Woman sitting on hillside with book.

What Will You Take?

My grandparents were born around 1900 and were young adults with families during the Great Depression. They took different things from their experiences. Here are their common “Takes”: They all placed a high value on family and community – primarily their church communities. They placed a high value on higher education. They saw education as the great equalizer in the event of future financial calamities. They placed a high value in two financial goals – no debt and high savings (in a can, first, and later in a bank). That’s where the similarities ended.

My Mom’s parents were poorly educated farmers in north Alabama.  They were the clear beneficiaries of Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” That grandfather considered Roosevelt the greatest American President and kept his picture on the wall of his bedroom until his death. Needless to say, he was a “Yellow Dog Democrat.” While he was later able to get a job as a laborer at a Reynolds Metals plant (where he, of course, joined the union), he continued to farm.  They had horses, cows, pigs, and chickens. They raised most of the vegetables and fruit that went on their table. Yet, for the rest of their lives, there was a nagging fear that affected all of their decisions and enjoyment of life. I never got the sense that they really enjoyed life. My observation of what they took from the Depression was an abiding fear and aura of uncertainty that affected them the rest of their lives.

My Dad’s parents both graduated from high school; she graduated from college and taught the fourth grade for her teaching career.  He went to trade school and became a phenomenal machinist, spending most of his career working for TVA at three of the dams on the Tennessee River.  They were fortunate to have better than average, steady incomes. His dad had owned the bank in Leeds that went bankrupt during the Depression, but he then went to work for the US Government as a “revenuer.” This side of my family was what would have later been called “Nelson Rockefeller Republicans.”  Their entire family was active in the state Republican Party, which none of them would recognize today. They all viewed Roosevelt as one of the worst Presidents and had this nagging fear that he might have been a Communist sympathizer. This granddad was a voracious reader, served as the City Judge and “Head Deacon” in the local Baptist Church.  They lived a comfortable life. They enjoyed family, served their community and viewed life with hope and optimism. My observation of what they took from the Depression was an abiding confidence that if you worked hard, got a great education, and went to work for a “good company,” everything would ultimately work out just fine.

While our current physical and financial situation is not yet as dire as the Great Depression, it may be comparable since there has been a sea change from life as it was. What will you take from this experience?

I recommend that you consciously choose by starting journaling your thoughts from these four lists:

  1. What are the things that you are missing the most, what are the things you took for granted before, that you will henceforth and forevermore, place a higher value?
  2. What are the things on which you used to place a high value that you now realize don’t bear real importance on your long-term happiness? What are the things that you’ll probably reduce or quit doing as a result of this experience?
  3. What are the new activities or behaviors you’re now doing that you will likely want to continue after this passes?
  4. What are you currently doing or not doing that you would hope to never be forced to do (or not do) in the future? 

I recommend that you consciously choose what you will take from this experience.  I don’t think my Mom’s parents every consciously chose to live a fear-based life; I think they just let it happen.  I don’t think my Dad’s parents ever felt that they had no choice in life. I think they worked and planned and chose to enjoy life.  I hope you will also!

Rick Adkins, CFP®

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