One of the things that I am deeply grateful for this Thanksgiving season is that my father was a frugal guy and made a big deal out of it. A child of the depression, William O’Reilly, Sr. hoarded his dollars and lectured his children on saving not spending money. Sure, it was boring. My sister and I had visions of Snickers and Good Humor ice cream dancing in our heads. But as soon as I started making some money cutting lawns and shoveling snow, I saved a nice piece of it primarily because my father was six feet, three inches tall.
But not everybody got that lesson. The current economic horror can be traced back to one major occurrence—Americans borrowing money they can’t pay back. Buying houses they can’t afford, running up credit card debt like crazy. Of course, the banks were only too happy to help out, providing massive amounts of credit to Americans of limited means. What’s the difference between a drug dealer and a mortgage broker? Interest.
So now we are all getting pounded, but some are better off than others. I still hear my father’s voice when my paycheck rolls in and much of that check gets deposited in the bank. It does not get spent. It sits there in insured accounts winking at me. But it’s there and will protect me and my family if any disaster happens.
Along with the saving habit, my father also mocked materialists. Living in Levittown, we had the basics, and that was that. If my dad saw somebody buying something dumb, like a foreign car or something, he’d make fun of it. Our “pre-owned” Nash Rambler wasn’t exactly stylish, but it got us to the beach.
When my father died, he left my mother no debt and enough cash to live on for the duration. My mom is now approaching 86 years old, and if she wants a steak, it is there for her. My father’s legacy is rock-solid responsibility with every obligation met.
If all Americans were like my dad, the following things would happen. First, Starbucks would go bankrupt. Spaghetti joints would replace the overpriced coffee houses. There would be no sign of Bentley automobiles. Costco would rule from coast to coast. Nobody would pay ten bucks to see a movie except if Clint Eastwood returned as Dirty Harry. Any restaurant with “fusion” on the menu would be empty. No one would ever eat “gelato.” Ever.
But everybody would have money in the bank and the credit card companies would be weeping. Also, there would be no bailouts for slacker corporations or white-collar thugs like the AIG guys.
My father always said be thankful for what you have. And make sure you have enough.