Finance First Friday: Faith, Finances, and KFC

Otto and Ed, not at KFC

Parishioners Ed Stieve and Otto Paier were regular attendees at our Money and Meaning classes and forums in September. Through our discussions I noticed they have quite different approaches to money and wondered how they had learned to work together on their finances. In case other couples are wondering how to make it through 3 decades of household finances together, I invited Ed and Otto to share their story…

Ed: Our story begins at KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) but it doesn’t end with the extra crispy crust. A second date, and there we were at KFC. Otto had a coupon. The rest could be history. Our story could end here. But not so fast.

Otto: When I first met Ed back in August of 1991, he was teaching at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale and I was teaching at a private school in Miami. The cities are about 45 minutes apart. Ed drove down to visit me in Miami that first weekend after we met. It was in the morning, and when it came time for lunch, I suggested we grab a bite. I consider myself to be a frugal New Englander. I always have a coupon for something, so I suggested we go to the nearby KFC because I had a coupon. Some think now that perhaps I was testing Ed to see if it didn’t scare him away, but I really wasn’t trying to do that. I had a coupon and I wanted to use it! We rarely, if ever, went to KFC after that, but every year on our anniversary we go out to get fried chicken to celebrate that first budget date – and our life together!

Ed: I come from a family where there was always a polarity between spending and saving. My father was a spender, sometimes too much. My mother encouraged saving, but that didn’t always work out either. I’ve tried to strike a balance between the two, but it’s not always an easy road. I have tried to see money as a tool that can make the lives of others a little bit better. That wasn’t always my goal but sometimes it just sort of happened.

Otto: Ed and I come from similar good old middle-class backgrounds. As with Ed’s parents, money was a frequent topic of conversation in our family in Western Massachusetts. We lived comfortably enough, but according to my mother we never really had enough. She always spoke with slight envy of friends and relatives who seemed to have more or lived in a better part of town. Not that she wasn’t satisfied with our life, but she always seemed to want more. The funny thing is, she was never comfortable spending money. Her mantra was always, “Save your money; save your money.” My father prided himself on giving us a comfortable life, and both my parents sacrificed some of their wants to give their five children the things in life they didn’t have growing up. We had the stuff of a middle-class life.  A pool in the backyard (but it was above ground), summer camps (but not the whole summer, just a two-week summer camp), a summer cottage (in the woods, not directly on the lake, but it was hand built by my father and his friends), and my parents loved to golf so we would always belong to one of the local golf clubs (but not the best one). They were able to help all five of us in our first years of college which gave us all a financial head start. We took winter vacations to Florida (always in a car, never flew, and always stayed with relatives, not a hotel), which we always enjoyed. I knew we weren’t rich, but I never thought of ourselves as poor. However, listening to my parents discuss finances, I always felt a bit of unease, as if it could all be taken away at any point. I’ve learned many life lessons from my parents, including about personal finance. Examples: Never spend more than you earn; always live under your means; only use credit cards in an emergency and only if you can pay it off the next month; buy things on sale, and buy quality so that will last.

Ed: Our family had a pool, too, and, it was in-ground. It’s not as high class as it sounds because the pool was part of a business, and we rarely got to use it. In the summers, my job was cleaning it, washing out the filters, and removing dead frogs from the skimmer baskets. My parents ran a mom-and-pop motel on Lake Michigan and the family ran the business out of our house. That meant that during many suppers when someone came to the motel office and rang the bell, we would fight about who was going to go out to the front desk and rent out a room while that person’s supper got cold. Before video replay, pause buttons, and the Internet, it also could mean missing part of a favorite TV show.

It seems like much of the tension between spending and saving has passed on to us. How much should we save for retirement? Now that we are retired, how much should we spend to make our lives and potentially the lives of other people better? How much should we save so we have enough? One thing that has been important for the relationship Otto and I have cultivated is the ability to talk about money openly, and although Otto usually works on recording and managing finances, we share weekly updates to talk about where we are both personally and financially.

Over time, as both the relationship and I have grown, I realize that spending and saving is not just about saving and spending cash. It’s about saving and spending energy and commitment. It seems that when we talk about giving these days, especially in days of Covid, we are looking so often at managing and spending our time with other people in creative ways. These days finances are less a concern than the time we spend on our lives together and with other people. We realize that many people have debt that’s piling up during Covid, especially if they are still working.

Otto: Ed and I have been together almost 30 years, and we really have never argued about finances, though we have had some tense discussions. Mostly, it’s because I tend to worry about money and making sure that we have enough and that it’s invested properly. We have always agreed to live below our means. Ed has given into my coupon and bargain hunting ways. Sometimes, I think he’s even amused at some of my Goodwill bargains and the things I haul home from curbside give-a-ways. It’s not that he is a big spender, neither one of us really is. Our financial priorities have always been pretty much in sync. Cars: (we each had a Toyota Prius and now we share a 2016 Corolla). Houses: I’m usually the instigator with our moving because I love fixing places up; Travel: we both love to travel, and we have very similar traveling styles. While we were both working, we always put away a good amount of our salary for our retirement. We both realized neither one of us was going to inherit a ton of money, so we had to make sure we provided for our own future. So, in essence, we are more similar than not when it comes to finances. One thing that differentiates us, is that I keep a close eye on our finances. Where and how money comes in and where and how it goes out. I can pull up specific data going all the way back to the early 90s when I started keeping records. Thank God for Quicken. I am so aware of our finances, that any time Ed asks, “So where are we?” I can list off our net worth, investments, and bank balances from the top of my head. It’s important to note, that while I keep track of the finances, we discuss and agree on major expenses. For example, we had a budget when we were house-hunting in St. Paul. We ended up selecting a house that was at the bottom of the range. No surprise there! It’s interesting to note that the house we ended up selecting is very much like the house where I grew up. The neighborhood is even similar. We are in the Midway. Maybe we were living by the Episcopalian Via Media. Maybe I just wanted to “go home again.”

Ed: In the end, it’s more than just about extra crispy crust. It seems like our relationship growing over the last nearly 30 years has been possible because we often share ideas, especially ideas about saving and spending both our time and money. Sometimes these days, when I want to buy something new or repair something old, rather than think about the money involved, I think about how our spending and saving changes the lives of others. We have so many friends at St. John’s that we are grateful for, and our lives have been richer as a result. Just talking about money makes us think about words like richness and what that really means. In the end it’s not about riches or richness, it’s about the intangibles that can’t be bought or sold. Even with coupons.

Otto: The recent discussions at St. Johns for the “It’s a Wonder-full Life” series have given me a new perspective on blending the, until now, distinct topics of finances and spirituality. I’m not sure where I fall in the spirituality-spectrum of finances. I’m not quite willing to give up worrying over our finances and trust that God will provide. I feel like we have to do some of the heavy lifting ourselves. Sometimes I believe that if I stop worrying, then the life Ed and I have carefully cultivated over the past 30 years will somehow fall apart.

Given all of that, Ed and I acknowledge daily how grateful we are for each other, our family, friends, and for what we have. We are fully aware that for most people in the world, in our country, heck, even in our own city, life is a daily struggle. We pray for them, donate our time and treasure when we can, and give thanks that we are so blessed.

Thank you, Ed and Otto, for sharing your story and some inspiration!

Discussing finances can be difficult but, as we have learnt here, money is an integral part of our everyday lives. Jesus talked about money and possessions more than prayer and faith, and, so we invite you to share your financial stories and resources. To write a post, share resources, submit an article, or do an interview please contact Executive Administrator, Sarah Dull – you never know who needs to hear your story.

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