There's much to see here. So, take your time, look around, and learn the "How to..." of picture framing. We hope you enjoy our new page that was 40 years in the making..
I was an art major in college during the hippy days and tried to make a living as an artist, so I have a soft spot in my heart for struggling artists. Since I am not getting any younger, I decided to pass along the tricks & tips that I have learned over these 40 years that make framing your own art fun and affordable.
I wake up every morning happy to have another day to see and hear and walk and talk and think and frame pictures and visit with customers and annoy my wife and play with the dogs.
I believe each day is a precious gift. My wish is that everyone, including starving artists, also have a wonderful life:
Years ago I tried making a living as an artist. I had great joy in making art, but trying to pay rent and make a living from selling art was exasperating. I remember not being able to afford to frame my art, so I would take a portfolio of my work around to banks and insurance companies and other businesses and offer my artwork for sale.
After getting nowhere trying to make a living as an artist, I gave myself 3 months to find a job related to art and if not, I was going to drive a cab... The day I was going to drive a cab the employment agency called and had a job for me in a custom frame shop! I took to it right away and had the added bonus of saving lot of money using my own labor to frame my own art.
After 6 years of working for the frame shop, I opened my own shop in 1979. When I first opened, I displayed my “Hippy Art” around the shop. At that time signed numbered wildlife prints were all the rage. I would often have customers in with their “ducks flying over water in sunset” prints for me to frame and they would see my weird hippy art and ask: “What the heck is that suppose to be?” I would explain that I did the art and most customers were very polite and felt bad that they cast aspersions on art I had done, so I eventually took pity on my customers and placed my art out of sight. (One art series I did by putting myself under hypnosis with a pen or pencil in my hand and see what art would happen. Someone described them as “floating guts”. Not a big seller!)
I have set up a framing workshop, with duplicate picture frame equipment (mat cutters, miter vices, nail guns etc...) in my basement. I am renting out the space and equipment to starving artists for only 10 cents a minute ($6.00/hr) per person. I also sell framing supplies like 32 x 40 mats, cases of glass and frame lengths to artists so they can use their own labor to frame their own art at a fraction of the cost. Artists are also welcome to bring their own supplies. (If the artist has no money, I might even consider trading their time to clean, pull weeds or whatever, for space rent.) Since our little frame shop is lucky enough to be buried in work and I just don’t have time to be with artists one on one, I will pass along the information here in writing with photos and eventually videos. As I write this, I am almost 2 months behind in framing my customers projects. We usually work on about 8 to 25 projects at a time. We first cut the block size of many different customers' mats, then mark those mat openings, then cut the mat openings and foam-core backings and secure the art in the mat. Next we cut the frames and check the size to make sure the frame fits the mat. Then we glue and nail the first half of the frame corners together and after the glue has set, glue and nail the other half together to create the completed empty frame with nail holes filled. Once we have the whole group of art with mats, backing and frames completed then we start cutting and cleaning the glass and installing the individual projects. This “mass production” makes for an efficient use of time to complete each framing task.
I have broken down the aspects of custom picture framing into 20+ categories. If you have any requests email me at email@example.com and I will see if I can add the information. Remember these are all “my opinion” and this is how I do it. Others experts may have differing opinions.
Here in our little mom and pop frame shop we have over 4,000 frame styles and 1,000 mat samples to choose from. It may seem like a daunting task, but if you can answer just a few questions you can eliminate 90% of the choices: Do you want a minimalist gallery look or do you want the frame and mat to relate to the color and style of the art? If you want a minimalist gallery look, most of the time this is accomplished with a white mat and simple black or white frame. The frame and mat become more about just separating the art from its surroundings and having a relationship to other simply framed art in a gallery setting than what makes each individual art “sing” on it’s own. My favorite way to select mats and frames is to pick a top mat that matches the more overall color of the background of the art, which is usually a lighter color. And pick an inside mat that matches a color in the focal point, which is usually a darker color... and then to select a frame that matches the color of the inside mat. This creates a visual progression from the frame - to inside mat - to focal point and makes the viewer look at the art without distracting from it. If you keep this technique in mind you will almost always have an aesthetically pleasing result. I first select mats and frames for color, then I choose the frame size and style to relate to the size and style of the art. The trick is to make the art look special without making the viewer look more that the framing than the art.
The example photos are of an artwork I did about 10 years ago. It has a broken sculpture in the upper right. I drew a nude lady, that looks like the sculpture, and had her pour a building out of the urn she is holding. Titled " If God were a Women would she look Like Marilyn Monroe." It's hard to see in the photo, but I used a copper pencil to draw on the tan suede mat. I started by drawing on the whole suede sheet knowing I was going to use the outer edges as the top mat and an inside mat that matches the copper/rust color of the pencil. The frame is my "Topnotch" frame that I had a patent pending on. It is an extruded metal with a 3/4" channel at the top. You can slide anything in the channel. The 3/4" insert was made from the same mat as the inside mat, so the viewer has a progression from the frame color to inside mat color to focal point color. The other photo showing a white mat and back frame was photoshopped, but you get the idea. As a side note, I made about 3,000 feet of my frame and sold all but a few hundred fee in our shop. I tried getting other shops to offer it, but no one did. The advantage was the one frame could become a million frames. Beside matching the color of the inside mat an insert could be chosen dictated by the theme of the item being framed. For example, I printed up overlapping money and slid it in the channel for a frame for bankers. With the frame I could match team colors when framing sports Jerseys. I framed record albums using sheet music in the channel. The disadvantage was that the channel covered 3/4" of the edge and if the insert was a little too wide it would not slide in the channel and if a little too narrow the insert would fall out of the channel. Oh Well, It was fun to play!
I use a simple wood marking gage with ruler on the side and nail at zero. (A Stanley number 61 marking gauge works well.) I pound out the nail and drill a tapered hole so a pencil can replace the nail: Use about 4 different sizes of drill bits. The largest bit should be the diameter of a pencil, then use graduated smaller sizes and kind of tilt the smaller bit in a circle until the hole is tapered like the end of a pencil. Then I drill small holes in the sides and use a couple screw eyes to hold the pencil.
Start by carefully measuring the art to determine the inside dimensions of the mat and add double the width of the mat border. For example: for art that covers a sheet of a 22" X 30" paper, I would usually make the opening 21&5/8" X 29& 5/8" This 3/8" difference means the mat will cover 3/16" of the edge of the paper. I like this coverage because this “fudge factor” makes the chances of problems much less. (Many art papers have deckle edges that are not perfectly even .)
I almost always add 1/4" to the bottom mat to kind of weight the art at the bottom. (Frames are cut an eighth inch bigger than the mat to make room for expansion and contraction so the mat does not warp. If the mat eventually sinks to the bottom of the inside edge of the frame, the bottom of the mat will not look smaller than the top and sides since it is a little larger. The outside dimension of this example is 27 5/8" X 35 & 7/8". (21 & 5/8" + 6" ) (29 & 5/8" + 6 & 1/4") assuming the art is vertical with 3" border top and sides and with 3 & 1/4" at the bottom.) If you are an artist who wants to reuse the mat and frame and offer the art for sale framed or unframed, you could opt for an even border so you could orient the next piece of art horizontally or vertically.
Now that you have the outside dimensions of the mat calculated, cut the block size of the mat using the wall mounted 60" mat cutter. (The standard size uncut mat sheet is 32" X 40".) Next... On the back of the mat, mark the mat border with your handy mat marker (see above). To cut the mat opening, I use and recommend a mat cutter that has a block that holds the blade at an angle and rides down a bar. I have 3 mat cutters available in the workshop space: a 40" C & H, a 40" Keeton and a 48" Fletcher mat cutter. (Use of the mat cutters is included in the space rental.) Place the mat in the cutter with the border closest to you. Place a scrap mat under the mat you are cutting so the blade will be going into the under-mat so you will get a nice sharp bevel edge. Do not push down or lean on the bar. With one hand hold the mat in place. Use your other hand to position the block that holds the razor blade over the intersection of the lines. Dive the blade into the mat by pushing the block head forward and down, ideally splitting the pencil line. Slide the blade down the line cutting the mat, then pull the blade out of the mat at the end of the line where they intersect. When to dive in and pull out the blade takes some practice. Ideally you don’t want any over or under cuts. There is no fixing an over cut. If you have an under cut you can carefully take a loose razor blade and hold it in the bevel to “clip” the inside of the mat free from the mat border.
To practice when to dive a blade in and out of a mat to get a perfect cut, I recommend cutting a “telescoping” mat. Step 1. Using a full 32 x 40 sheet of mat, mark a 4" border and cut the opening. Then using the 24 x 32 “fallout” from the center of the 32x 40 mat, mark a 3.5" border and cut another mat. The fallout from that will be 17 x 25 mark that mat with a 3" border and you will have an 11 x 19 mat to mark 2.5" border. Next you will have a 6 x 14 mat you can mark 2" and end up with a 2 x 10 inch mat strip. So you will have made 5 mats from one 32" X 40" sheet! (Of course you could use any combination of borders to get more or less mats out of one sheet, but you can quickly see how to save a lot of money doing art in a variety of sizes keeping in mind the most efficient use of a sheet of mat.)
The equipment used to cut a miter can be as inexpensive as a simple wood miter box and hand saw or as expensive as a double miter saw, with two 12" carbide blades that cut both miters at once. Some artists use a table saw with a jig set up to hold the frame in a miter position. Also the usual power miter saw used by carpenters also can work, but often the miter is not as perfect as needed for a picture frame.
Whatever equipment you use to cut the miter, I like to have the project I am framing on a table, with the edges of two sides extending over the edge of the corner of a table. As I cut, I like to hold the mitered frame rail up to the outer edge of the mat (or the art if there is no mat) to make sure the frame fits before I glue it together.
I cut the frame a 1/8" larger than the mat so it has room to expand and contract in the frame. If the frame is too tight to the mat, it will wrap with humidity and temperature changes. After the frames are cut, color the cut edge of the frame with a marker that matches the color of the frame surface.
The standard of the framing industry for 100 years has been a heavy table miter vise.
These work great and I have them at my workshop frame stations. I also have available small corner vises that come in sets of 4. The miter is glued, positioned in the vise with corners flush at the top and outside edge. Wipe off excess glue that squishes out of the corner as you tighten the vise. Run your fingers over the top and back corner of the frame to make sure they are perfectly flush. Adjust the frame in the vice until the top and side is flush. Next, hold the corner together with you fingers while the frame is in the miter vice. Shoot a nail or two into the frame to hold the corner together while the glue is drying. Note: some woods are softer than others and you don’t want to push the tip of the nail gun too hard into the frame or it will dent the frame around the nail hole. My favorite glue is “Cornerweld” made by Framerica. This glue is so strong that it is not easy to pull a glued frame apart once it has dried. Any glue you missed wiping from the frame when it was wet can be wiped off with a damp rag even after it has dried.
I usually put many frames together at one time. I line up the long members on the right and short members on the left of the table so as I am gluing I don’t put together two longs and two shorts.
This is where I really need to do a video, but I will attempt to explain it here. Remember you are not really cutting glass, you are breaking it along the line of least resistance. I usually just lay a sheet of glass over the back of the completed frame, grab the glass cutter in my right hand and push the glass cutter wheel along the inside edge of the frame rail to the end. (I just eyeball it and do not use a straight edge.) Once the score has been made, I just pinch it off with my fingers at the end of the score and the waste breaks free from the glass I am using. If the sheet of glass
hangs over the edge more than a couple inches, I make a preliminary rough cut so that I don’t have the weight of a lot of waste glass hanging over the edge of the frame. This weight can cause the glass to break before the score is complete. I suggest you practice cutting glass by laying a scrap piece on the table and just start scoring the glass in lines about 1" apart. As you score, pinch each piece apart. At this point you are just trying to get a feel for the cutter. For me the sound of the score as the cutting wheel scratches into the glass is very important. With some practice you can tell if you have a good score down the glass by the sound. If the frame is out of square or warped I do not cut it into that frame. I lay paper on the table, under the glass, to use as a straight edge and measure with a tape measure the size I need. Sometimes I tape the glass to the sheet of paper to make sure the glass does not slide on top of the paper and result in a bad score.
We all know how to clean glass, but here are a few tips: I like Kimwipes and Sprayway glass cleaner. Kimwipes are used to clean scientific instruments and work great for frame glass. I spray one side of the glass with the cleaner then vigorously wipe it off, making sure to get to all the outside edges of the glass. I do this almost more by feel than looking. Once it feels like I have it clean I use an air compressor to blow any particles off the glass. I usually work under a 48" led light so I can bounce light off the glass and examine its reflection so I can more easily see if there are any streaks or water drops. Once I am satisfied it is perfectly clean, I lay the matted artwork at the edge of the glass and blow it off. Then I lift the opposite ends of both the glass and art, laying on the table, so they are now a vertical “sandwich”. If there happen to be a particle on the top of the mat or on the glass, gravity might cause it to fall off as they are brought into a vertical position. Lay the project flat again on the table and lightly spray glass cleaner on the top of the glass to clean it before installing it in the frame. (If you spray the cleaner on too heavy it could wick into the mat if drips off the edge. If you clean one side of the glass and turn it around and clean the other and then lay the glass over the art there is a chance any residue from ATG tape or dust might be on the glass and you don’t want that in contact with the art. If you think the glass and art are perfectly clean and install it in the frame and upon further inspection find a speck under the glass you can sometime fish it out by pulling up some of the point driver arrows near the speck and bend the mat back to get at the speck. If you are driven nuts by specks falling between the glass and art, one trick is to tape the edge of the glass and wrap tape all around the outside edge of the glass ( So the lip of the frame hides the tape and nothing can get under the glass.)
I like to lay the project on the table face up, then lay the frame over it and carefully flip the whole thing up-side-down to expose the back so I can shoot a few points in the back of the frame to hold it in. Then I flip it face up again and make sure there are no problems, like specks or streaks. I turn it back side up and finish driving in more points until they are about 3" apart all around the frame. (The reason I work with it face up is that I can more easily see if there are any specks that fall from the edge of the frame in-between the glass and matted art. If there are specks it is easier to take apart when there are few points holding it all together.)
I use ATG tape all around the back of the frame, about 1/16" away from the edge. Next I pull a much larger sheet of paper off a paper roll and press the paper into the ATG. Then I run my fingers along the frame edge over the excess paper so it creases around the edges. Next I pinch a razor blade in my fingers while using one finger as a guide along the edge and cut the paper free from the back of the frame. If you have trouble using a razor blade you can also use sandpaper over a block of wood and sand off the edge of the paper. Next I make sure the top of the frame is towards me and measuring down about a third of the way, I drill holes in the frame and screw an eyelet or “D” ring to string wire across.
10. Butterfly hinge
11. Wood fillets in mats and frames
12. How to “float” art using spacers in frames and/or mats
13. How to mark and cut double and triple mats and multiple opening mats
14. How to make stretcher bars and stretch canvas
15. How to frame 3 dimensional objects
16. The least expensive ways to frame and/or display your art
17. How to install security hangers
18. How to alter mats by chalking or covering with fabric
19. How to safely pack framed art (with glass) for shipping
10. Butterfly hinge
11. Wood fillets in mats and frames
12. How to “float” art using spacers in frames and/or mats
13. How to mark and cut double and triple mats and multiple opening mats
14. How to make stretcher bars and stretch canvas
15. How to frame 3 dimensional objects
16. The least expensive ways to frame and/or display your art
17. How to install security hangers
18. How to alter mats by chalking or covering with fabric
19. How to safely pack framed art (with glass) for shipping
20. Suggestions on how to make a living as an artist
After all these years of having the pleasure to know many successful artists and frame their work, I have some observations:
First, I believe it is very important for an artist to meet and greet and get to know their potential clients. Go to art shows and street fairs and gallery openings to not only display your art, but talk to people. Anyone can go on line and look at a billion works of art, but it is a lot more likely they will buy your art if they fall in love with you. There is so much more to choosing art than just the aesthetics of it. Art is a connection to the artist and if the buyer loves the artist they are a lot more likely to want to help support them and buy their art. When you market your art you are really marketing yourself. Send press releases to local, regional and national magazines. Do interviews with print, TV and radio personalities. The more known you are the more exposure your art will receive. Think of yourself as a brand, like Nike or Apple. The more positive exposure you have the more likely you are to sell your art.
Second, Try to get a good gallery to show and sell your work. In my opinion, you should choose the galley not as much by its location or fancy decor, but by the people running the gallery. Gallery owners usually work very hard for their artists. They also usually know the who’s who of art collectors. Just like art buyers who buy from artists they have a connection to, they also buy from gallery owners they connect with. Most galleries charge 50% of the purchase price. This may seem like a lot, but when you start adding up the high cost of rent and overhead it makes sense. Also, it is better to get 50% of something than 100% of nothing. You also might consider opening your own gallery. Do a business profit and loss statement and if all looks promising you can ask a bank for a loan. If three or more banks turn you down you might ask a CPA to help fill out the paperwork to get the small business administration to co-sign on the loan. With the government as a co-signer the bank will most likely help you out. (That’s what I did to buy my building, equipment and inventory in 1979 when interest rates were 12% to 17%.)
Third, Consider doing commission work. Buyers often need art in a certain color and size and style for home or business. If you are willing to work within their parameters it can be financially rewarding. My suggestion is to tell the client you will do something with their wishes in mind and let them see it first and if they pass on it you will be fine with selling it to someone else. But, don’t let yourself be driven nuts by a client who complains about minutia. Do your own thing and if they like and buy it great, if not someone else may want it too. This can be especially true with portrait work. Most people think the have fewer wrinkles and more hair then they actually have.
Fourth, Consider teaching art at home or through a gallery or adult ed. Often this becomes more of a social gathering or party than turning someone into the next Van Gough, but it can be a lot of fun and help pay the bills. Also consider joining or starting an "Art Gallery Co-op" where the rent and work time is spread out among many artist. (I was in and out of three different antique malls over many years. It was a lot of fun and I made a lot of friends through our mutual interest, but I never got rich doing it. I plan to open an "occasional" antique store a few times a year out of the frame shop. The name of my antique business is "Cobweb Secrets")
Fifth, Have a lot of different price points so the buyer has options that fall within their budget. Have some little cards (copies of your art) for $5.00 to $20.00. Medium size prints $39.00 to $90.00. Limited Edition, signed and numbered prints $100.00 to $300.00. Mount prints on foam core board (or print on canvass), roll a clear gesso over the print and brush around the contours of the images (and maybe add to the image) to make it an almost one of a kind “Embellished Print”. $400.00 to $700.00. And of course your mid-to-larger size, one of a kind originals $300.00 to $3,000.00. Offer art with or without mats - shrink wrapped, some art framed in a simple ready made frame and some in a custom frame. If you use our frame workshop space and equipment and your labor, you can save a lot of money on framing your art! (The above prices are just suggestions to give a newer artist a place to start.)
Sixth, Make it easy for your buyers to have your art: Take Credit Cards. Many small businesses sign up for “Square” and get a device to plug into their cell phone that allows them to take credit cards anywhere. Consider “leasing” art, especially to businesses. As a rule of thumb, once you start doing about $600.00 or more a month of sales, get a retail tax number. The advantage is you don’t have to pay sales tax when you buy almost anything to do with making your art, including art supplies and picture frames and you look more legitimate when you try and buy at wholesale prices. Also, some art shows require you to have a retail tax number when you set up to sell directly to customers. The disadvantage is the headache of sending in the tax collected and paper work to the state every quarter. It’s very easy to get a retail tax number. Just contact the State Sales Tax Department. Keep in mind if you collect sales tax and not send the money to the state it is considered stealing and you could be prosecuted.
Seventh, Apply for grants and go after public art projects. Be sure to keep good records. Budget your money and be able to prove you did what you said you would do. Also consider showing your art on "Print On Demand" web sites like Redbubble.com or FineArtAmerica.com or Zazzle.com or SaatchiArt.com. These web sites show your images and handle the printing, shipping and collecting the money and you get a small percentage of the sale just for allowing them to sell and print images of your art. The usually offer the images framed or unframed., on canvas or metal or paper. Some also print on mugs, stickers, bags and shirts. There are millions of images on each site, so be sure to include key words in your title so the buyer can find your images.
Eighth, Budget your time. Break down what you need to accomplish by setting small goals every day. For example, here in the frame shop I have a list of all the customers work I have to do in order of oldest to newest. I take a group of older work and cut all the mat block sizes. I might have a goal that day of not going to bed until I have all the mat block sizes cut and marked. The next day the goal might be to not stop until I have all the openings cut. Anyway... you get the idea. You can get a lot done, and not be overwhelmed, if every day you bite off a small piece of a huge goal. Some find it helpful to make a “story board” showing where you want to be in 1,5, 10, or more years and the small steps you expect to take to get there. Also, don't be so critical of your own art or let others get you down if they don't like your art: I imagine before Jackson Pollack got famous someone told him his art is just splashes of paint and too busy and needs a rest area and a focal point for the viewer to appreciate it. I would also guess Damian Hirst, the artist famous for painting one small circle on a giant canvas, was told his art was too simple and also had no real structure or purpose or value. We all have our favorite art styles and favorite artists. Who's to say you and your art won't be the next big thin in the art world?
Ninth, How does an artist go from their selling art for “normal” prices to “crazy prices”? Where do you find that first buyer who pays tens of thousands and sets a new stratospheric value on your art? First, I think it helps if you submit and get accepted into prestigious galleries like the Museum of Modern Art. Next, important people within the art world such as art patrons, corporate art purchasing agents and art investors and speculators need to start buying your art betting that someday it may be worth more and they could make money reselling it. Once some of those people start selling art at auction and making money on it... all of a sudden that art is worth more because of competitive bidding. I remember seeing a documentary about Jackson Pollack. As I recall, an art investor was auctioning off one of his works he bought years ago for $50,000.00 and it sold at auction for something like $1.5 million. Pollack said he, the artist, did all the work and the investor made all the money. The investor said something like... because of his (the investor) interest, his art was now valued at that higher price.
It also helps if your art influences the next style of art for the next generation. If you want to have fun sometime google: “modern art sales records.” A few years ago I did this and found one artist who did an installation piece that had an unmade bed, with end tables and night stand and candy bar wrappers. As I recall she sold it for a million dollars, which seemed crazy to me, until I read that the buyer later sold it for $2.5 million dollars. (I won’t tell you about the artist who gold leafed his feces and what it sold for.)
Tenth Keep in mind that the joy is in doing the work and if your art sells or not or sells for not much, you still had the joy of doing the work, but know that pricing and selling art is not easy: Would a potential buyer have bought a particular piece if it was priced a little less? - Would the buyer have paid more - a lot more? If you price too low does it make a buyer think twice about how good the work is. If it is priced too high do they think it is not as good as the price is high. It’s not easy to find the “Sweet Spot” price that your art will sell best at. Most artists I know that are successful find that sweet spot and stay in that price zone for a long time. Only when they can’t keep up with all the work do they consider raising their prices. Remember once you have a significant increase in price there is no going back: Imagine a buyer at a high price if they see your art selling for a lot less later on... They would not be too happy about it. You might consider my motto: “My first goal is to have fun, my second goal is to make enough money so I can pay the bills and keep having fun.” I am sure anyone in the arts: Actors, Musicians, Singers, Writers would love to pay their bills with their art, but the truth is very few do. I was talking to an art professor recently and he made a great analogy: An art major is a lot like a school football player... many play and love the game and dream of making into the NFL, but very few do. Even though the chances of getting in the NFL or being a full time professional artist are slim does not mean you should not try. I tried making a living as an artist and it lead me to my 40 year career as a picture framer and it has been a wonderful life. I also had a lot of inventions like a wastewater heat recovery device, computer color matching service, fossil free farm, thermoelectric friction furnace and even a picture frame that was a million frames in one that I had a patent pending on and many others. I sent details of my inventions to businesses all over the country. I made a prototype or two. ... I also wrote a 110 page movie script that I sent to agents and actors. All of these things brought me a lot of joy and even though none made money I feel giving it a try was not a waste of time. It brought texture and people into my life that I found very rewarding! My advice is to find a steady job where you like the people you work with and find work that you enjoy. Remember ... Almost any job, from flipping burgers to brain surgery is helping people and their should be satisfaction in knowing that you are helping people! While you have a steady income you can keep working on your art and have a happy life!
Best of Luck. Mike, The Framer.
Today someone posted a photo on Facebook of a lady peddling a bike. She had a bundle of straw tied over the back fender, a new born baby wrapped in fabric around her back, two small children sitting on the bike frame and handlebars, and a large metal bucket balanced on top of her head. The caption read something like: “If hard work was all it took to be a millionaire Africa would be full of millionaires. “
Just because we were lucky enough to be born on this side of a line on a map (in this country) with almost unlimited opportunity and (most of us) born into a family who’s parents love us and live in a neighborhood with a good school system that allows both rich and poor to attend... All this advantage had nothing to do with any of our efforts, but yet... here we are.
I have a friend who grew up in India and went to College in the US. He would often ask: “How did America get to be so rich?” We would have long discussions and from his point of view it was mostly because after World War II America was largely unscathed and we had so few people and so many natural resources the US got a head start on the rest of the world. I agreed with his assessment somewhat, but would add that here in America we have the freedom to fail or succeed, a free K - 12 education, a banking system and government that help create an environment where everyone has a chance to succeed. (In India and many other countries, parents have to pay to have their children in school. If your parents could not afford it, you did not go to school. Imagine parents and grandparents and their children not even knowing how to read and write! In some countries if you want something you have to save for it. There is no banking system for those looking to borrow money. Imagine how long it would take to save to buy a building and start a business on a working man’s salary.) My friend is a College professor and spent much of his life taking care of his mother, who always stressed the importance of a good education. When she became very elderly he hired a lady from China, who used to work in a Chinese restaurant, to watch his mom when he was in class teaching. She took care of his mom for many years. She was paid $10.00 and hour. When his mom died at 96 her care giver was the only one I noticed crying at the funeral. She loved that lady. Now out of a job, she took a chance and opened her own Chinese restaurant. Now she is a millionaire and her restaurant is often voted the best Chinese Restaurant in town! Now when my friend asks how America got to be so rich I just remind him about his mom’s care giver.
How is it that some people get to live the American Dream and others struggle just to get by?
There are many things that “grease” the path to the American Dream, such as being born into a family of means or having access to an affordable higher education or being smart enough or hard working enough to get a College degree in a subject that results in a job that is not only fulfilling, but higher paying. Having a positive attitude and willingness to work hard and take a chance goes a long way to find the American Dream. The only real failure is not trying.
There is an old saying that goes something like: “If you find a job that you delight in, you will not work a day in your life.” Many people, for what ever reason, are not able to find the perfect job that they find fulfilling and fun and pays more than they need. In fact it was recently reported that 76% of Americans would have trouble paying an unexpected $400.00 bill. It’s hard to be happy in a job that has you living paycheck to paycheck. One hopes that a college diploma will result in you achieving success, but some come out of college with huge student loans and degrees in subjects that have little chance of high paying jobs. (I met a young lady working at a pet store for minimum wage. She told me she had a recent Bachelors degree in geology and an $800.00 a month student loan payment!) If you can stay in school, study hard, get good grades, get into a good college and get a diploma you have a better chance at catching the American Dream. Or, If you can go to a trade school or apprentice, there are many high paying and fulfilling jobs in the trades: plumbers, carpenters, electricians, truckers and heavy equipment operators.
Here are some other ideas that might help you “grease” your path to the American Dream:
Appreciate the things you already have. Wake up every morning and tell yourself how lucky you are to have another day to see and hear and walk and talk and think and breathe. Think about all the people that can’t do some of those things and would pay almost anything to have those “gifts” that you woke up with. I really believe we usually don’t get more until we appreciate what we already have. When problems come up, realize how trivial they are compared to losing one of the many “gifts” you woke up with. The next time you get unhinged over something like your car or appliance breaking down try to relax and remember it is nothing compared to losing your ability to see, hear, walk, talk, think or breathe. Soon you will see how silly it was to be so upset over “the small things” that money and time can usually fix. I would rather be a healthy poor person sitting on a park bench begging for change than a blind person sitting in a mansion with a billion dollars in the bank. (I mention this because I have been battling Glaucoma for 40 years. I can barely see out of my left eye and my right eye has been getting worse too. I have had 5 surgeries on each eye over many years and I am on about every drop imaginable. It is very scarey!)
Think about all the people that worked hard so you can enjoy the life you have now. When you get up in the morning to brush your teeth, think about all the people it took so you could have clean water: the plumber, the faucet and pipe maker, the equipment operator who dug the trench to lay the pipe from the water treatment plant, the designer of the treatment plant, the chemists, shippers, accountants and on and on. All people who got up every morning and went to work so you could have clean water to brush your teeth! Every moment of every day there are thousands of people who worked hard so you can enjoy a better life. From your tooth brush and tooth paste maker to those who made your car and roads to drive on and the slippers you put on your feet at night. Someone had to get up in the morning and go to work to make the products that get shipped from all over the world so you can enjoy a better life. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it. When you have a job, almost any job, you are helping people. That is a good thing - and you should get great joy from that alone. Even if you don’t like your job now or the people you work with or your income, know that you are part of the “fabric” of workers that help us all enjoy a better life.
What is YOUR American Dream?
My dad’s mother’s mom (my great grandmother) was from Sweden and my dad’s mother’s dad was from Norway. They met on the boat coming to America. Imagine the courage it took to chase their dreams and leave all their loved ones behind. They could not just dream of a better life and let day after day go by and expect things to change. Like them, you have to do the work and take the chances to make your dreams come true.
For most of us the “dream” is a good job, nice house and car and money in the bank. For some, they dream about being “Rich and Famous.” For others, they dream about helping people: curing cancer, stopping global warming, promoting peace and love. When I ask young people that come into my mom & pop picture frame shop what their dream job is, it’s amazing how many tell me they want to be an “influencer”. (These are people that post videos on Youtube/social media and have so many followers that they make a lot of money selling advertising and promoting products on their youtube channel.) When I was fresh out of high school my “American Dream” was to make a living as an artist, live on a lake with my beautiful horny wife, in a huge rustic log cabin that is self-sufficient - with solar and wind powered generators, and drive an electric car and build a huge green house for a year around garden. To try and make that happen I went to MSU and majored in art, had a lot of parties at my parents lake place (searching for a wife) and subscribed to Mother Earth News magazine that had many articles about “living off the grid”. After a little over 3 years at MSU (now MSUM) I tried to make a living as an artist and soon found out I was not going to be able to pay all the bills by selling my art so I got a job somewhat related to art, in a custom frame shop, and I found and married my beautiful wife. After 6 years at the frame shop I decided to start my own shop in Bemidji and buy a place on the lake. I quit my job and put money down on a place in the country (could not afford a lake place yet). This was in 1979 and money was so tight everything fell through. We ended up buying the neighborhood grocery store, here in Fargo, that I grew up four houses down from. We turned it into a frame shop on the main floor and we live on the second and third floor. Little did I know at the time...
I found my New American Dream: I get to walk down a flight of stairs to work everyday to do a job I love with the person I love! We did a 15 year loan and it only cost about a hundred dollars more a month than a 30 year loan. We paid off the building in 1994, so for all these years since we have had no rent to pay for a place to live or a place to work! As I write this we have had our frame shop 41 years and have been married 44 years. Most of my friends and relatives are retired now, but why would I retire and give up something I enjoy so much. As my wife says: “Retire from what? You go downstairs and play everyday!” As I look back now, I think I am where I am suppose to be. I need people to talk to and things to do. Making art is often a life of solitude and living on a lake in the country I don’t think would have been good for me. After a couple bouts of skin cancer, floating around on the lake in the sun is not for me anymore. I even sold my interest in our family lake place to my brother and sisters for a dollar. Your American Dream will always be evolving, like mine did. (As I write this I am working on opening a picture frame school for starving artists in my basement and an art gallery in my stairway and an occasional antique shop that will open a few weekends a year.) What makes you happy is sometimes different today than it was in the past. Our little frame shop has afforded us the ability to have some expensive hobbies. My wife has been showing our Pomeranian dogs, primarily in agility, obedience and rally (one of our Poms has 79 titles!). I collect antiques, mainly turn of the century mechanical items like wind-up phonographs with horns, large music boxes and coin-op items. I even started a little museum in the front area of our frame shop. We have made a lot of friends through our hobbies. It’s not just about acquiring more show titles or antiques, it’s about making friends through our mutual interest in our hobbies and her membership in the kennel club and my membership in the antique phonograph society. We have been very lucky!
Stop reading now and write down YOUR American Dream: <____________________________ ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________>
If your dream is starting your own business I have a lot of ideas for you. If it is to be an “influencer” or make the next hit video game or play for the NFL or be the next Lady Gaga - google “How to...insert your dream job here....” It’s amazing to see that almost anything you want to be has ideas on the internet of how to “go for it”! One suggestion that keeps coming up when I google “How to do a particular performance type job is to record a video of yourself doing your thing (singing, playing football/basketball or whatever) and post it on line and send it around to agents in that particular field. Here is a quick peek at what I found on line:
Ways Influencers Can Make Money On YouTube or Social Media: Apply for YouTube Partner Program. The best way to start making money as an influencer on YouTube is to become a Partner. Another top way to make money as a YouTube influencer is to become an affiliate for various brands and products. Selling merchandise & products, crowd funding, sponsored content and join influencer platforms.
To become a famous singer: Hire a vocal coach to help you hone your singing skills. Locate a teacher using a local newspaper, the internet or school programs. Record a demo of four songs that showcase your personal style and talent. Get those demo tapes to major record executives in any way possible. Sing anywhere you can. Local fairs, street corners, bars, events .
How to Become an NBA Player: Record video of yourself playing basketball against the competition. Sometimes being a talented basketball player is not enough to get noticed by scouts. Beside, great statistics and undeniable talent, you can upload online some of your best games. Just make sure that all the videos are in HD and you are in the center of the action.
You get the idea. You can’t just sit in a room and dream of doing something, you have to do something to step toward your dream.
Step 1. What are you good at? What do you think you would like to do to make the most contribution to society and enjoy doing? I knew early on that I wanted to be an artist. In elementary school I used to sometimes have students and the teacher gather around my desk and watch me draw. I was an average student in everything else so even if I wanted to be a rocket scientist or Supreme Court Judge that was probably not going to happen. I was also almost always the shortest kid in class so the NBA was out. (I shrunk an inch last year so I am down to five foot one!) I would guess most young people don’t know what they want to do (or can do) to make their best life. There are aptitude and IQ tests that are suppose to give a direction to an answer to the question. So if you aren’t sure, you could start there. When you are trying to figure it out, be sure to keep in mind job satisfaction rating, number of job openings and median base salary. I just googled “50 best jobs in America” and thousands of websites came up with great suggestions. Business Insider site even had the stats for each job. Here are their top 10 for 2019: Data scientist, Nursing manager. Marketing manager. Occupational therapist. Product manager. DevOps engineer. Program manager. Data engineer, HR manager and Software Engineer.
Step 2. Find someone already working in the field you think you would be interested in and ask them if they would be willing to answer any questions about what they like or don’t like about their job and if they have any advice for you. Ask if they would consider letting you “observe” them while at work so you could get a feel for the job and if this would be for you - before you spend a lot of time and money chasing the job you thought would be great for you.
If your “American Dream” is to start your own business, you also need to figure out what that dream business would be. I just now googled “start up business entrepreneur” and a ton of information came up, including many suggestions on what businesses would be good to start. Everything from start-from-scratch ideas for under 10k to buying a franchise. I will warn you though, the statistics for new business survival is not great: First year: 21.5% fail, Second year: 30% fail, Fifth year: 50% fail and by the 10th year 70% don’t make it.
Step 3. For the entrepreneur who wants to start your own business, I would suggest you do like I did and get a job in that field. By the time you start your own business you will probably know it “backwards and forwards”. Be aware though that running a business is different than making/selling a product. Also be aware that some businesses ask employees to sign a “non-compete” document, so you might have to move to another town if you want to start a similar business. Your new business will have to keep a close eye on the bottom line (profit and loss) and remember if it “don’t make cents” don’t do it. My first goal was always to have fun and my second goal was to make enough money to pay the bills so I could keep having fun. We kept our overhead crazy low by doing the work ourselves and staying in our “off the beaten path” building. I know if your business depends mostly on walk in traffic the old saying is location, location, location. That’s all great, but if you sell $20,000.00 a month and your overhead is $24,000.00 a month you are not going to make it. For a “destination” business, like a custom frame shop, a high priced location, in my opinion, is not needed. No one is going to be accidently walking by with a picture to frame, they will seek you out and when your store is their destination, a high traffic, expensive store is not needed. You will have to weigh the cost of rent with the increase in sales the higher traffic store location would generate and make sure it makes cents.
I always liked the idea of making something. At the end of the day you can easily see the fruits of your labor. Sounds strange, but when you put Love into it - it makes it better. When you think about how lucky you are to be physically and mentally able to do the job and realize some day you won’t be able to work, you want to do the best job possible as if it was done for a loved one - your product will be better.
Step 4. Find the start-up money. Assuming you now know what business you want to be in and assuming you now have experience in your particular field, now is the time to create a business plan to show bankers/investors to try and get the money to start your business. For me, I had 6 years experience working in a frame shop, but no money. I assumed no one would lend me the money, so I asked the owner of my old vacant neighborhood grocery store building if he would RENT the building to me. He said why rent it? You should buy it. I told him no bank is going to give a 27 year old kid with no money, the money to buy your building and start a business. He assured me I could do it. So, with his prodding, I drew up a detailed business plan with projected sales and profit and loss statement and took it to every bank and savings and loan in town. (By the way when I was 27 I looked like I was about 12.) As I recall I went to over 20 different places. They were all very nice, but all had the same excuse: “Everything looks good, but money is really tight right now.” I told the owner of the building I tried everywhere, but no luck. He told me to not give up and find a CPA and have him fill out the paper work for the SBA (Small Business Administration) so they would guarantee the loan, but the money would still come from the bank. With the government as a co-signer the bank was willing to approve the loan! (You have to show proof that you were turned down by at least 3 banks in-order for the SBA to get involved.) A lot of people complain about “the big bad government” , but if it was not for them and the SBA I would not have such a nice life! Someone once told me that the SBA will give almost anyone a chance if they try. By the way, the SBA/Bank held the title to the building, my life insurance policy and insurance on the building, so if the business did not make it, they would own the building and if I died or the building burnt down, the loan was paid back. It was so tempting, as the years went by, to redo the loan and cash out some equity (the difference between what we owed and what the building was worth) and go on a big trip or buy a new car or do something extravagant with it. We continued to pay the loan as it was and after only 15 years we paid it off. It is probably the only reason our business has lasted so long. When I first started in 1979 there were over 20 independent frame shops in the area and now there are only 3 of us remaining. I don’t think that we did any better quality than most, it was mainly that our overhead was so low we could more easily withstand the slow times. Most of us in the frame business were friends and I was sad to see so many go. Their businesses were their dreams too, just like mine.
Is your dream just to have a ton of money? I am sure we can all agree having money is better than not having money, but money can just solve all the problems that money can solve. I remember a quote from Oprah when she was asked what the difference is between being rich and being poor. She thought for awhile and said: “When someone you love dies you cry on a $5,000.00 dollar couch rather than a $500.00 couch.” When President Nixon was asked what it meant for him to go from growing up very poor to having money he said: “Once you can afford one nice pair of shoes, everything more is not that big of a deal, you can only wear one pair of shoes at a time.” I like money as much as the next guy, but having millions of dollars sitting in the bank has never been my American Dream. The richest person I know is Jasper Sanfilippo, Barrington Hills, Illinois. His family had a nut processing business in Italy. They came to America and Jasper went to University and got a degree in mechanical engineering and invented (and patented) machines to process nuts. It has made him a multi millionaire many times over. Forbes magazine did an article on him years ago and said his income was $364 million dollars that year. That’s one day shy of making a million dollars a day! I know him through his membership in the antique phonograph society. (You should see his collection! - Google “Youtube - Victorian Palace - Jasper Sanfilippo” there are some great videos of his collections.) I just now, 8/14/20, did the Google search and found out that Jasper died this January . He was so kind to my dad and I when we went to visit his Palace for an antique phonograph event. He was a very unassuming man. If you met him on the street you would guess he was more likely a high school janitor than a multi-millionaire. His contribution to society was immense: if you ate any one of a vast variety of nut products, chances are they were processed by him and his company. He often hosted fund raising events on his estate, including a scholarship fund he set up for mechanical engineer’s. He will be greatly missed! All of his “stuff” and my “stuff” is just “stuff” that we don’t really own, we just take care of while we are here walking the earth and someday it will be somebody else’s “stuff” to take care of. I am sure he, and most of us, don’t have the goal to be the richest guy in the cemetery. We want to make our world a better place, so others and ourselves and our loved ones can enjoy the American Dream!
Step 5. Follow your business plan. It should contain your business goals and how you plan to meet these goals and how long you think it will take to have everything in place to start your business.
Most businesses start small. Bill Gates and his partner started Microsoft in his dad’s garage. Many of the richest people on earth started small with an idea that was in the right place at the right time and with a lot of hard work and luck they changed the world. Google Sam Walton who started Walmart - Ray Kroc who started McDonald’s Franchise’s, Jeff Bazos who started Amazon to sell books, Steve Jobs co-founder of Apple, The 2 young guys that started Paypal and sold it a short time later to ebay for 2 billion dollars and the guy that started ebay just trying to sell his wife’s Pez dispenser collection! I am sure when they started they had no idea where their ideas and business plan would take them.
Some have made a “dream board” where they cut out magazine or on-line pictures that represent their ideal job, house, vacation, spouse, etc... and hang it on the wall and look at it everyday and visualize themselves attaining everything on the board. At night when they can’t sleep they think of what they will need to do, the steps they need to take to put themselves on their picture board.
One idea for acquiring wealth is to buy a residential or commercial rental property. In about 5 years use the equity in the property for a down payment on your next property. Then after another 5 years cash out some equity in both those properties for down payment on more property. You get the idea... One becomes two in 5 years, Two becomes four in the next 5 years, four becomes 8 in the next five years and 8 becomes 16 and so on and so on, until you have as many properties you feel gets you to Your American Dream. One of my friends did this and stopped at 26 properties and over the next 20 -30 years had them all paid off so he is retiring on a huge monthly income from rent collected all these properties. (He sold one of the properties because the buyer made him a huge offer.) All this sounds so simple, but as you might guess nothing is that easy. Another friend who has a number of rental properties told me about one of his seemingly normal renters. One day when the renter was gone he needed to get inside the apartment to check on a heating issue. The guy had 21 cats and no litter boxes and cat poop piled up around the perimeter of the floors!
Another way to gather wealth is to find a good investment adviser. One of my friends had a goal of being able to donate one million dollars to the college he graduated from. My friend worked in a warehouse for an average salary, but he lived a very frugal lifestyle and gave all the money he could to his investment manager. After many years he met his one million dollar goal.To give you an idea how closely he watched his money... he used to call me up almost everyday to ask me how his stocks were doing. He was too cheap to buy a paper. (These were the days before the internet.)
Some investors put about 1/3 of their money in a very high risk investment (stock) that has potential for high reward and 1/3 of their money in a medium risk with medium reward and finally the last third in a very safe, but low reward investment. I remember years ago a friend of a friend used to come over often and tell me about all the money he made in day trading in the stock market. He was a truck driver. In one day he told me he made 30k that day - but this very risky investing did not end up well for him. One day he came over and said: “Mike, well I lost it all! - It’s all gone!” Another friend made a lot of money for a short time in the commodity futures market. He would be able to control large trades by only putting up a small percentage of the money. He also had huge gains, but eventually lost it all. As the old saying goes: “you should never put all your eggs in one basket.”
Some that work for a large company pay the most allowed into a 401k account that their company matches and after the end of their working life have built up a nice nest egg. No matter how much one makes, your lifestyle can outspend your income. There are many examples of this in the entertainment industry and even multi million dollar lottery winners have gone broke!
As we get older most of us realize that having more or less money is just a matter of how long you will be able to pay your own way in the nursing home or how soon you will be on the governments dime. My mother -in-law was in a nursing home that cost $13,000.00 a month! She was a saver, but at that rate her money was gone in no time. The good news is once the money is gone they did not wheel her out into the street - Medicare and Medicaid took over. As I look at my collection I think...”Well that phonograph would get me one month. These three another month. That shelf of stuff one more month etc. Money and stuff are nice, but having good health, family and friends that love you is more precious than money.
Maybe if the lady I described at the beginning (riding her bike with her 3 kids and a bundle of sticks and a bucket on her head) was lucky enough to live in America she would have a good job so she could travel in a car and heat her food on a stove with electricity, but who knows if she had the choices and advantages we have, how much “better” her life would be? It is kind of arrogant of me (us) to assume we are happier than her. After all she keeps in good health riding her bike and obviously has at least 3 little people who love her, but I wonder if she has health care, food security, personal safety and freedom. Having money and choices just solves those problems that it can solve. Being happy is a feeling that comes from within and no one can tell someone else how they feel.
I think a class in high school (and adult ed) titled “Blueprint to the American Dream” could be important, useful, practical and fun . It might start with aptitude tests and include ideas for jobs and businesses that might interest the students. The class might finish with students visiting with individuals and businesses in the field they are most interested in. A class like this might help even out the disparity between black and white wealth in America. According to Dr. Andre Perry of the Brookings Institute the average white American’s wealth is $171,000.00 and the average black Americans wealth is $17,000.00. Dr. Perry is promoting the idea of reparations, where they try to find the descendants of slaves and pay them a sum of money to help make up for the wrongs of slavery and discrimination. Just giving someone money is not nearly as valuable as teaching someone how to make money.
When I was in the MSU art department we spent all that time and money learning “how to make art”, but no time in learning how to make a living doing art. I know the statistics for those actually ending up making a living in any of the arts (or sports) is very low. If you are a talented artist or actor or singer or football player in high school and college, only about one in 10,000 are lucky enough to make a living from it . The joy is in doing the work and if you make it - great, but if you don’t, you still had the joy of trying.
I had many different summer jobs when school was not in session. I was a camp counselor a couple summers. We took the kids out on 2 nine day sailing, camping and canoe trips in the Boundary Waters. It was so much fun I should have paid them for the privilege of working there. I was a Gardner for a lake home that had a huge front lot that needed to be cleared. I dug cesspools for my uncle. I worked for Northern Improvement doing stake jumping. (That is where I would pull a surveyor stake out of the ground, next to a tiny stake at ground level, and stare at the spot when a huge bulldozer would go past, then put the long stake back in the spot and do this over and over for miles and miles. The first day I wore my pointy toed “Beatle Boots” and by the end of the day my feet were squishing in blood and I lost my big toe nails.) I thought all these jobs were worthwhile because I was helping people and there is a lot of satisfaction in that alone. I also had spare-time activities that I knew had little chance of monetary reward, but if I got very lucky, had potential for great monetary reward which helped make them exciting and fun. I wrote a 100+ page movie script and sent it around to actors I would like to see play the parts and an agent and I even put it on ebay to see what would happen. (I read somewhere that over 100,000 movie scripts come into Hollywood every year and only a tiny fraction of them get produced.) Over the years I have had many ideas for new products and inventions that I drew up and sent to companies in similar fields all around the country. I even spent money having 300 pounds of aluminum extruded through a very expensive die to produce my patent pending picture frame that has a channel at the top that you could slide in almost any 3/4" wide panel, like mat board or wood or metal or printed image. It was “a million frames in one”. The first foot of frame cost almost $3,000.00 because of the cost of the custom made die. It was a lot of fun and I sold almost all of it in the shop, but after expenses did not result in making money, I just broke even. I don’t regret spending the time or money on these endeavors as I always learned a lot and met some interesting people along the way. I mention all this because you never know, my script or one of my inventions had a chance (admittedly a tiny chance) of making it. (I read somewhere that of all the patents applied for only about 7% are granted and of all those that are granted only about 7% of those made any money for the inventor.) The only failure would be not to try! I also rented space in different antique malls for many years, I also got into selling antiques on ebay. For a time I was even a Gold Power Seller on ebay. (You had to sell 5K or more a month, three months in a row, to be gold.) I would go to many area auctions during spring, summer and fall. I would first look for things to buy and keep and as long as I was there, look for things I could buy and sell and make money on and I would use that profit toward something to buy and keep. Many of my friendships developed out of our mutual interest in antiques, and the “treasure hunt” aspect of it all kept it exciting and fun.
I tell you about my journey to my American Dream because I hope you will see the real joy is in doing the work, trying to achieve your dream. Once you have a little money in the bank and a nice house and car, for most of us, just sitting back enjoying the fruits of ones labor would be boring. Most of us need things to do and people to talk to or we might as well start digging the hole now. I have gone to too many funerals of friends who retired from their good paying, lifetime jobs, only to die a short time later. If retirement from working is your dream, I hope you have a lot of hobbies or family or other activities that will keep you on this side of the grass. If you find a job that gives you joy, why retire, especially if you own the company and can only fire yourself. If you work for someone else it may be harder to keep your joyful job as you get older, but getting fired because of age discrimination is against the law. I learned my lesson from my dad. The company where he worked for 35 years was bought out by a larger company. He had 18 people working under him. He was a truck dispatcher and would figure out what produce needed to be picked up from here and delivered to there and make sure a truck never “dead headed” (was empty). The new owners of the company came to him one day and told him to tell all his people that today was their last day. My dad aged 20 years in those days he had to tell all of his friends /co-workers he had been with so many years that they were fired. After he did all that dirty work they fired him too (he was 55 years old). If he got to retire on his own terms I am sure he would have stayed many more years. At first my dad thought “Oh boy, I can fish all day long now if I want to.” After about 2 weeks of fishing he was going a little nuts. He soon got a couple of part time jobs just to have something to do and make a little extra money. He worked cleaning dishes at the Fargo school system and worked at the Fargo Dome as an usher. He lived a nice long life and died at 91. (Only a couple weeks before he died he was out having marguerites with my brother.)
A few years ago I had a sad looking guy come into the frame shop. He had a photo of his wife on one side, step daughter on the other and dog in front of him. He had me cut off the picture of his wife and step daughter so just he and the dog would be in the photo. He told me he recently retired from his long time high paying job in the medical field and now that he was home all day he was driving his wife nuts so she divorced him!
Life kind of sneaks up on you and before you know it another year has gone by. I can’t believe I am so old now. Until I pass in front of a reflecting window or mirror I still think I’m 29. When people ask how old I am I tell them: “ In a little over 10 years I will be 80.” That is crazy when I thing about it! (As I write this I am 69.)
One thing that I should mention that is very important to help you achieve your American Dream is to live within your means and protect your credit rating at all costs. The person that I bought my building from and who I give a lot of the credit for starting me off on my wonderful life, once said that if he had no money, but a good credit rating he could be a millionaire again in 5 years. Paying your bills on time is so important when you are trying to finance a dream. If you live within your means and can put a little money away so you can keep paying your bills on time during slow times it will prove to people you are a good risk. Try and keep your credit cards under control. It’s very easy to let huge balances sneak up on you and once you get into the bad habit of only making minimum monthly payments it will get harder and harder to pay them off. I would also advise you never co-sign for anyone on anything. If you do you are as legally responsible for the debt as the person who actually got the benefit of the purchase. (The reason they asked you to co-sign in the first place is probably because they are a poor credit risk and the reason they are a poor credit risk is they did not pay their bills.) The day time judge shows are full of people suing a friend or relative over a cell phone they added to their plan, a car they put in their name, an apartment that they co-signed on the lease or just a personal loan that never got paid back. Do not loan money to anyone. If you want to give money with no expectation of getting it back that is fine and you could even let the recipient think (in their mind) that it is a loan so if they pay you back that would be nice, but if they did not pay you back there is no need to speak of it because you only gave someone money and you do not expect to be paid back.
Another thing to keep in mind on your quest for the American Dream is to try and stay healthy.I remember a video of Warren Buffett, one of the richest men in America, giving a talk to a class of school kids. He told them he was going to give each one the car of their dreams. Of course the kids were screaming with delight, but then he told them there is only one catch - That it would be the only car they will ever own their whole life. Their excitement turned into a big let down. Then he went on to explain, he made this offer as an illustration on why you should do everything possible to keep your self out of harms way and keep your self as healthy as you can. - You only have one body and it will have to last you the rest of your life, so why would you do anything that could harm it, like smoking or drugs or excessive drinking or poor living habits. You only have one body for the rest of your life and you need to be extremely careful with it.
My hope is this writing might help the reader find their American Dream and have as nice a life as I’ve had: Everyday I get to walk down a flight of stairs to do a job I love with someone I love - What could be better.
Mike Ellingson - The Framer