Story & Photo – Joseph Boyle
This is a short story with two chapters.
Chapter 1: Uncle Leo & Money
In 1962 I met my wife’s Uncle Leo. Uncle Leo was a generation ahead of us. His parents immigrated from Holland. Dutch farmers know how to work and that work ethic was handed down to Leo. Although highly industrious, Leo would only work 8 hours a day; 8 hours before breakfast and 8 hours after breakfast. He kept that pace into his 90s.
When we first met, my wife and I were poor and just starting out. To be more Uncle Leo-like, we started buying real estate and managing rental properties. At Thanksgiving, Leo and I would swap lies about our real estate adventures, successes and failures. Leo was my hero and mentor. To me, he was my Uncle Leo.
Although Leo started out as a poor farm kid, his cunning business skills and work ethic catapulted him into multi-millionaire status. To look at him, you would never know how financially solid Leo was. He lived in a small neat brick home and drove old cars; Fords. Nothing fancy for Leo. He was always very down to earth. There was nothing pretentious about Leo.
It was rumored Leo owned half of his hometown. He owned the post office, a used car dealership and the family restaurant in town along with a pile of rental houses and a used lumber & merchandise business.
When Leo died in 2009, a petite woman, who was one of Leo’s renters, spoke at his funeral. I will never forget her words that so capture Leo’s spirit. Here is her story.
Leo dropped by her house one day to collect the rent. As he stood in her kitchen he noticed a pile of dirt and dust bunnies swept together in the middle of the floor.
My multimillionaire Uncle Leo reached down and brushed his finger through the pile of dust. He declared, “There’s a penny in here.” The renter said, “It’s only a penny.” Leo said, “Yes, but it is still a penny.” With that my multimillionaire uncle swooped up the coin and dropped it into his pocket.
Now, everywhere I go, when I spot a penny on the ground, I pick it up; drop it in my pocket and fondly remember my Uncle Leo. I have done this since the day of his funeral. Just today I found what I refer to as an “Uncle Leo” in the Safeway parking lot. My find inspired me to share this story with you.
Chapter 2: Renters & Money
Last week I was visiting with a young Starbucks pal. He is not Dutch like my Uncle Leo, but he has cunning business skills and industrious spirit. Like Uncle Leo and me, he is starting to accumulate rental properties. He has 13 properties, which makes me very proud of this young man.
We were comparing notes and here is something the two of us have independently observed about renters and their attitude about money.
Almost every time either of us clean up a rental, we always find coins, pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters all over inside and outside the rental unit. When we are finished cleaning, there is always a good size pile of coins on the counter.
If you roamed around one of our yards or homes, you would not find any coins, because we have a different and more respectful attitude about money when compared to the attitude most renters possess.
Most renters do not appreciate or respect money. If the renter does not respect money, then a penny laying on the carpet is not important. They know nothing about saving, compounding, investing and wise money choices. The dollar value of the coins is not significant, but attitude about money can be priceless.
Landlords, who might be able to light their cigars with $100 bills, respect money and act accordingly in their decision making.
Drive by an apartment complex and observe rampant incongruity. Renters park $60,000 Cadillac Escalades out in the weather at their apartment units. Long term, it is my view the renters would be better served if they chose to drive an old car and use the $60,000 Cadillac money to buy their own home with a garage. The Cadillac could come later.
My Uncle Leo, my Starbucks friend and I drive old cars, or at least we did while we were building our financial future.
Renters have the best and most expensive cable TV package. I run sub-basic cable and never watch TV. TV is all about watching other people live and do things. I am all about living life, rather than watch others live life on TV. Sorry, I got off track.
Renters buy expensive encyclopedias, or at least they did before the internet, because they think spending money on a pile of books will take the place of a college education.
Renters smoke, burning up money that could be used for education courses to better their lot in life.
Renters make payments on giant Bibles to take the place of going to church. They buy expensive bibles they cannot afford when there are bibles available for free.
This is America so renters and the property owners are free to make their own choices. If only renters could learn to properly respect money as a tool; learn good decision making and develop an industrious work ethic, they could move forward in life on a higher and more successful plain.
The nice woman who spoke at Uncle Leo’s funeral confirmed and demonstrated our “Renters & Money” theory.
Keep your eye pealed for Uncle Leo coins. Save them up and do something special.
Don Gaines says
A very good story. As I drive to the lovely view home we remodeled in UP, I pass by all the apartment complexes. There isn’t one with a vehicle that is any where near as old as the 1999 Toyota I drive. People who rent live a life of making payments: rent payments, car payments, etc. I own my home debt free and don’t like to invest in depreciating assets- like cars. More people need to figure out the benefits of ownership vs payments.
Mary Hammond says
Thought-provoking and insightful, as usual, Joe. One of the most valuable tips my dad gave me was that it’s always better to earn interest than to pay interest. (Of course, that was in the ’80s, when we could actually earn interest on our savings/investments, 15-20% per year. Every Friday in the TNT, we have the opportunity to see dozens of folks who have committed themselves to paying mortgage interest, more than they could ever afford, and end up in foreclosure. It’s likely that many of their vehicles and electronic toys were also bought “on time” – thus ending up costing twice their list price. Unfortunately, many families aren’t blessed with role models like my dad and Uncle Leo. Are public schools including personal financial management skills to all students? Seems like financial literacy should be in the common core, to taught repeatedly and continuously.
I’ll definitely keep my eyes peeled (but not pealed; have never mastered the art of making my eyes ring like a church bell.)
Was Uncle Leo the original owner of the beautiful rusty bike?