Raising a Frugal Dad: An Open Letter to My Son

Dear Son,

Every year, when Father’s Day rolls around, the media floods the airwaves with statistics reminding us how many bad dads are out there. From deadbeats who don’t support their children, and their children’s mother, to males who abuse the same (son, these are “males,” they do not deserve to be called men).

Unfortunately, too many good examples of great dads go unreported. The truth is, this land is full of hard-working men providing for their families. An even greater set of men (and women) serve this great country by willingly signing up to defend it and its allies around the world. Your great grandfather is one such man, and many of the lessons I’ll share today I learned from him.

A Legacy of Frugal Dads

Your great grandfather, Papa, as you know him, was born in 1925. Most of his formative years were spent in the rural south during the Great Depression. One of nine kids, his mom and dad struggled mightily to keep food in their kids’ bellies and shoes on their feet. In fact, most summers (and occasionally into the winter) they went without shoes.

Your Papa’s father was a carpenter, as was his older brother – a darn good one, too. The three of them had the opportunity to work together when Papa got older, but before that, Papa earned money for his family selling newspapers and magazines, stuffing bags of meal and flour in a mill, and a variety of other odd jobs. He might have kept a dime or two out for himself each week, but everything else went to his family.

These were hard times son. Harder than any of us can imagine. Few of us have known such despair, and I hope you never will. As a parent, your greatest fear is losing the ability to provide basic needs for your children. You’ll understand this as you grow older and one day have a family of your own.

As soon as he was old enough, Papa signed up for the Navy, and quickly joined the Marines as a fighter pilot. He served in Korea and Vietnam, flying both jets and helicopters, and did long tours in the Mediterranean, Japan, and other spots around the world. This meant he had to leave behind his wife and kids for long periods of time, which to him, was tougher than the duty he was sent off to do. He served 29 years in the Marines, and retired in his late forties.

Despite a tug to continue lucrative work in the private sector, he left the D.C. area and returned home to care for family members, an obligation he continued for nearly 40 years. At 84, you may have noticed it is now he who needs a little help from time to time, and your dad is happy to lend a hand. After all, it was an example set for me at an early age.

Being a Dad Worth Looking Up To

Once upon a time, dads were looked up to as an iconic figure – Dad could fix anything, he knew everything, and he always knew what was best. Over the years, for a variety of reasons, this respect for fathers has waned. I blame some of it on a few bad examples, but most of it on the media. As I mentioned in the beginning, the media loves to remind us of the bad examples, and rarely focuses the spotlight on the good ones. And believe me son, there are plenty of good ones out there. Here are two of my favorites.

“Dad, when we run it feels like my disability disappears.” – Rick Hoyt

Dick Hoyt, former military man and father to a disabled son, heard these words from his son as he towed him around on his bike, boat, and carried him during runs. And that was all he needed to hear. He and Rick participated in training runs, bikes and swims and competed in triathlons all over the country. Dick Hoyt raised his son Rick to be a productive, independent young man with his own career, despite physical challenges unimaginable to you and me.

Follow this link if you are unable to view video

Jim Redmon, father of track star Derek Redmon, didn’t just sit around and watch his son leave his race unfinished in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. He quickly made his way to the track to help his son, stricken with a torn hamstring, limp to the finish line in tears. Derek didn’t win that race. In fact, I don’t even remember who won it. What I do remember is the example of this dad being there for his son to lean on. To share in his agony, and provide a steady shoulder to help him through to the finish line – even chasing away track officials trying to stop them.

Follow this link if you are unable to view video

Those were two high-profile examples of great dads, but there are millions of other dads anonymously going throughout their days with family as the number one priority. They are working a night shift to save enough to send their kids to college, or help get their family out of debt.

Maybe money isn’t a problem, but to earn that money they have to stay in a job they don’t particularly like, or work for someone that treats them like dirt.

When they were younger, they dreamed of another career, but for now are content holding onto the job they have to help their children achieve their dreams.

They are raising their children alone after an illness or an accident claimed their spouse.

They are supporting their kids even though things didn’t work out with their kids’ mom.

Maybe they don’t have a job at all right now, and are living 24 hours a day in worry over their family’s well being. They are pounding the pavement looking for another job, or working part-time, or donating plasma, or doing whatever they can to make ends meet. You see son, a real man swallows his pride, and does what he has to do for his family.

Becoming a Frugal Dad

My son, there are so many things left for me to teach you about the real world. Much more than I could write in a single letter. But above all else, remember that no one owes you a thing. You are responsible for taking care of yourself, and one day, your own family.

You will be tested, by our culture, by our government, by bad examples, and by a lazy streak that attempts to attach itself to all of us at some point in our lives. You must ignore these influences, and remember that your goal is to grow to be as self-reliant as possible.

Here’s a few things to keep in mind as you grow older:

  • Do not depend on government for your well-being. In an emergency, don’t be too proud to accept help, but do not make it a way of life.
  • Do not depend on banks for financial security. The best credit line available is the one attached to your emergency savings fund. Remember, the borrower is slave to the lender, and you don’t want to be a slave to big banks. Take my word for it!
  • Do not depend on schools to provide 100% of your education. You must self-educate beyond the lessons taught in school. Challenge your educators, and challenge your own thoughts. Read books. Read books contrary to your own opinion, so that you may learn another point of view. Read books on subjects you don’t think you care about and you just may discover your passion.
  • There’s no such thing as get rich quick. Building wealth takes time, and a lot of hard work. If you want to be successful in anything, you must work at it for hours every day – sometimes late into the night, and early in the morning. If you are happy with mediocrity, punch the clock after 8 hours, plop down in front of a television and waste valuable time until you fall asleep. Repeat this process until the weekends when you can do even more of the same.
  • Be skeptical. Don’t believe anything you read, most things you hear, and even a few things you see with your own eyes. Question everything. Nothing in life is black and white.
  • Choose your spouse carefully – it is the most important decision you will ever make. Love has a way of robbing us of our intellect, and in many cases leads to irrational decisions based solely on emotions. Choosing someone to spend the rest of your life with is far too important for that. Look for someone that shares your hopes and dreams. Someone who is ambitious, but not too much. Someone who has the same values and beliefs as you do. Like you’ve heard your dad say before, opposites do attract, but they rarely stay together forever.



*This post was selected as an Editor’s Pick in the Carnival of Personal Finance #262: 80s TV Edition, hosted by Personal Finance Journey


  1. Excellent post! I think too it’s the true men who stay and do what’s right for their family. And there are so many out there, the media so often tends just to want to make us think true men are all gone.

    Good job being there for your son! Happy Father’s Day early;)

  2. Frugal Dad – What a wonderful letter. Its sounds like you have a fantastic family and Frugal Junior has some great examples to follow.

    My dad recently passed and a friend said some really interesting things to me. We grew up in a ‘modest’ neighborhood, and my friend said how great our dads were. Yes, we didn’t have much money, but our dads were always there. They worked hard every day and came home every night and we would share a family meal We made the most of what we had. We didn’t go on fantastic vacations, but we played ball in the park in the evenings. Actions truly do speak louder than words.

    Thanks for sharing. It started my day out right.

    • Sorry to hear of your dad’s passing. He sounds exactly like the example dad I described. Being a good dad is not about buying goodies for your family, or taking fancy trips…it’s about being there. Being present. Being involved. I know you have some great memories of your dad that will last a lifetime.

  3. Great post, it’s true there are really great fathers out there who put up with insurmountable odds. Apologies for yesterdays rant.

  4. why can’t this advice be taught in school? it would sure make things a lot easier for people. Really we need our leaders to instill these values and that is not going to happen as they are all caring about how it will look for re elections.

    I would probably add something about ‘do not burn bridges’ in the end of the letter. It is effectively treat people as you wish to be treated, but from a more practical standpoint in getting along well in life.

    Thanks for the great post.

  5. what a wonderful letter to write to your son. I hope as he gets older and realizes that fathers are important to them. and that he will be thankful for all the things that you have done for him or her, to provide a roof over their heads and food on the table , and the times you spend together, even if you only go to the park, shopping or the library. my father passed away 20 years ago -but i still hold on to the memories of him. helping me, with my homework, playing catch,helping me in everything and teaching me fix things on my own. even if i was his daughter. lol lol. he came home everyday, and no matter how tried he was -he was their for me. happy father’s day to you and all the other fathers-that are there for their children, and god bless you. ps love your site -i read it all the time . good luck and god bless you and your family. sincerely ms.D

  6. Fantastic, just fantastic writing. Was it hard/emotional to write this? Good job. Your son is lucky. Our children are lucky too, their dad is fantastic. I am reminded now to tell my husband how fantastic I think he is. Thank you.

    • @MrzFitz: Thank you for your comments. Writing about my grandfather was emotional because as I mentioned in the letter he is older and in poor health. I can close my eyes and remember the tough old Marine from 30 years ago. Who am I kidding…he’s still a tough old Marine!

      My parents divorced when I was five, and I never had a relationship with my father. But I certainly don’t feel slighted – I had a GRANDfather, and an awesome mom and grandmother.

      Do tell your husband you appreciate all he does. Us dads know you appreciate it and don’t take the little things for granted, but it’s so nice to hear the words of grattitude from those you love.

    • Yeah – had to stop the Hoyt video about 4 times. I’ve seen it a few times, but the impact never lessens.

  7. I had a feeling when I read the title of this post that it would strike a chord with me, and I was right. It was such a great post, and I’m sure your son will soon learn how important that dads are to kids, and will hopefully give his all into raising the best kids he can because he remembers what it was like to have you as a father.
    Happy fathers day.

  8. Thanks Frugal Dad for reminding us of the David Redmond video. I remember it very one, and it is one of those videos that is locked up in my memory bank whenever I step on the tennis court to battle.

    My matches are generally 2-3 hours long, and when the heat starts sweltering the legs start cramping. I NEVER quit and I will grind it out until my opponent says no more. If they want to take me to a third set, they will be prepared for PAIN. Never ever quit.

    Athelets are so inspiring! They give us motivation, and help us stay in shape and not let ourselves go.

    Long live sport!


  9. WOW. What a letter. That was totally from the heart when you wrote that and it came out to me as a reader while reading it. The Derek Redmon moment from the 92′ Olympics was an amazing display of what a Father / Son bond is all about. Thank you for sharing that video of it, worth watching again.

  10. Lovely post.

    Given how hard it is for some men, and how sometimes a “frugal” personality can also be a distant and/or cold and “hard” one (or at least seem that way to those around them), I’d add:

    There are some things you should NEVER be frugal with:
    Don’t be frugal with your time, your support, your affection (physical and otherwise), your presence, your acceptance and your lack of non-judgment.

    I’ve known some otherwise healthy and fantastic men who were literally emotional cripples (even with the help of a good, supportive spouse and kids), because their fathers were cold, aloof, judgmental, demanding, absent, etc. You don’t have to be outright abusive to be a “bad” father.

    It warms my heart to see some of the dads today who are so into their kids (in a healthy way) and being present for them in a positive way. Hope springs eternal, but being a good parent doesn’t come naturally and is very difficult for many as they had no role models to follow and really learn on the fly.

    One last thought: It’s never too late as a father (or mother) to try and atone for the past, if you have had a stormy relationship based on your behavior. But parents need to drop the “we’re the parents” bit and reach out. If you’ve hurt your children, intentionally or not, think about reaching out and asking for forgiveness. Think about beginning a dialogue.

    It’s a two-way street and sometimes parents need to be the ones who reach out. Just a thought.

  11. I’m 23-years-old and that was a very moving letter for me. It helped me understand my own father and why he did things the way he did while I was growing up – not that I agree with all of them. The Redmond dad and son: I teared up. I get it. Thank you and Happy Father’s Day to you!

  12. This just made my day. I’m so impressed by your writing. I hope someday to instill in my son what a good father is. Your boy is blessed.

  13. Open, honest, and from the heart – just what we’ve come to appreciate from you! Happy Father’s Day to all!

  14. Wow, needed a kleenex to watch those videos… this was a great post. I’m grateful for my dad who did so much for us – working every day at a job he didn’t love, fixing everything around the house himself so we could live frugally and have savings, and being there every night at the dinner table. I know lots of girls are not so lucky. Thanks dad!

  15. WOW, for me this was you best article ever!

    I agree the media paints an untrue picture of things. Over time, I’ve come to realize that the media looks for and shows people at their ugliest.

    Thanks for running countertrend with this article! I was very touched by your words and the outstanding dads in the two videos above (especially Hoyt, he’s in better shape in his 60s than I am at a much younger age).

    I hope your son finds this article and realizes what a wise and brilliant man you are! He should be very proud!!!

    Have a Happy Father’s Day! You’ve made mine! 🙂

  16. Great article. I like your statement “You must self-educate beyond the lessons taught in school.” I think that is important in all areas of life especially when it comes to your money.

  17. Thrilled to see all the positive comments left! I have always felt that children growing up need the “team” approach from both parents and even as adults there are times when you might feel bewildered how nice to have a Dad or GRAND father to just be the wind under your wing.Excellent remarks on “lfe lessons” that I found beneficial to all myself included.Thank you!

  18. This is easily one of the best father’s day posts I have read.

    Fantastic advice was given (and I learned a new story as well).

    I hope we are ALL able to teach our sons these lessons…and then some.

    Kudos FD.

  19. Wow, what an awesome letter! Very touching and heartfelt! Your son is very lucky! That Redmond video made me tear up, I have never seen that video before. Thanks a lot!

    Reminded me again of how lucky I am to have a father like mine! An excellent post!