Have you called your relative lately?

And I don’t mean your parents. I’m talking about relatives: the people in your family you don’t see very often.  Uncles, cousins, grandparents.  I just did.  Tonight I bring you thoughts from the honest to goodness Goodies department.

I just got off the phone with my uncle, whom I had not called in far too long.  I told him about this blog (he does not have internet).  He told me he hasn’t wanted to ask in the past, but he’s glad I’m getting down to business with my loans.  He said I should move past the loans and be able to save for other things.  He told me about how he and his wife paid down their mortgage early, and how they were able to save money throughout their lives because their tastes were consistent with their means.  He told me about how his mother graduated high school in 1932, at the height of the Depression, when “people had to take on a certain way” to be able to take care of themselves when there was no money.  And how “401k, as it turns out, is a rip-off” (referring, I think, to the fees and other investment burdens shifted to the individual relative to prior pensions and defined benefit plans).


For many people I know, a mortgage is yet a dream, let alone the outrageous prospect of paying it down early.

What’s funny about talking to relatives, especially older relatives, is that they have conquered life’s peaks while you are still getting your bearings near the base.  And yet they are cheering you on.  It is so rare that someone is better than you, and more experienced, and yet is also your fan.  It doesn’t usually work that way.

What’s also funny is that calling relatives out of a sense of obligation is a little like saving money.  “I want to, I really should…”  So do it!  If you understand that talking to an older relative is like visiting a mentor and a fan club all at once, what other priority is stopping you from doing this once in a while?  My pressing to-do list right now includes disputing a bill with AT&T, re-potting a kitchen plant, working on this blog, and some other things.  All of these activities are generally selfish and money-motivated: I don’t want to lose money to a billing error; money will have been wasted on the plant if it dies; maybe this blog will inspire me to save or make more money.

But a talk with my uncle has left me energized and grounded in a way those little tasks would not.  He reminds me of the reality that my opportunities are the product of the discipline and accomplishments of my parents and grandparents and their generations.  Anyone who is older than you has accomplished whatever they have accomplished in much worse conditions.

So you may feel like you need to ring your family members to do them some kind of favor, but you would be wrong.  You dial them in humbleness to allow them to do you the favor of telling you their stories and expressing their affection for you.  And all of that confidence-building and perspective-making is free!  What better goody could you find on a random weekday?

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