When I work out, I always listen to music.
I’ve tried listening to books or podcasts when exercising, but it just doesn’t work.
I have to count (reps) or strain (lifting or cardio) and my attention on anything anyone says is gone. When I’ve tried a podcast or book I end up constantly rewinding which makes for a very frustrating experience.
So music it is.
I listen to a wide range of music, from classical to hard rock, but my sweet spot is pop music, mostly from the 70’s and 80’s, when I was growing up.
Song about My Youth
One song that comes up now and again in my mix is “Country Boy” by Glen Campbell.
You can see it performed here if you’re so inclined (the remastered version I listen to is better quality, but you can’t beat the video for helping take you back in time):
Song Facts summarizes the song as follows:
This was yet another huge hit for Glen Campbell, one of the first Country artists to experience crossover success, and it’s one of this most introspective. He sings about having achieved success and wealth beyond his wildest dreams, but he has lost something of himself and his roots in the process and is wondering why he isn’t fulfilled by his stardom.
The chorus is the part that most resonates with me:
Country boy, you got your feet in L.A.
But your mind’s on Tennessee
Lookin’ back, I can remember the time
When I sang my songs for free
Country boy, you got your feet in L.A.
Take a look at everything you own
But now and then, my heart keeps goin’ home
Just a Country Boy
I was never a “country boy” in the (probably) most likely definition of the word.
I didn’t live on a farm or in the woods, didn’t wear overalls (at least much, they were kinda in style for a bit) and go barefoot all summer, and didn’t own a horse or barn animals.
That said, I didn’t really grow up in an urban area.
First of all, I lived in Iowa, a state with the population of 3.18 million (according to what I could find on Google). This would rank Iowa as #17 in the top metro population CITIES in the U.S. In other words, almost anywhere you live in Iowa could be called the “country”.
Second, I lived in small-town Iowa. We spent my childhood in a decent-sized town of 25k or so (which seemed big to me as a kid), but in high school we moved to a town with only 3k people. Yep, that’s the town’s population.
Third, we did not live in town but a few miles outside of it…in the “country”.
So while I wasn’t roping horses or wrestling steers, I think I most certainly lived in the country.
Small Town Iowa
On a side note, here are a few fun facts about the town I consider my hometown (where we moved just before I started 9th grade):
- My grandmother was the mayor of the town for 20 years. She was quite a hoot as you might imagine.
- My high school was a “county” high school, meaning they bussed all the kids from the entire county into the high school. Even with that, my graduating class was just over 100 people.
- There was nothing for teenagers to do in our town (we didn’t even get a fast food place until after I left) so we always had to go to the “big city”, a town 20 miles away that had 30k people or so. They had a theater downtown, a drive-in theater, and many places to eat.
- If you did stay in town, the main form of activity for high schoolers was driving around the town square. The town’s courthouse was in the middle of the town and you’d drive around it (the block) to see and be seen.
If you’ve ever seen the movie Grease, it was like the town there. Except smaller.
Or if you watch Hallmark movies, it was like the stereotypical town in those. It was pretty magical at times, especially at Christmas.
I loved it for a variety of reasons:
- It was big enough for me (I didn’t know any different), provided a safe place to learn, grow, and not kill myself doing the stupid things teenagers do.
- It was easy to get around — there was never a traffic jam.
- You knew your neighbors and most everyone else in town. This could be stifling at times, but the pros outweighed the cons by such a large margin it didn’t really matter.
- I was able to try (and excel) at things I would never have had the chance to in a much larger environment. I was an officer in many school clubs and one of the best speech/drama/debate people in the school. I had the lead roles in the high school plays my sophomore and senior years. I also starred in several community plays/performances (I did mime, believe it or not). The bar was set low, something a young kid like me needed to succeed and develop confidence. By the time I left for college, I had been such a success that I knew I would do well at higher levels.
That said, it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns.
We were not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. My parents divorced when I was in third grade. My mom and I lived a lower class existence for many years. I can still remember the days coming home from school (alone, as mom was at work) with a note saying I could have a sandwich and half the Kool-aid for dinner. That was it. The other half of the Kool-aid was for the next day. Things were tight.
The situation improved when my mom remarried during my freshman year in high school. We moved up to upper lower class or maybe even lower middle class. But we were far from wealthy.
In addition, there weren’t many jobs for a high school kid (or a college graduate). I did work at the local grocery store for several years in both high school and college, but that was it. I also “walked beans” (Google it) a bit to earn some money.
But overall, it was pretty idyllic. I look back and am so thankful for those four years of high school that really set the seeds for my development.
Small Town Money Advantage?
The other day while I was gasping for breath at the gym and Glen Campbell was wailing in my ears, I started to think…did growing up in small town Iowa play a key role in developing my money habits?
Then as I looked back, I could see there were ways that it did. Here are a few of them…
1. It made me determined to earn a good income.
You could argue that growing up poorer than average made me determined to do well and that could happen anywhere, not just a small town.
But something about being poor in a small town magnified the issue for me — it seemed like more of a “big deal.”
My mom recounts one of the parent/teacher conferences she had with my algebra teacher. The teacher told my mom:
“I asked John what he wants to do with his life and he said he wants to make a lot of money. I have no doubt he’ll do it.”
I knew what it was like being poor and was determined that I would not live my life that way.
That’s why my planned vocations were all higher paying — first veterinarian, then lawyer, then accountant, then executive (the one that stuck).
2. It helped me know the value of a dollar.
Perhaps this was attributed to growing up in the 70’s when there were still lots of people who remembered the depression around.
But I think being in small town USA that the value of a dollar seeped into you in many ways — how the people acted, what stores were available, etc.
It also “helped” being poor. Others might have thought a dollar wasn’t worth much but when I got one I guarded it closely.
As you can imagine, this perspective came in handy later on as I started my career and wanted to grow my net worth.
3. It taught me hard work and how it was connected with success.
This one is certainly attributed to small town life.
Hard-working people surrounded my daily life — especially farmers and small business people (including my step father).
I saw these people (and knew most of them), how hard they worked, and how they had achieved much of their success through hard work.
They were great examples for me.
Oh, and it’s not by accident that millionaires rate “work hard” as the top tip for growing their incomes.
4. It taught me to appreciate the simpler things in life.
This is a big one.
Living in a small town, you have to appreciate the simpler aspects of life because that’s all there is.
Things like driving around the square, going to the county fair in the summer, walking the streets at Christmas to enjoy the people and music, and so forth.
I learned to appreciate and love these basic pleasures. And a love for the simpler things in life followed me throughout my life. That’s why I didn’t need to spend a fortune on this or that thing to bring me happiness — my family and simple activities like going to the apple orchard or having a home movie night were more than enough joy for me.
I know this sounds a bit like I grew up in Mayberry (and internalized the associated way of life) and maybe I did.
My Feet In LA
I never lived in LA (though I did live in Tennessee — and loved it), but after growing up in bumpkin-ville, any city seemed as large as LA. That’s why the “big cities” of Pittsburgh, Nashville, and even Grand Rapids, Michigan seemed like my “LA” as they were so much bigger than where I came from.
Many times during my career I would think back on “Country Boy” and relate to the words he sang:
- “Country boy, you got your feet in L.A., But your mind’s on Tennessee” — So often, even though I was a “big city success” I longed to simply be home, with my family and friends, and relaxing in a small, Iowa town with no stress.
- “Lookin’ back, I can remember the time, When I sang my songs for free” — This was a common feeling. I remember thinking so many times 1) what am I doing here/ I’m just a hick from small-town Iowa and 2) they PAY me for this — I was doing it for free 15 years ago!
- “Country boy, you got your feet in L.A., Take a look at everything you own, But now and then, my heart keeps goin’ home” — Despite success, wealth, net worth, and the ability to have anything I want in live (within reason), in the end my heart is back there in that small town.
In a lot of ways my memory reminds me of the life the Frugalwoods are living. I would guess they are experiencing many of the same joys I grew up with.
That Town is No More
The town I loved is no longer there.
It’s there physically, but it’s a shell of its former self.
Walmart moved into the big town 20 miles away and killed all the small businesses in my town (and for a 20-40 mile radius for the most part). Now only insurance companies and lawyers fill the office space on the square which is 50% vacant.
As a result, the roads, sidewalks, etc. are in bad shape too and these days my town feels more like a ghost town in waiting than a thriving, beautiful Hallmark village.
My parents still live there but are close to leaving, selling their home and living the RV life. I may make it back there one last time before they move or perhaps I’ve seen the last of my town.
Either way, it’s ok, as my fondest memories live in my mind anyway.
So I’m feeling a bit nostalgic these days about my hometown and think that is it to thank, at least in part, for making my finances successful.
And I’m thankful for the non-financial blessings that town gave me as well.
The words from Small Town by John Cougar Mellencamp hit home for me as well:
No I cannot forget where it is that I come from
I cannot forget the people who love me
Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town
And people let me be just what I want to be
Got nothing against a big town
Still hayseed enough to say
Look who’s in the big town
But my bed is in a small town
Oh, and that’s good enough for me
What do you think? Do you think small town living helped me become wealthy?
Any others from small towns? If so, do you think it impacted your finances in any way?
I tend to gravitate to country/rural areas as I don’t find myself enjoying city life as a resident (much rather drive 30-50 min to go to a city and enjoy the amenities when I want than live in it constantly).
As such I think it has definitely helped me on my path to wealth as these places are far more affordable and you get to have a larger property/home than you would have.
Plus your neighbors are really down to earth so there is no competing with the Joneses going on ever.
I’m also from small town IA. Population of 530 would in the 70’s. Parents divorced when I was 12. Believe first in our town to divorce. Looks and talk behind Mom’s back. But I also believe that growing up in NE IA have me my core values to help me in my career in the U.S.Navy and logistics engineering. A solid work ethic instilled in oneself early on is a precious asset! I had five grandma’s and mothers who had carte Blanche permission to perform “corporal punishment” on my behind if not behaving real well. 😉 You know? I look back fondly of my youthful days in IA. A very safe environment to be outside playing with friends and parents had no worries about our safety. Wish my kids had the same when they were young! God speed everyone.
We live middle class even though Dave Ramsey gave us permission to now “live like no one else”. Financial success equals freedom. Time is a precious resource, use it to your up most satisfaction.
K D says
I too grew up in Iowa. I lived in a town/city of about 30,000. My mom grew up in a town of about 12,000 and my dad moved from Chicago to a town of a few thousand, when he was 11 or 12, during the Great Depression. My mom is still in my hometown but my four siblings and I moved away decades ago.
I think life was a lot simpler growing up in the 1960s and 70s in Iowa. I attended a small high school and it gave me the opportunity to be involved in sports, drama, and other activities. You did not have to be a stand out to be part of activities.
I think these days the rise of the internet and media has changed the way kids grow up but I think life is still somewhat simpler in smaller places.
Similar story for me. I grew up outside of a town not much larger than your childhood town, but in a development. My mom got divorced when I was about 3, I have 2 older brothers. She never remarried. My HS graduating class was around 275. Mom’s budget was always very tight. I was the first to graduate from college. I took care of mom’s car, lawn, and house as best I could until she passed. Brothers were surprised by her assets I helped her build. I retired early at 53. I always look back at my childhood with fondness. Mom did good with the little resources she had. I never recall her staying home sick from work. ESI and personal integrity was ingrained in me since childhood.
I grew up as a “suburban kid” in a small city (20K people) in the 1970s. So I missed growing up in a farming community. My father had grown up on a small “truck” farm in Arkansas and my mother’s family had farmed in south Georgia. Neither of my parents came from wealth. They didn’t encourage us children to think of farming as a career; instead, they wanted us to go to college, as they had done. But many of their habits and ways of thinking were based in the Depression and in their farming roots. They were fairly thrifty and worked hard. I was told many times by my father not to stand there with the door open letting the “bought” air out. He always purchased the Thrifty Maid ice milk, not real ice cream. He would remind me to quench my thirst with water, not with milk (which I loved). My mother would always look for quality clothes on sale, never full price. She would always protect the good furniture they had managed to acquire (she’d often put an old sheet down before children sat on the sofa and no one could ever put their feet on the sofa and no children were allowed to jump on the sofa or the mattresses). It could be annoying, but now I appreciate the things I learned from them. They were very loving parents. And yes, to answer your question, their habits and attitudes did rub off on me and provided a beginning point for my own financial habits. I and my siblings all found little jobs throughout our teens. We always wanted to save some money; we never assumed anyone else would take care of us (other than our parents); and we always thought we needed to pay back anything we borrowed. I never questioned that I had to pay back my student loan; it never crossed my mind that maybe the government should forgive it. Somehow, I think that attitude is part of what I inherited from my parents’ and their parents.
I don’t think growing up in a small town is a root cause of good financial smarts. IMO, the environmental factors which model/teach good money habits are:
– Parent/Guardian. Kids mimic their same sex parent more than anyone else.
– Peers. Kids want to fit in with their peers. If their friends are balanced/frugal, the kid will learn those good/bad habits
– Living Environment. This is where I think my perception of the “mid-western” values and ESI’s small town thesis comes into play. In my limited visits, I’ve observed the practical/frugal natures of these people. What still stays with me was the conversation I had with one gal who was somewhat insulted an shocked that I was surprise she cut the big lawn of her parents house when she was a teenager. I never knew a female who cut grass as a kid until I met that Iowain but apparently it was normal there. But I don’t think all small town families have these values. I grew up in NC and there are some small towns over there where some these households are total train wrecks.
Paper Tiger (aka MI-27) says
I think we are all products of our environment, regardless of whether that is urban or rural, country or city, richer or poorer. We are shaped by the people we surround ourselves with and the people who had the most influence on us growing up. As we enter adulthood our friends tend to have more influence as well as mentors and networks we develop throughout our careers.
Achievement is encouraged by modeling and patterning yourself after successful people of high quality, high character, great ethics, relentless execution, and healthy ambition. Making good choices and seeking out these type of people to be in your network, no matter where you are will always improve confidence and results in life.
I agree 100%! Small town values and upbringing have helped to shape many of our lives. I too grew up in a small (2300 people) outside of Dallas and I remember those days fondly. Many of us learned the value of hard work in those small towns. I worked for a farmer driving a tractor most summers and often hauled hay to make money for the things that I wanted to purchase. If you have ever worked a job like that then you are motivated to do whatever it takes to not have to work that type of job all of your life. It motivated me to get a good education so that I could better my position.
You are also right about small town school districts. Yes they may not offer Latin or Quantum Physics but there are so many opportunities in a smaller setting that, in my opinion, outweigh the big school perks.
We also hung out at the town square on Friday and Saturday night.
I definitely say that growing up on a dairy farm in northern Wisconsin is what made me successful and a millionaire. Farm work was 5:30am to 8pm every day, seven days a week (Sundays was a day of rest so no work from 9am to 4pm), and often in harsh conditions such as heat or snow drifts as dairy cows need to be milked 2 or 3 times per day and require much attention to feeding and care. My parents encouraged me to go to college to have a different life, but had to pay for it myself. So, once I went to college, it was no big deal to take 20 hours of engineering classes and work 30-40 hours per week. Summer jobs in college were 11 hours per day, 6 days per week and no overtime pay was available. Same when I had my career. Work hours of 50-60 hours per week was a breeze. I was not afraid to take on extra projects and responsibilities.
I grew up 5 miles from a “city” of 2800 people. Small town. No traffic lights or parking meters but had 2 banks and 12 bars. ESI in my day would have been considered a “city kid” in that they really did not experience true rural life. My “city” friends in high school were always envious of my freedoms, had a paid for car (I paid for), money for activities, love of outdoors, and excelled in school.
Besides the 4 Small Town Money Advantages that ESI mentions in the article, I say that 2 other Advantages were even more important to me and rural life.
1. Start a side hustle at an early age: Knowing I wanted to go to college and that my parents could not afford it, I had to earn money. When I graduated from high school in 1968, I had a paid for car and $2000 in the bank (probably equivalent to $20000 today). Besides the normal farm work, I earned money by growing cucumbers in a small patch, and raised cattle for sale, starting at the age of 12. By working thru college and never having a day off from employment from age 18 to 22, I graduated with lots of money in the bank. Used it to purchase my first home in less than a year after college graduation. Since then side hustles I did over the years were rental real estate, seasonal tax preparation work and small business consulting while having my professional career.
2. Learning to be self-reliant: Farmers can’t depend on others. They are the entrepreneurs and make all of the decisions and learn how to keep expenses low, by being a “jack of all trades”. Concrete work, building additions, engine maintenance and overhaul, animal science, electrical, plumbing, welding, crop decisions, amateur weather forecaster, business tax prep, animal breeding, etc. I was aware of all income and expenses of the farm enterprise at the age of 15 and helped to optimize the operation. All of these learned skills helped me to keep my expenses low during my career, to budget and to plan/optimize/create long term value.
Yes, I agree with you that rural upbringing instils some great values. Growing up on a dairy farm in rural New Zealand taught me a lot. And I believe most of my attitudes to money and work reflect my youth. From hard work to self-resilience and a can-do attitude. After all, when you run a farm the buck stops at you- you get out as much as you put in. It’s different from being employed, where you can clock out at 5 and not think about it anymore.
Farmers have to learn a wide range of skills too. Meteorology, biology, chemistry, math, enginery, accounting, marketing and economics- they tend to have building, electric, and plumbing skills too. They may not be experts in any one field- but they need a basic grasp of each.
I have to generally object to the yeas and suggest it’s more heredity and environment, always, no matter where or when. I’ve noticed that most of the rosiest summaries are projections into a past that no longer exists, and even when it did there were problems. Having everybody know about your business is, I think, NOT a good thing, anywhere or any time. Certainly not now. And while there can be great benefits to more space and fewer people, the 160-acre ranch I grew up on was now and then trespassed upon by hunters, drug dealers and other hoodlums, this back in the recession-plagued 70’s. Father constantly carried a sidearm and personally escorted others off the property using his trusty shotgun and spotlights; not too many are comfortable with that, including me, but that was the price of safety back in the good old days, on the proverbial farm, with a town of approximately 1,000 less than three miles away. Of course cities host even more discouraging, sometimes deadly issues I won’t bother tormenting others with. Their schools are hit-and-miss, sometimes trashed, or gang-laden, almost unintellectual by default, but the suburban middle and high schools I attended were hardly utopian . . . any type of drug was available and commonplace. My 8th-grade teacher had an ‘extramarital affair’ with one of her 8th-grade students (!); early in on the Mary K. business, I suppose. At least she was fired; her husband divorced her. No jail time, although statutory rape by law. They’ve always taken it easier on the females. The high school basketball coach and PE instructor, well-respected, married and so on, had sex with half of the girls’ varsity team. Massive scandal there, cost him his job, not the marriage. Poor lady. I could go on and on . . . there were teachers molesting, drug dealing, embezzling, etc., probably no more or less than now, just a percentage based on the size of any organization. Point is, that was the country , and those schools were considered great, not just good, then and now. If I ever had any children I would NEVER send them to a public school, but that’s just me. Homeschool or private. Anyway, don’t be fooled; it varies from place to place, but the human equation always remains. I’d intensely study the demographics, crime stats, and regularly tour the streets of any prospective town or city on your radar, then make the best choice, all things considered. Lock your doors and mind your own business.
Jeff S. says
I could go on about my simple upbringing – but this is very much my story. Let’s put it this way, there was no detriment to having grown up the way I did. None.
I work with counterparts who have never been punched in the face. I’ve been punched in the face. So yeah. My upbringing has everything to do with my success. I’m so grateful. Thanks for this share.
I am an Iowan and fondly reminisce of growing up here. Even though I am a bit younger than you, many of your childhood stories parallel my own memories and made me laugh out loud. (I walked beans too. But, did you detassel corn? Now that is hard work at age 14.) Did growing up in Iowa help me financially? I don’t know. But staying and practicing medicine here definitely did! Geographic arbitrage is huge. Instate tuition for undergrad and med school + low cost of living + higher physician pay than national average = FIRE anytime I want at this point (mid 40’s).
Lastly, I zoomed in on your picture to see if I could identify the town. The main clue is the US 20 East sign. I grew up just south of 20 in east-central Iowa and now live on 20 in Eastern Iowa. Will you satisfy my curiosity with a town name? 😊
Haha! That’s a stock photo not my town…
I agree with your premise that growing up in a small town, and going to a small high school, conveys certain advantages, since I experienced (and benefited as a result) from many of the same factors.
At the same time, I will agree with others that have suggested in their comments that similar values (and resulting financial success later in life) can be taught by family and teachers, and learned growing up in an urban and suburban area.
It would be interesting to know if Dr. Thomas J. Stanley (author of the book “Millionaire Next Door”) looked at origin in his research.
While life on the farm is hard, there are many benefits to those that are willing to take on the challenge.
I relate to so many of the things you mention in your post: living a few miles outside of a town with a population of 3,000; a high school graduating class of ~100; going to the bigger town (18,000) to the movie theater; cruising around and around the block; the chance to try many different things in extracurricular activities and serve as an officer in many clubs to experience success and develop confidence; living a lower class existence (during the “Farm Crisis” of the 1980s); walking (soy)beans to pull and hoe weeds; growing up poor and being determined not to live the rest of my life that way; knowing the value of a dollar, learning that hard work is key to success; appreciating the simpler things in life; longing to be living in a small town with little stress; etc.
Thanks for sharing your experience and for the trip down Memory Lane!
Where I grew up as a kid was rural as well. My home town these days had the opposite fate of yours. The suburbs of philly are expanding ever outward. I’d debatably call them suburbs now.
Anyway where I grew up was an incorporated area, no town. Just a postal code. No idea how many lived there but the nearest town was maybe 5 miles away and according to google had about 5000 people. That was the big city to me.
It’s an interesting question. I believe the biggest impact for me was self reliance and leadership. When you live near no other kids you need to make your own fun and make your own decisions. Otherwise you’d end up watching paint dry by yourself every day.
I live on the very edge of rural and suburban today. I imagine when my kids are older it too will be suburbs.
Seems like one of these “it depends” topics. I had the opportunity to experience both urban, suburban, and country lifestyles as a kid. There are clearly pluses and minuses to all, and a lot depends on the culture of the particular region and the parenting skills and financial situation (or lackthereof) of your parents. Visiting my country cousins as a child was always a lot of fun. Feeding the chickens and tending the cows was a blast. But, I could clearly see it was a very hard life. And there were then, and very much so now, problems with drugs and crime, just like the “big” city.
I did most of my growing up, first in the slums and projects of a mid-sized city, and later in high school, in a middle-class suburban area of that same city. There is not much advantage to being from the slums, other than quickly learning some serious survival skills. There was a tight knit community around us, my mom’s friends would look out for us and keep a wary eye out for trouble. Being tall for my age saved me from a lot of bullying, and I did have to learn how to throw a good punch. You had to land a good punch to the nose right out of the gate and bullies would back right off and stay out of your path. Of course, I had to take a couple of good beatings before figuring that out.
The suburban area we eventually moved to, and nearby public middle and high schools I attended was probably the best experience of all. They were reasonably diverse and had college-track programs that made up for the generally low quality of education my home state was known for. There were some good teachers and counselors, and along with my mom, guided me to an academic path that would eventually lead to a top university, and onward.
My country cousins, now nurses, have done well and are solid middle-class, though opportunities outside of healthcare were few, so they did the best of what was available.
My urban friends probably have not done so well. And my high schools friends are a big mixed bag, mostly middle class and up.