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5 Financial Lessons to Be Thankful for This Thanksgiving

I love autumn in Canada — football season, pumpkins, and Thanksgiving. Along with being thankful for cooler temperatures and fewer mosquitoes, like many first-generation Canadians celebrating the season with family over a turkey dinner, I’m thankful for the financial lessons I’ve learned over the years.

Here are five financial lessons I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving:

1. Live below your means

When my paternal grandparents emigrated and settled in Ontario, they lived very happily in a small bungalow with one car and their two children. Though they both had professional careers and good incomes, they were careful with their money — making meals from scratch, planting a large vegetable garden, and choosing tent camping over more expensive hotel family vacations.

My grandparents retired in their early fifties when I was young, sold their small home and then spent three years sailing around the Caribbean and the Atlantic. I learned that if you don’t spend every cent as you earn it, you can save to realize a life dream down the road.

2. Learn about finance

As a new graduate, the bank where I’d worked as a part-time teller through my university years offered me a job as a junior small business banker, which required a financial planning designation that they’d pay for. I hesitated to accept because I didn’t know if I’d like banking and it wasn’t what I’d studied. My dad suggested giving it a shot because I’d learn a lot about personal finance, lessons that would help me with my own money management, even if I switched to a different career down the road. He was right, and it turns out I loved everything about money management, eventually becoming a financial advisor and personal finance writer.

Today, a lot of what I learned from books and distance education is available to anyone for free online. Budgeting, managing your credit, mortgages, loans, credit cards, lines of credit, basic taxation rules, and introductory investments are all popular topics that can help you make better financial decisions. I will always be grateful to my father for pointing me in this direction.

3. Pay yourself first

“Make sure you start saving even a few dollars right away,” was what my grandmother told me when I accepted that bank job (note: she also bought me a navy blue work suit because “navy never goes out of style”). A big fan of compound interest, my grandmother had patiently taught me how to calculate it, so I knew that paying myself first would help build my long-term savings, even if my contribution was just a few dollars each pay period.Throughout her career as a teacher, Grandma had diligently saved, and has enjoyed a comfortable retirement for many years now.

4. Invest in education

I will forever be grateful to my family for believing in the financial benefits of getting a good education. The first Canadian-born children in my family (I’m the oldest of this group) have all graduated from university and enjoy good jobs and/or own thriving businesses. And with a combination of RESP contributions, part-time earnings and scholarships, the two eldest of my own four children have also gone on to university, while I continue to build their little sisters’ education savings. Like my grandfather used to tell us, “Your job could end tomorrow, but no one can take that degree away from you.”

5. Make memories

Through my years working in banking and counseling clients on money management, it was easy to lose sight of the fact that at the end of the day, money is simply a tool to achieve the life you want.

My maternal grandmother was a good example of spending money to make lasting family memories (in spite of my accountant- grandfather’s grumbling over the resulting bills). Parties, big holiday dinners, concert outings, and family vacations gave her great joy. So now instead of buying more “stuff” like additional new outfits, toys, or expensive electronic gadgets that will eventually wear out or become obsolete, I’m trying something new. I’m investing in family experiences, because now that she’s gone, I realize that the best financial lesson from my family is that making memories together is an investment that our children and grandchildren will remember forever.