Changing times

One summer before I had my driver’s license, I was mowing lawns and delivering papers for spending money. I know I’m dating myself. My children can’t remember a time when the newspaper delivery person wasn’t an adult and my grandchildren don’t know what daily newspaper delivery is. At any rate, I could get all my papers delivered by 6 am and have the rest of the day for whatever I wanted, so I borrowed $25 from my dad and with the $25 I had saved, I purchased a walk behind lawn mower and began to line up jobs.

My most lucrative job was the lawn of a family that I supposed were rich people. They were going to spend the summer in Europe and so hired me to not only mow, but also to water their lawn for the summer. They offered $4 per week and I accepted. It was big money for me. 12 weeks of that and I’d own my lawn mower from that job alone. After that everything except a bit of gas and an occasional quart of oil was pure profit. I was sitting pretty.

Of course the money involved dates me as well. You can’t buy a new lawn mower for $50 these days. Susan and I are planning a trip this summer and I’ll be grateful if I can find someone to mow my lawn for $40 a week.

I remember thinking that the people for whom I mowed their lawn must be rich because they were spending the summer in Europe. We spent six weeks in Europe with my parents and sister and her husband at a point when we had very little money. Other than our plane tickets, the trip was fairly inexpensive. We stayed in youth hostels or with friends. We traveled in a rented van. We visited a lot of attractions such as castles and cathedrals that were free or inexpensive to visit.

And now look at us. We went to Japan for three weeks last summer as part of a sabbatical and we are returning to Japan for three weeks this summer. Two trips in two years. It is an extravagance for us and we are dipping into our savings once again, but we have good reason. Our daughter lives in Japan and she is expecting a baby this month. Grandchildren exert a very powerful force on grandparents and we feel the pull strongly.

For two years during our time in seminary, I served as an intern with a church and health clinic in Hinsdale, Illinois. I remember driving around Hinsdale in our little car looking at the houses. We decided that we would never in our lives live in a subdivision where the median home price was $100,000 as was the case in that town at that time. And yet, here we are, living in a subdivision where the median home price is well above $250,000 and we’re willing to pay $40 to have our lawn mowed. I guess that we’ve become rich by all of the definitions that I had when I was younger.

The truth is that we’ve been extremely fortunate in so many aspects of our lives. I’m pretty sure that our net worth won’t impress anyone. We’ve saved for our retirement all of our working livers, but that bit of money is not significant by modern standards. A good retirement planner would advise us that we aren’t in the best position to be considering retirement. But we’ve never developed a need for new possessions and we don’t think that happiness is best demonstrated by the size of our bank account. Consider the fact that we are very happy to dip into our savings to go visit our daughter, son in law and new grandson. Being with family is simply more important to us than having lots of money. No one has forced us to make the decisions we have made. We have lived our lives the way that we want.

I know a few horror stories about congregations who have abused the clergy who have served them. They have offered substandard salaries, foregone raises when finances were tight, and in at least one case, failed to make regular payments to the pension fund. I’ve met clergy whose health insurance required substantial co-pays out of already meager salaries. None of those things have ever happened to us. The congregations we have served have been generous and fair to us. We made decisions, including the decision to job share and live on a single salary for the early years of our careers. That gave us more time with our children when they were at home and more time for pursuing other interests. We could have insisted on both working full time and earned more money. We could have developed strategies to save a larger portion of our salaries. But we are comfortable with the choices we have made. We have had a good life and meaningful careers. We have served among people who have been loving and caring and faithful.

For years I thought that I would be able to write books and that the books would supplement our retirement income. The truth is that I’ve never written any of the books I’ve imagined. I have several partial manuscripts, but it is unlikely that they will ever become books. I could edit the essays of my journal into volumes of collected essays, but there isn’t much money in publishing books these days unless you become a best-seller, something that seems very unlikely in my case. When we were beginning our careers and job sharing, so theoretically working part time, I supplemented our family income by driving a school bus and working at a radio station. I’ve worked at newspapers, done free-lance writing and pursued several other small streams of income over the years. Prior to being ordained, I worked as a janitor and did furniture repair. I don’t have much retail experience but I’m capable of selling tools or lumber in a big box store. I’m not worrying about money. We’ll find enough.

The old formula, however, won’t work in these times. $40 per week is a long ways short of the price of a lawn mower these days. And $500 won’t buy much of a mower. Maybe I’ll think of something else. On the other hand, I can save money by mowing my own lawn.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!