Financial Responsibility at a Young Age  Russ Leonard  5-28-15

       I used to wonder why I developed the savings and spending habits that eventually enabled me to retire at 57. Neither of my sisters have similar habits or beliefs when it comes to finances. I probably had more financial pressures, opportunities and responsibilities at a young age than they did. Probably because I was the only son. If I just look back at what I did at a young  age it is really no mystery at all.

     When I was ten my father bought me a lawn mower. He really bought it for me. He told me that I had to cut our lawn and his friend, Pat's lawn down the street. Pat would pay me ($1.50) and my father would buy all the gas. He said that if I ended up cutting the whole neighborhood he would still buy all the gas. Sounded like a deal to me so I cut 6 lawns that summer and for several summers after that. My father never asked what I was doing with the money. Some I saved, some I spent on clothes, I even bought Christmas presents with my own money.

     My father never gave me much money or an allowance. He did give me opportunities to make money by helping his many friends. I did roofing and masonry  work before I was a teenager. I painted houses when I was 15. When I was 17, I had the best job ever. I worked for an eccentric Japanese artist, turning her yard into a Japanese garden. I rolled huge rocks weighing hundreds of pounds with long steel bars for hours in the Summer heat. I also got paid $8.00 an hour in 1974. Minimum wage was $2.00 at the time. It was like winning the Lotto. I enjoyed making money when I was a young kid. When my friends were lucky to have 50 cents, I had 50 dollars. 

     So those were some of my early financial opportunities. A little unusual back then but not unheard of. Nowadays it would be considered abusive to have a child work like that and the adult would probably make the news with handcuffs on. I am certain that all the long term affects were positive. 

    In general I have very fond memories of those years. One memory that was not so fond was my 18th birthday. That is when the real responsibilities started. On the morning of my 18th birthday, my Dad came over to me and very casually said that I should not drive my car. I thought something must have happened to it. He told me that he dropped me from his insurance policy as of midnight. He said" You are 18 and you can legally buy your own policy." It wasn't quite as bad as it sounds because my mothers cousin owned the insurance agency and it was all planned ahead. All I had to do was call cousin John to settle everything, but my rates doubled that day. Before I had even recovered from the initial shock of dropping me from his policy, he added that I must also start paying rent. I had to give my mother $20.00 a month. I did not mind that. Most of the time she ended up spending it on me anyways or she would tell me to just go out and buy a couple of pizzas and we would be good for the month.

       I know my upbringing was a little extreme by today's standards. But maybe a little more of what I had to do and a little less of adults buying their kid's $150.00 Air Jordan's would go a long way towards teaching a little financial responsibility.

           What I Have Learned in My First Year

                            of Retirement  Russ Leonard  5-17-15

      Next month will mark the one year anniversary of my retirement. It is hard to imagine that I have not worked in almost one year. So the first thing that I have learned is that even in retirement, your life is in fast forward and time flies by. 

      I adapted very easily to retired life. The transition was seamless. I attribute that to all of the financial and time planning that I did prior to retiring. There have not been any big surprises. My biggest surprise is probably that after one year I still do not have any desire to work even part time. I have done so many things in the last year that it makes me wonder how I had time to work all those years. 

      I have changed a little this past year. I am much more relaxed, patient and tolerant. There is very little stress in my life. Manufacturing Management and Engineering had become a brutal environment over the last few years. After the recession hit in 2008 it seemed that many companies used it as an excuse to squeeze more out of their employees. Attitudes and expectations changed and more stress was the result. The most stress that I had last week was deciding on whether to put almonds or walnuts into something that I was baking. I put both in and eliminated the possibility of any stress. 

     My overall health is better. I still workout on a regular basis and have added a daily walk or hike to my schedule. I have more time to prepare better, healthier meals. I eat 7 to 8 times per day which is up from 5 to 6 before I retired. I am a little leaner than I was a year ago and I am currently down about 5 lbs from my pre- retirement weight. I am not trying to lose weight. I do not need to, it just happened as a result of changes in my routine. I feel real good. I was fortunate this past year and did not even catch a cold.

     Financially we have done better than expected. I have spent less than I planned. Car expenses are way down. I am a better shopper than I used to be. I enjoy shopping for groceries. I enjoy many daily activities that I used to consider a chore. The simple reason is that there is no pressure to complete them during my formerly valuable weekend time. Most days I do not even know what day it is, nor do I care.

    I actually can not think of anything that I would have done differently during the past year. When you can say that it means just one thing, so far retirement has been a complete success.


George Was Not the Only One Who Chopped Down the Cherry Tree  Russ Leonard  4-23-15

   My Dad taught me how to do many things. By observing his flaws I also learned a lot about what not to do. He was a complex, extremely talented and intelligent person who would do things that might leave you wondering why at times. I attributed it to the fact that he loved to gamble, especially when it involved his own abilities on the golf course, bowling or playing cards.

   In the Spring of 1972 I learned that we were getting a travel trailer and were going "camping". I was very excited. I was 14 at the time. We were going to park the trailer next to our new carport. There was one problem with that. A mature cherry tree stood exactly where we were going to put the trailer. We only had about a week before we were getting the trailer and my Dad said he would chop down the tree in a couple of days and I could help. This was during our April break from school. My Dad worked a hybrid second shift at the time. The next morning was one of his golf days. He would go to work directly from the golf course. 

  The next morning I seized the opportunity and decided to cut down the tree. It was only a few feet from our carport and about 30 feet from the neighbors house. The tree was over a foot in diameter and at least 30 feet tall. I had asked him about how he would go about cutting it down. He told me about notching one side and cutting it on an angle so it would fall in the right direction. He wasn't giving me instructions by any means. Thinking that I knew enough,  I got the ax and a depression era bow saw that was nothing short of a lethal weapon.

   I went about notching one side which took considerable time. The actual sawing was quick. I wish I had that saw today. When it started to fall I only stepped back a few inches and watched it fall exactly where it was supposed to. I was impressed with the force in which it hit the ground. I spent the rest of the day cutting it up and hauling it out to our brush pile in the woods. That was back in the day when everyone burned their brush pile.

   It was a big job for a 14 year old. I was extremely proud of myself. I even cut the stump flush with the ground. Oh boy was Dad going to be happy. Oh boy was I wrong. The next morning my Dad asked me to sit down. He asked the famous question, "Who cut down the cherry tree"? I proudly proclaimed that I did it. He took me outside. I knew something was wrong. He was torn between thanking and killing me and I did not understand why. 

   He asked me if I thought about what would have happened if it did not fall in the correct direction. Of course I had given it no thought at all. He told me I could have been seriously injured or killed. He explained that it could have landed on our carport or even hit the neighbors house. I got the long lecture about actions and potential consequences. This was not a little 5 minute talk. He explained that he would have let me do it in a supervised setting. 

   I was kind of confused at the time. My Dad had let me do many unsupervised chores in the past and encouraged me not to shy away from new or difficult tasks. I later realized that the big difference that time was the potential danger and that he was not around in case things did not go as planned. I was on my own in a potentially dangerous situation and had not even considered the consequences. 

   That little lesson on actions and potential consequences probably has helped me a thousand times over the years. It certainly came into play in my retirement planning and the investments that I have made. My little "what if" book of retirement planning was over 200 pages long. Over the last 43 years I am sure that I have drawn from that lesson a 1000 times. It was probably the best lesson that I ever learned. Of course there have been a few times when I should have thought about that day. We don't need to talk about those.

     From tuning up a 1965 Belvedere in1968 to building this beast of a 1969 Dodge Charger, from 1984 to1987. Supercharged and Nitrous injected Big Block, Narrowed Rear, Full Cage, Hand made fiberglass rear quarters, etc. Even a driveway paint job with graphics. My father showed me how to paint  my first car, a 1963 Studebaker, when I was 17.

     I only took my Dad for one ride. He said " Are you trying to kill your F'n old Man?" He was impressed. He even told me so.

                                                              An Early Lesson  Russ Leonard  4-16-15

      I know that I am fortunate to have retired at age 57. I certainly do not take it for granted. I am also aware that I worked hard and prepared for it. Sometimes lessons learned at a young age can have a great influence on how you approach things and your decision making process in the future.

     My father taught me how to do many things. These included car repairs, plumbing, carpentry, masonry and electrical work. It was not until many years later that I also realized that he had taught me some great lessons about life as well. My father could pretty much make or repair anything. He was a licensed aviation mechanic and pilot before the start of WWII. He would later enlist in the Navy and spend most of the war in southern England as part of a Naval Air Force B-24 Bomber Group. Even at a young age I realized that he could do things that most other Dads could not.

     I am not sure of the exact date, but I think it was in May or June of 1968. My father had a 1965 Plymouth Belvedere Station Wagon with a 273 cu" V-8. I would have been 11 years old at the time. I had watched my father do many car repairs even when I was very young. I liked cars when I was a little kid and still do today. He handed me a bag of new parts and tools and told me to go tune up the car. I wasn't totally clueless, but this was well beyond handing him an occasional wrench. He told me to replace everything exactly like I found it. He gave me a quick explanation of what everything was but did not go outside to the car with me. The bag had new points, rotor, condensor, distributor cap, plugs and wires. Also included was a timing light, dwell meter, bright blue chalk and feeler gauges. He also got his tool box for me and gave me the car keys. He said he would come out and help me if I needed it and go see what I could do.

    I am sure I was excited and terrified at the same time. I also knew that no matter what damage I did, Dad could fix it. So off I went to tune up the car. It probably took me a half an hour just to figure out how to open the hood. I had seen my Dad change wires and a distributor cap before and I knew enough to keep everything attached and just duplicate it. I got lucky with the points, had a lot of trouble with the spark plugs. He must have gaped them for me beforehand. Several hours later I was done. I had not gone in to ask for help.

    Here I was, presented with my first great decision in life. Should I try to start it or go get Dad first? Remember, I am an 11 year old kid that just attempted a complete tune up without supervision. I decided to start it and it started(barely). When I went in and told him it was running, I don't remember him saying much. He came out and showed me how to use the timing light and dwell meter. I found out that the cool looking bright blue chalk was to mark the timing line on the harmonic balancer. He obviously double checked everything I did. 

    He wasn't the type to put his arm around me and tell me what a great job I did, but I knew he was proud of me. From that point on, I did all the tune ups. My first attempt at a brake job shortly after was not as successful. If only I could have taken off the other wheel so I could have figured out where all the springs belonged(the age of drum brakes).

    The fact that I learned how to work on so many mechanical and electrical things when I was a very young kid certainly paid off throughout my life. It must have saved me tens of thousands of dollars over the years. That was only part of it.

     The real lessons were about having  confidence in your abilities and not being afraid to venture out into the unknown or make mistakes. I turned the key that day, and 46 years later I walked away from a secure, well paying job and retired at 57.