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Financial Lessons from the Farm

Janet Walker, RICP®

If you’ve ever spent a day participating in farm life, you know that there are a lot of life lessons to be learned. My family’s farm was recently recognized by the Arkansas Department of Agriculture as a Century Farm for having been in the same family for over 100 years. So, these life lessons run deep in my blood and are ones that I’m teaching my kids, even though they live in town.


This is probably one of the most important and transferrable lessons that I can share with you.

  • I remember putting a penny in the offering plate at church from every dime that I earned.
  • We would buy used equipment and vehicles and maintain them forever.
    • As just one example, the car that my parents bought shortly before I was born not only brought me home from the hospital, but it was still around when I was old enough to drive! In fact, my parents never had a car payment at all. Imagine what you could do in life if you never had a car payment!
  • Not trying to keep up with the Joneses – My mom made my prom dress, but it looked just as great as the ones that other parents paid a lot of money for.
    • By the way, she also made my wedding dress.
  • Not eating out much – We only ate out as a family about 4 times a year. Can you even imagine that? We always had a big garden and could even pick from other large gardens for the ability to keep half of what we picked.
    • When I went on school trips, Mom and Dad would give me a certain amount of money to use for meals, etc. I rarely ever bought souvenirs, and I ate as inexpensively as possible, knowing that they would let me keep the change.
  • Keeping the change and babysitting put me in a position to be able to buy my first car (used, of course) with cash when I was 16.

Hard Work

I know that some people wouldn’t consider hard work to be a financial lesson, but it really is to me. Without the hard work of my family, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

Hands down, my favorite story along these lines is about Dad lying down beside the levee. If you don’t know what a rice levee is, I’ve added a photo to the right (not mine, credit to Arkansas Money and Politics). Rice fields are in standing water, riddled with mud, snakes, mosquitoes, and all kinds of other fun things. When a storm comes, it can wash out the levee, putting the farmer in danger of losing the crop.

Once, when a storm came, Dad went out to fix the levee with a farmhand. They shoveled mud back onto the levee, but the torrential rain wasn’t letting up. The levee kept washing away. Finally, Dad decided that the only way to do it was to lie down in the mud and water and let the farmhand throw mud up against his back to rebuild the levee until they were able to secure it. Notice that it was my dad, the landowner, who lay down beside the levee. He didn’t ask the farmhand to do it. He did it himself. It needed to be done. It was a nasty job, but it was what his family needed him to do in order to save the crop. Sometimes, you just have to lie down beside the levee and get mud thrown on you.

Caring for Others

In lots of ways, we all did life together growing up on a farm. When there were weeds to be pulled, rather than buying chemicals, we brought in every kid in a ten-mile radius and paid them in hot dogs and Kool-Aid.

We never had much, but we always had enough. I remember taking my outgrown clothes to a family who had way less than we did. The little girl would literally wring her hands together in excitement about my hand-me-downs. It made me grateful for every bit of my homemade clothing; it also taught me the value of giving to others.

One of my favorite examples of people just taking care of each other was when Dad accidentally left his wallet on the vehicle rather than in it. He had been to the bank to get cash to pay several people, and he literally had a few thousand dollars in his wallet. The wallet and all the money was all over the road and in ditches. Dad didn’t have a clue that anything had happened. A gentleman who knew Dad found it, picked up every single dollar, and took it all back to Dad. He didn’t have to do that; nobody would have ever known, but I like to think that we all just took care of each other and did the right thing. It pays off in lots of ways, some of them financial.

Really, other than the type of work, I guess that growing up on a farm is not that much different than growing up somewhere else. Take care of what you have. Work hard. Take care of each other. Life really can be that simple.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

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