A Year Without My Grandfather

One year ago today, my grandfather died. It took me completely off guard, and I did not think it would. He was 87 years old but I was still completely unprepared for him to go. Since that day, I have spent hours daily thinking about him, our relationship, and the things he cared about. In many ways, this blog is an exploration of our relationship, as my love of numbers came from him. The cover to my blog is the flag and the shells from his funeral. 

Growing up, I saw my grandpa almost every single day. He babysat me when I was a little kid. He drove me to and from swim practice in the summer and helped my mom out with taking me and my friends to and from sports and school activities. I rode my bike to my grandparents’ house because they lived in our same neighborhood. He was at my high school graduation. He taught me how to calculate square roots by hand, along with many other algorithms I have long forgotten. The more I showed prowess in my ever advancing math education, the more other family members lauded me as being like him. I never particularly desired to be like him, it just turned out that way.

After his death, I found myself doing two of his daily routines without really being aware of it: checking the weather and checking on the stock market. If I spent the morning at my grandparents’ house, I had to watch the channels my grandpa wanted until about 10:30 or 11 am. He flipped between Bloomberg and the weather channel. I never understood what they were saying on Bloomberg so I just waited til he flipped back to the weather. About 6 weeks after he died, I was visiting with my grandma and she told me how she’d been watching the stocks because that’s what he always did. She told me how he’d always tell her if they were losing or making money. Now she had to interpret it for herself.

Another time when she and I were visiting at my parents house, she saw my composition notebook where I budget and make all of my financial plans and asked to look at it. “Oh, Santo used to keep a ledger like this. You’re a lot like him, aren’t you?” she laughed. Now, I’ll never stop keeping a handwritten ledger. I had no idea I was doing anything like him. I just grabbed a notebook when I was in college to keep track of my scholarships and tuition bills, and I continued the habit as I added other sources of income.

When it comes to money, my grandpa knew what so many people miss: money is just a tool to provide security and to build a comfortable life. He avoided greed and gluttony. He built wealth through compound interest so that his family would be taken care of. Now that he is gone, his widow need not worry about food or clothes or shelter. My grandparents lived with his parents for the first years of their marriage, and they never moved out of their first house. There were small upgrades here and there, but they did not let their lifestyle inflate as they gained more income and wealth. I really started to internalize this over the past year. Money is a vehicle for one’s life. The more you save up, the safer and more comfortable you feel. After saving, then you spend on necessity, then you spend, modestly, to enjoy life.

My grandparents are like the OG frugalists. They were born the year of the start of the Great Depression. If you ever want to know how to truly be frugal, look no further than your own grandparents. In her basement, my grandma has shelves of supplies stocked up from spaghetti sauce to laundry detergent. Everything must be bought on sale, and only on sale, which means you don’t buy when you need it but when it’s available at buyable price. They live by the mantra “it’s not about how much you make, but about how much you save.” My grandfather saved/invested so much money and planned so well for retirement that when he reached the age of required minimum distributions (70 ½) from his IRA, he just withdrew the money and put it into his local bank. He didn’t even need that money he saved up. They tried not to spoil their kids or grandkids so that we would learn how to live on less and work for everything in our life. But at the same time, they built up a nest egg that eventually will pass on. They provided in knowledge and wealth at the same time.

My grandpa was one of those people who believes you should pay less in taxes throughout the year and owe money rather than to receive a refund. He implored “don’t give an interest free loan to the government!” While I’d like to honor his ideal, I am not quite there yet. One day, I hope I can adjust to this mindset and way of operating. Until then, I am trying to pay exactly the right amount, with perhaps just a little bit too much going in.

Every bit more I learn about investing and personal finance, I feel a little closer to my grandpa. He didn’t talk about this much with me, but it was a great interest of his. He wasn’t raised to talk openly about money but he was raised to be a breadwinner and to take care of his family. Times are different now and talking about money is becoming less of a taboo each year. And it isn’t just for men to make money anymore. My grandpa never stated that girls should just grow up and get married. He liked that his granddaughters went to college and can provide for themselves. Two of us became math teachers, one is following in his footsteps in military service, one is a doctor of physical therapy, and one is a social worker. My brother, the only grandson, also served in the military and is taking care of his own family.

A year later, I think about how much I have grown because of him. I miss him immensely. I miss him quizzing us on topics we had no clue about during holiday dinners. To stay close to him, I learn about baseball stats, investment strategies, and keep watching the weather. I wear his sweaters my grandma gave me and read his old novels. I carry him with me.

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