A Financial Legacy: Why You Don’t Need to Be Rich To Leave One

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Growing up I never heard the terms “financial legacy” or “generational wealth”. Even the word wealth was foreign to me and not a topic that came up in our home. I knew that my parents worked every day to provide for the needs of our family. My role was to get good grades, graduate from high school and then go to somebody’s college or university.

I also knew that my parents wanted and expected me and my siblings to “do better” and achieve more than they had. Neither were high school graduates, but managed to “encourage” five of their seven children to attend college after high school. What I didn’t know at the time, was that while my parents did not openly discuss leaving a financial legacy for us, that is exactly what they did.

My parents left their legacy to us in three tangible ways: they lived a debt free lifestyle; they bought and held onto real estate and land; and they always saved and invested part of their earnings no matter how small the amount.

Mind How You Spend It

My parents never had a credit card, as far as I am aware. While there were occasions when they purchased items on credit, such as a new couch, an appliance or a used car, for the most part they paid for everything in cash. This was not because they couldn’t get approved for a credit card, but rather because they chose to live by Proverbs 22:7 – “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.”

My parents chose to buy only what they could afford to pay for either immediately or within a few short months. Because of the lifestyle they lived, they did not leave their children with any lingering debt to struggle with after their passing. But rather, they left a valuable lesson on the benefits of frugal living and thoughtful spending. Our family didn’t always have the best or the newest, but we always had what we needed. And this allowed my parents to generously help many others who were not as fortunate which is a practice I still engage in today.

Don’t Sell Grandma’s House…or Grandpa’s Land

I remember hearing the story of how my mother as a young unmarried Black woman in the 1940’s south managed to purchase 10 acres of land from a white land owner. My grandfather told her that the plantation owner was selling land and he encouraged my mother, who worked as a maid, to buy some of it. She did…for $50 acre.

My mother’s $500 sacrifice was the cornerstone of what would later become part of my parent’s legacy to their children. My father summed it up this way – “they ain’t making no mo land.” In other words, hold on to land if you have it. And we have to this day, along with the additional acreage purchased by my father and grandparents. We have also since invested in our own land purchases with the goal of passing it onto our children and grandchildren.

My parents were probably unaware that the value of the land they purchased with their precious few dollars would significantly increase over the years. But they did understand the value of keeping what they had so they could leave a legacy of wealth for future generations.

Bonds…Savings Bonds

On my ninth birthday, my parents gave me a US Series E Savings Bond as a birthday gift. The issue price at the time was $18.75. My father explained to me that I could cash the bond right away and get what they paid for it, or hold onto it and wait until it matured to the full value of $25. He offered to hold onto it for me for safekeeping, but assured me I could have it back whenever I wanted. This is my earliest memory of delayed gratification and value of saving to build long term wealth.

More than 20 years later, I found the bond in my fathers wardrobe. I was pleased to find it perfectly intact among the rubble from a fire that had burned down half of our family home. The full maturity date – five years and ten months after it was issued – had long since been reached and it was no longer earning interest. But I have never cashed my special birthday bond and still have it to this day. It is a physical reminder of the importance of saving to build wealth and establishing a financial legacy.

You Don’t Have to Be Rich

My parents were not wealthy in the traditional sense. But they still managed to leave a financial legacy that lives on today. They taught me that I don’t have to be rich to leave a legacy of generational wealth for my children and grandchildren. All I need to do is continue to follow their examples of saving more than I spend, being mindful of what I do spend, and holding onto the assets I have so those who follow me can continue the legacy for years to come.

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