My grandfather was a drunk.
I know that’s not a nice thing to write about a blood relative… but trust me, there’s going to be a point to this story.
Benny drank like it was his full-time job.
Every Friday, he’d pick up his paycheck in a brown envelope from the old tire factory and head straight to the local bar (or whichever dive he wasn’t banned from at the time).
It wasn’t a mighty sum of money. But back in those days, it was more than enough to buy a modest home and send your kids to school… or get well and truly soused almost every night of the week.
So Benny would drink. He’d gamble. He’d fight. And eventually — after he’d been kicked out of every watering hole in a 20-mile radius — he’d stumble home.
My grandmother — known to friends and family by the old Irish nickname “Peg” — would lie awake listening for the sound of his keys scratching against the front door.
Benny could get mean when he drank. And if he had it in his head to dish out a beating, Peg would always put herself between him and the kids.
I know what you’re thinking.
This is pretty grim stuff. What the heck does this have to do with dealing with a financial crisis?
Well, the second thing Peg used to listen for was… silence.
Silence meant Benny was asleep. Sometimes in his tattered green chair in front of the television. Sometimes he’d actually make it to his bed. But more often than not, he was passed out on the floor in the kitchen or bathroom.
And that’s when Peg would spring into action.
She’d check his coat for the remainder of his paycheck. Rifle through his pockets for any leftover dollars. And sweep up the loose change that was scattered across the linoleum.
Peg would take that money and use it to buy food and school supplies for the kids, pay the bills and even save money in a secret emergency fund hidden beneath the floorboards in the pantry.
And it was a darn good thing that she did. That emergency fund saved the family’s hides several times over.
She used that money to make urgent repairs on the house… pay the rent and buy groceries when Benny would go AWOL for a few weeks… and even cover their expenses for a few months when the tire factory went out of business.
Paying the Mortgage With Pocket Change
To this day I still can’t believe the resilience of this woman.
Growing up, I knew her as this soft, kind, funny old lady. But to my mom and uncle, she was this stone-cold hero. A larger-than-life Robin Hood character who protected them from the old man and always made sure they were well fed, had clean clothes on their backs and had a roof over their heads.
Old Benny would wake up in the morning thinking he’d spent every last dime the night before — miserable old sod never could keep track of a dollar — and Peg would boil him an egg, cut his toast into triangles and say nothing about it.
I always wondered if Benny suspected anything.
I mean, how the heck did he think the bills were being paid… or the groceries were being bought… or the roof got fixed when it leaked?
Was it the bill fairies? Or did he think he was doing it?
To be honest, I think he probably stayed willfully ignorant because it worked… and the reality of the situation was too embarrassing for him to handle.
The fact is if the old man had been left to his own devices, they would have lost that house 10 times over. But thanks to Peg’s financial wizardry, the mortgage was paid off in full when she left it to her kids.
There’s a lesson here, of course. Financial hardship can’t be an excuse for not having an emergency fund. In fact, it’s when you think you can’t afford to save money that you need to most.
But if I’m being honest, I just wanted to talk about Peg today. Last weekend was the anniversary of her death. And she was one of the first true financial preppers I ever met.
If we can be half as good at this as she was, we’ll all be OK.
What about you? Who’s your financial hero? Click here to email me and tell me all about them.
All the best,
Editor, Money & Crisis