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A Lesson in Hard Work


The following article is from Melanie, our staff writer. Melanie is in the beginning phase of her journey to Financial Freedom and she’ll bring a refreshing point of view for us.

hard workOne thing that I am proud of myself about is my work ethic. I’ve never shied away from hard work and never thought anything was above me, when times were really tough.

I like to think that I have really great role models in that department. My mom grew up much differently than I did, and now she is very successful and doing well for herself.

While I had a pretty average, middle class upbringing, my mom grew up in a single parent household, as one of six kids, in the projects in Detroit — or “the wrong side of town”. With education and hard work, she has been able to change her life completely and I am in awe of her.

But there is one person that has really taught me a lesson in hard work and that is my grandmother. I didn’t know my grandmother long, but I know she was a beautiful, strong soul. So much stronger than I could ever be.

My Grandmother

You see, my grandfather — her then husband — committed suicide when my mom was only five years old. It’s a painful memory and a stain on our family history. Since I never met him, I have nothing but questions about him, but what I do know is that my grandmother did an amazing job raising six kids on her own and making it work.

My grandma didn’t drive, yet she took the bus anywhere there was work. She found work as a housecleaner and often worked at the church. I try to put myself in her shoes and I don’t know how she did it. I can’t even imagine having one kid, let alone six kids that you have to take care of on your own.

But she did it. During this emotional crisis, it was fight or flight, and she fought to the very end to make the best of it. She worked multiple jobs and did what she had to in order to put food on the table.

Whenever I feel like giving up, or feel like I am so tired of working hard, I think of her. I think of her perseverance and her drive. I think about her resilience despite all obstacles and am thankful that I haven’t experienced a fraction of her struggle.

In essence, my grandma is my financial role model. She has given me that scrappy do-it-yourself spirit that comes alive during periods of struggle. She taught me that you must go on in the face of adversity, even if you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

From a financial standpoint, I’ve learned how to become resilient and resourceful — two key factors I believe help pay off debt and build wealth.

While there are plenty of other people that could serve as my financial role model because of their entrepreneurial business acumen, or money making skills, I believe a lot of things behind building wealth start with character.

As the quote says, character is who you are when no one is watching. My grandma didn’t get any recognition for what she did — like so many single mothers of the world, I’m sure. But she kept on going, knowing that she wanted to provide a better life for her kids. And that she did. Because of her efforts, my generation is different. We’re far removed from these struggles — and isn’t that what parents ultimately want?

But I never want to forget where I came from and the lineage that I have. It’s made me who I am and will shape who I will be. It’s made me stronger when I feel like the debt repayment is going too slow — it’s made me creative in how I think of ways to make money and how I grow my business.

In short, this lesson in hard work has shaped my whole financial life and who I am.

I’m curious — who is your financial role model and what did they teach you?

Photo Credit: flickr by Hindrik S

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Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer currently living in Portland, Oregon. She is passionate about education, financial literacy, and empowering people to take control of their finances. She writes about breaking up with debt, freelancing, and side hustle adventures at DearDebt.com. Currently she puts more than 50% of her income towards debt, while living a frugal, fun life. In addition to her love of personal finance, art and music, she is also a karaoke master.

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{ 37 comments… add one }
  • Ernie Zelinski February 4, 2015, 1:59 am

    You ask, “Who is your financial role model and what did they teach you?”

    Overall, my financial role model was Robert J. Ringer. He is the only person to the best of my knowledge to write, self-publish, and market three #1 New York Times bestsellers in print editions. His self-published books sold over 10 million copies in the 1970’s and the 1980’s. Not so long two of Ringer’s self-published books were listed by the “New York Times” among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

    This valuable advice from Ringer’s book “Looking Out for Number 1” has served me well over the years.

    “It’s better to do a sub-par job on the right project than an excellent job on the wrong project.”

    Also, from “Looking Out for Number 1”, the idea of staying away from groups if
    you yourself are truly creative:

    “In many respects, there is weakness in numbers, not strength . . . joining a group to accomplish any purpose is irrational. In reality it actually slows your attempt to get
    things done.”

    And this comes from Ringer’s “Million Dollar Habits”:

    “The last Joe Karbo, author of the much-publicized book ‘The Lazy Man’s Way to Riches’, was fond of saying that most people are too busy earning a living to make any [real] money. What Karbo meant was that the average person never seems to find the time to work in the really important projects, the creative projects that produce big payoffs. It is creativity, not hard work, that is the heart of success in any field of endeaver. And in order for a person to have time to engage in creative thinking, he must learn to work efficiently.”

    Also from “Million Dollar Habits”:

    “A person has a choice: He can spend his time editing commas and wrapping packages, or he can utilize his time working on important, creative projects. The latter produces financial results, the former produces only high blood pressure and twitching.”
    — Robert J. Ringer

    In short Robert J. Ringer taught me that perfection and hard work are vastly overrated. On the other hand, creativity rocks. So does common sense. Putting in a somewhat lazy and less-than-perfect performance on a well thought-out, world-shaking project will pay off ten thousand times more than putting in a flawless and bust-your-butt performance on a pie-in-the-sky project that defies common sense.

    One last note: Robert J. Ringer also taught me the importance of having “touchables” and “untouchables” when it comes to money. That is why I have never required a budget or had to document all my expenditures. Once I place money in an “untouchable” account, it remains there until it is needed for the purpose it was intended for. Plain and simple, there is absolutely no way I will use it for any other expenditure.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    The Prosperity Guy
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working”
    (Over 275,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    • Seth February 4, 2015, 6:18 am

      Hey Ernie,

      I ordered a copy of your book last night. Soon, I shall be feeling the JOY also!!!

      • Melanie February 4, 2015, 10:12 am

        Seth, that is so awesome! What a great community 🙂

    • Melanie February 4, 2015, 10:10 am

      Such great advice with great role models!

  • Jon February 4, 2015, 3:08 am

    For me, it would be my Dad. My sisters and I were raised in a middle class home where my Mom stayed home with us. My Dad went to work, every day, regardless if it was snowing or not. He never complained. He came home happy to see us and Mom.

    We never got everything we wanted, but we got the things we needed to have. I remember going to JCPenny to shop for school clothes and many times I couldn’t get the clothes I needed, only the ones on sale and of good quality.

    My parents often went without as well. My Dad loves to play golf, but never joined a country club. He played at the local 9-hole course that was never kept up. It was cheap and he would always walk the course to save money.

    • Melanie February 4, 2015, 10:16 am

      What a great story! It’s great to have a close family member that inspires your work ethic and can help guide your financial life.

  • Mrs. Frugalwoods February 4, 2015, 4:09 am

    I really like your comment about being “resilient and resourceful”–I feel like that’s a perfect motto! My financial role models are my parents. They’ve always been hardworking and frugal, with a healthy balance of enjoying life.

    They taught me that the best entertainment is free, family vacations can be cheap, and that living frugally doesn’t mean depriving yourself–it means only spending on things that are meaningful to you.

    • Melanie February 4, 2015, 10:21 am

      I identify so much with the words “resilient and resourceful”. It sounds like your parents have taught you some really great lessons.

  • Christian February 4, 2015, 6:35 am

    It’s great to draw on others for examples. Although I’m only 29, I have 2 children and have thought about how my example will affect my children one day. Will they have the right values of hard work and living frugally? I hope so.

    I also think about things like, should my kids get an allowance? Should I pay for their college? Is my helping them hurting them in the long run? I believe these are good things to think about. I don’t think I’ll give my kids an allowance (unless I think of a good way to connect work with it). I plan on paying for my kids education, but I don’t think I’ll tell them I am until the time comes…I don’t want them to expect it or feel entitled.

    So as I think of those that have given me a good example, I also think about how my actions will affect my posterity.

    • Melanie February 4, 2015, 10:31 am

      I think those are great things to think about! I like your approach and how you will take care of your children. You can teach your kids about saving through an allowance and teach them about purchasing power.

  • Anthony February 4, 2015, 7:26 am

    My financial role model is Joe!

    • Melanie February 4, 2015, 10:38 am

      Nice! 🙂 He’s a good one!

  • Felix Money February 4, 2015, 8:14 am

    I think the foundation of my work ethic is from my grandparents and mother. They raised me in a poor country, but I never felt like I was lacking. They worked hard and my mom started a business on her own, which took a lot of courage back when she did it, and my grandpa in old age (retirement) opened a small business too, so we have a little extra. I think that’s part of why I want to own a business 🙂 Besides them, I read books and watched videos of successful people and used them for inspiration. I’m new to blogging, but also find that the communities blogging about finances can be of valuable support.

    • Melanie February 4, 2015, 10:41 am

      Love this! You have great financial AND entrepreneurial role models. Also, PF blogs are such a great source of inspiration.

  • kammi February 4, 2015, 8:17 am

    She sounds a lot like my grandmother! My grandmother was a seamstress, and raised 8 children on her own after her own husband passed away at an early age. She was very generous and believed in being humble. She was up at 2 every morning. She helped so many people in her life, but if she ever gave you money, you’d have to have a plan (she helped my own parents get set up when they were starting out). She was very frugal and did quite well, and all of her children did really really well.
    As for my mentor, sounds weird but my current long term boyfriend. He’s a business owner who has done quite well and has been teaching me a lot (unconsciously) about money since I was 18. I learn so much from him about money, wealth, and what life is really about, as well as the value of good relationships in your life, even if you do have a lot of money. I know I”m going to do really really well financially (I’m already really ahead of the game) partially because of him.
    Also, People like Branson, Cuban, and McAfee (I know, weird choice but I love his courage!)

    • Melanie February 4, 2015, 10:49 am

      What a great story! So glad that everything worked out so well. And I don’t think it’s weird that your bf is your role model — they come in many different forms 🙂

  • kammi February 4, 2015, 8:19 am

    I forgot to add; my grandmother’s husband worked in oil and get this; the oil company offered her to buy the house they lived in for 3000 dollars! Imagine that; so that’s what my grandmother did. Amazing! I had only recently found that out and it blew my mind!

  • Christine February 4, 2015, 11:15 am

    Your grandma was a beautiful soul. Thanks for sharing your story, Mel.

    My parents are my role models. As children during the Vietnam War, they were forced to work to support their brothers and sisters as my grandparents were in prison. Their strong work ethics, modesty, and instincts to provide for their family lives to this day. I hope one day I can be in a financial position to give back to them 🙂

    • Melanie February 6, 2015, 10:35 am

      What a powerful story! I’m glad they have inspired you in so many ways. I hope that we can both give back to our families!

  • Harmony February 4, 2015, 11:55 am

    I wish there had been such wonderful financial role models for me while growing up. I think that part of the reason that I drifted into the herd of consumerism is because my parents strictly adhered to the status quo and we were a very average middle-class family. While I feel fortunate for a childhood free from poverty, it’s hard not to wonder about where I would be now if we had struggled a little bit more back in the day.
    But all I can do now is work hard to fix our financial mistakes and try to be a good role model for MY children.

    • Melanie February 6, 2015, 10:38 am

      Struggle is a blessing and a curse. It forces you to learn certain lessons (or repeat mistakes again and again). The status quo is also hard to avoid. All you can do is try your best — and I love that you want to do better for your children.

  • Even Steven February 4, 2015, 1:17 pm

    I think my financial role model has changed over time as I go through different phases of my life. Although Buffett and Cuban are the celebrity version, I really look up to a lot of bloggers out there who have their financial situation well and documented, and a family friend or two who is far and ahead financially.

    • Melanie February 6, 2015, 10:39 am

      Not going to lie — I still fangirl out at some bloggers. They are so inspiring!

  • freebird February 4, 2015, 1:32 pm

    My late father was probably the closest to being a financial role model. We had our differences but attitudes towards earning, investing, and spending were pretty common. One lesson I learned from him was his admiration for high earners and his total contempt for high spenders (including those with high earnings). As he said it “it’s what you keep today that will keep you tomorrow”. I think his most important lesson was to not fear risky investments, he made some expensive mistakes but was very open about them and considered them a cost of doing business. I’ve never made bets quite as big as his, but my exposure to stocks is much higher than typical. IMO it’s very hard to reach financial independence without taking any risks.

    • Melanie February 6, 2015, 10:42 am

      Sounds like he taught you some great lessons!

  • Son Han February 5, 2015, 5:02 am

    Wow Melanie – what a great article. Your grandmother sounds like a truly amazing person. I got chills reading this. Who gets chills when reading personal finance articles? I never have but this one did. Thank you for being so open and sharing.

    • Melanie February 6, 2015, 10:44 am

      Ha, I’ll take that as a compliment! Thank you 🙂

  • Seth February 5, 2015, 9:58 am


    You certainly are a lovely young lady and I enjoyed your column very much.
    I don’t want to go into a lot of boring details, but I really had no role models growing up. For a large part, I actually raised myself. Luckily, with a supposed IQ that is higher than 99 percent of the population, I managed pretty well even though it was not easy. I became disabled at 41 and retired on a tiny disability income with a wife and 4 kids to support, so that toughness that I acquired as a kid really paid off.

    • Melanie February 6, 2015, 10:46 am

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. Your situation sounds tough! Sometimes there are no role models and we have to find our own way. Given everything you have been through, maybe you are your own financial role model? Yes?

      • Seth February 6, 2015, 11:53 am

        Thanks for the response. I think that you are right. I’ve always loved law and accounting, especially tax law and cost/managerial accounting. Trouble is, 3 of my 4 kids are so spoiled that they don’t want to work. So, I guess that I was not a very good role model for them. All 3 of them could make 75 to 100k per year with the education they have. They are in their mid 20’s to late 30’s. You know what the 3 of them made last year? I know because I did their tax returns. $5,000, 8.000 and 10,000. Good thing that none of them have kids.

  • cato February 5, 2015, 1:20 pm

    I never had any family or friends role models. I slugged it out on my own with books, journals, and newspapers. I remember throwing away the business section of the newspaper as a kid. Frankly I didn’t even know how to balance a check book until I asked someone at the bank when I was 18 how to do it. By age 21 I was memorized by the stock tables but I really didn’t know what all those numbers meant. I started my learning journey. I remember being amazed the share price of Berkshire Hathaway and Wells Fargo. That was it, I was hooked. I am self taught and expert in personal finance now. My teachers: Warren Buffett, Benjamin Graham and David Dodd, Money Magazine, WSJ, FT, etc. Also I read and applied many of the principles from the “7 Habits…” book when it was first published.

    • Melanie February 6, 2015, 10:48 am

      I love that! There is something to be said about being self-taught, too.

  • Mrs. Maroon February 5, 2015, 7:35 pm

    I don’t think I really have a financial role model. Mr. Maroon and I are paving our path towards financial independence with the guidance of the blogging community. We look to our parents in many instances of what not to do – still valuable lessons. After discovering FI, Mr. Maroon came to the realization that his grandfather embodies so many of the traits we now seek out. He worked hard, but kept his family as top priority. He carried no debt. He was largely self sufficient. I love that so many people look back to the generations that came before us for inspiration.

    • Melanie February 6, 2015, 10:50 am

      Sometimes lessons come to us as WHAT NOT TO DO. It’s still a lesson.

  • Seth February 5, 2015, 9:26 pm

    Hi Mrs Maroon,

    Where do you live now? I’ve lived in Florida my entire life and can’t imagine living in cold areas where there is snow. I was over 30 before I even saw snow in person.
    We went out boating in the bay yesterday and had a wonderful time. We saw some dolphins and lots of green grass and flowers around the big waterfront estates. No wonder many of you can’t wait to retire and get away from that mess.

  • Jonathan Craig February 8, 2015, 1:05 pm

    I have a few family members to look up to and thank in this same respect. It’s amazing the values we can learn from those who may not have had the same opportunities as us, and how much we can achieve by utilizing their values!

  • Amy B. February 10, 2015, 9:53 am

    I did not have a “financial role model”.

    I learned at a very young age from my family the life that I did not want. Therefore, I did everything I could to distance myself from their life choices and behaviors. By doing the opposite, I found my own success.

    I do wish that I would have had more positive role models as a child to guide and direct me. However, I am pleased with my life and the person I am.

    To me, it has been just as important, if not more important, to know the life I didn’t want.

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