of my future boss. He was looking at my resume. He said, “I see you have an MBA. What really impresses me is not so much that you have an MBA, but you earned it while working fulltime. That tells me a lot about your character. That took a lot of commitment and hard work.”
The comment says less about me and more about the type of person my father was: He was a hard-working, blue-collar worker who wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty—and that was the example I strove to emulate. With the money he earned, he was able to build an investment portfolio that would provide a comfortable retirement for him and his wife. His financial success was built on three simple principles: Work hard, save and invest in low-cost, diversified funds.
Dennis Friedman retired from Boeing Satellite Systems after a 30-year career in manufacturing. Born in Ohio, Dennis is a California transplant with a bachelor’s degree in history and an MBA. A self-described “humble investor,” he likes reading historical novels and about personal finance. His previous articles include Building Wealth, Not My Priority and Power of Two. Follow Dennis on Twitter @DMFrie.