Our Spring blog series includes excerpts and simple financial lessons from the book In A Most Delightful Way, by our founder and CEO, James Twining, CFP®. The book aims to explore and simplify concepts based on the author’s own recollection of his early life and storied career path. The formula includes a story or anecdote (the “Spoonful of Sugar”) as well as “medicine” in the form of a lesson learned. Request a copy of the book anytime from your FP Inc. advisor or staff member.
Spoonful of Sugar: Let it Snow, Let it Snow
By James B. Twining, CFP®
Both my father and grandfather were officers in the Marine Corps. In fact, generation upon generation of the Twining family has served with distinction in every war in which the United States has been engaged. I have often been asked why I did not follow in the great Twining military tradition, and I don’t really know; other than to say that as a young man it seemed to me that all the real wars were over.
Growing up in a military family meant moving around often. I was born in China Lake, California in a big tent that served as a medical facility. Before I was a year old, we were transferred to Camp Pendleton, then at age four we moved to Twentynine Palms, California. When I was eight years old, we moved to the east coast, Falls Church, Virginia to be specific. It was here that I acquired my first job; a doughnut route, and where I discovered two things that I had not been accustomed to in the high desert of California: snow and grass. Unbeknownst to me, these new discoveries would eventually become my ticket to massive quantities of cherry-flavored Hostess fruit pies.
On January 6th of 1966, a light snow began to fall on Falls Church. The light snow became a blizzard, complete with raging winds and full storm conditions. It was the “blizzard of ‘66” and days later, when it finally ended, our cars were completely buried, and some of the drifts around our house were ten feet deep. The entire eastern seaboard came to a standstill, and school was cancelled for almost an entire month. Great news for a ten-year-old! My sisters and I dug tunnels and made little rooms in the snow. We jumped from second story windows only to land in the huge snow drifts.
When the sky cleared, I began to get requests from various neighbors to shovel snow. The going rate was $2 to shovel a porch and sidewalk. That sounds generous until you actually attempt it. The snow was melting, thick, and heavy. It was back-breaking work, and it took a few hours to do one 50-foot sidewalk. But within a few weeks, I had four or five regular customers. Over the next few winters, I would shovel snow for them whenever it snowed more than a few inches, which wasn’t very often.
The steadier work came in the spring when the grass began to grow. Mowing a lawn paid $2.50 on average, more for a big lawn. Unlike the snow, the grass was there all season long, and always growing. When school let out for the summer, lawn mowing season was in full swing. At one point I had about ten customers, most of whom wanted their lawns mowed twice a month. I was “in the money” that summer, and most of it went toward cherry Hostess fruit pies. To this day, I have a weakness for those pies.
The Medicine: When you consider that I had no expenses, I could easily have saved some of those earnings. It is a good idea to get into the habit early. If possible, teach your children and grandchildren to regularly put aside a small amount of their income rather than blowing it all on pie. A piggy bank is a good start. This simple discipline of making saving an automatic part of earning can be a big advantage later.