My family immigrated to the United States in 1887. About 100 years later, I was born.
My family didn’t leave Czechoslovakia because they knew of a way to make money in America. They came to America with only hope. How do I know all of this? I’ve read the journal that my great-grandmother kept.
Upon arrival, my ancestors lived in an attic in Chicago. They did menial labor that allowed them to just get by. In one journal entry, my great-grandmother told of how all they could afford to eat regularly was stale bread and sour milk. Something had to change.
What do you do when you have no money, but want to get ahead in life? Build sweat equity. And what’s a better way to sweat than farming? So that’s what they did. They moved to Nebraska and somehow scraped enough together for a down payment on a small piece of land. That’s how we became farmers.
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A lot has changed since the beginning. Horses have been replaced by tractors with climate control and GPS. Barns are being replaced with large machine sheds. Even so, the money principles remain the same.
Farming is a unique occupation. Only about 2 percent of the U.S. population live on farms. And they feed the rest of the 98 percent! Yet this tiny group can be used as an example of how to make and retain wealth.
I grew up on a farm, but I can say that the money lessons I learned are universal.
1. Love What You Do
Farming is a lifestyle, not a job. You must love what you do. It’s the only way to survive. I’ve rolled multiple ATVs, been bitten by snakes, was trampled by an angry cow, and got bucked off a horse.
My dad was knocked unconscious by a bull and even had his right thumb smashed into a pulp in a grinding wheel. My brother is missing a finger on his right hand.
You’ve got to love what you do to stay in the ring. Otherwise, you can’t compete.
If you can’t compete, you can’t win. If you’re not constantly winning, you can’t get wealthy. No matter what you do in life, you must love what you do. No one has ever succeeded without first having passion.
2. Always Be Frugal
Farming is like gambling. It’s a gamble when one timely rain can be the difference between a zero-profit year and a year when you net hundreds of thousands of dollars.
You never know what might happen from one year to the next. Always be frugal. Have an un-rainy-day fund.
Because if you don’t have money in savings, you could lose land if no rain falls. If you lose that income-producing asset, you can’t earn money in the future.
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3. Get Along With Family
The other day, someone asked me how to become a farmer. My answer? You can’t. You could become a hired hand. Or you could become a hobby farmer.
But as far as becoming a farmer who feeds the world? The startup costs are too immense for most people. Where I live in Nebraska, it takes about $3 million in land just to make a decent living for a family.
My great-grandfather started with a horse. My grandfather bought a tractor. Today, my uncle spends his days flying drones over fields.
Farming is a generational occupation. The money needs to keep flowing from one generation to the next. There’s really no other logical way to do it.
Is it hard getting along with family? Absolutely. But farming and a focus on generational wealth can also bring families together.
If you think about generational wealth the way a farmer does, you’ll think of your family as a unit. You’ll get along because you have this one central force acting as a mediator. To keep the farm, you must get along.
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I Could Go On…
I learned many money lessons from growing up on a farm in Middle America.
But even if you live in Manhattan, these principles can still work for you. Find something you love so much that it becomes a lifestyle, be frugal no matter how much you earn, and harness the power of generational wealth — even if the wealth begins with you.
Now I’m off to enjoy fresh bread and milk — and to say a big thank you to my great-grandparents for getting us out of that attic.