I may be dating myself here, but I used to love the show Little House on the Prairie as a kid. Little did I know that I would learn a lot about finances and debt by watching. Here are a few of the things I picked up.
1. Do what you have to do, and be proud of it. I remember the episode entitled, The Richest Man in Walnut Grove, where the Ingalls family ran up a debt at Oleson’s Mercantile. Charles was expecting a nice paycheck from the sawmill, but the money didn’t come in. To pay off his debt, he worked digging ditches. The kids at school made fun of Laura, because they said Charles smelled bad from working so hard. Charles told Laura that it was true. He did smell bad. But he was working to provide for his family, and that was something for which he should be proud. You should always be proud of the effort you put into paying off your debts. Even if you’re mowing lawns on Saturdays to raise extra money, the effort is worthwhile and something to be proud of.
2. Don’t bank on money that you don’t have yet. If Charles wouldn’t have spent his paycheck before it was in his hands, he never would have been in debt to the Olesons in the first place. Never spend what you don’t yet have. My husband and I fell into this trap earlier this year. We knew we had some inheritance money coming, so we charged a new computer on a 0% card. We just knew we could pay it off before the interest hit. Unfortunately, my husband lost his job in that time period, and we needed to use the inheritance money for basic expenses. We’re still paying on the credit card.
3. Every little bit adds up. When the Ingalls family was working to pay off their debt, they focused their efforts and put every last resource into paying their bill. Charles dug ditches. Mary quit school for a while to earn money by sewing. Laura did Mary’s chores, so Mary would have more time to work. Caroline did the farm work, so Charles could work multiple jobs. Everyone pitched in. They pooled their resources and worked together as a family until the debt was paid. When your family pulls together, you will be able to pay your debt more quickly. Family morale also remains high when your family is working together toward a common goal.
4. Your whole family benefits when the debt is paid. The Ingalls family paid their debt at the Mercantile together as a family. You could see the pride on their faces. They had worked together. It wasn’t easy, but they got the job done. They had accomplished their goal. When your family works together toward a goal and succeeds, it builds family unity. It also instills strong values in your children. Hypothetically, I’ll bet Mary, Laura, and Carrie never forgot the feeling of paying for the purchases they made that day in cash. The same thing is true of families today. If you make taking care of your finances a priority, and your children see it and are part of the process, they will learn. They will be far less likely to make the same financial mistakes that you have.
At the end of the episode, after seeing the proud looks on the Ingalls’ faces as they paid their bill, Nels Oleson took Charles aside and said, “I think you’re the richest man in Walnut Grove”. Charles replied, “I know I am.” Family and values are much more important than anything money can buy. Wealth does not come from the things you can afford to buy. It comes from who you are and what you stand for.