Mom Knew Best All Along: Real Estate Paid for College in the 80’s

This article was written primarily in 2017, edited and published 2022.

8years ago, my husband and I spent lots of time adjusting our financial goals from exclusively wage-working until retirement to investing in buy and hold real estate. We felt it was a hugely fresh take on how to live our lives. Surprise! Not new. Mom already did a version of it in the 80’s.

In a Bigger Pockets podcast, Jay Hinrichs a real estate investor with 40 years experience, said there is nothing new in real estate:  If you look back through the decades, you find people were using the same investment strategies we use today. That truism parallels my experience in our family’s financial planning.

While sharing our brave new financial strategy with my mom, she gently pointed out that she put my brother and me through college with the profits of 2 real estate investments she made in the late 80’s. Wait, what! Mom already did what I am doing now. Why didn’t I leave her home 30 years ago with this plan for investment? Why didn’t I repeat my mom’s strategy earlier?

Instead of talking with mom about the grand-kids in our next phone call, I asked her questions about her process and motivation back in the 70’s and 80’s causing her to invest in RE. Here is the story.

First of all, mom is no slouch. She was born during WWII, lost her Dad at age 16, graduated from Michigan State, worked as a librarian, married and then divorced her high-school sweetheart after putting him through law school. As a single mom, she put herself through law school while raising 2 grade-school children. Her specialty was Estate Law, that is helpful.

Mom’s take on money is that it should be made quietly and not talked about much. I apologize to mom in advance for posting this so publicly.

Motivation to invest in real estate came from her need to fund our college tuition. She states she would have never bought investment properties if she did not have children. Children created a financial need beyond what her job could cover. Her job funded her retirement and our monthly budget but, how to fund college?

You can see from her short bio, mom knew how to plow through to her goals. The goal of getting us through college without debt weighed on her. She did not trust that Dad would be contributing to this effort, so she developed a plan she had control over.

Like many female heads of households, mom realized the limitations of working more to generate more income. Luckily, as an estate lawyer, she saw the tax benefit of passive income. Two of her lawyer friends were investing in Buffalo, New York. She ran some numbers and launched her plan.

Mom started shopping with an eye for properties that would cash flow from the start and mature for sale when my brother and I needed college funds. Two properties she found met that goal. They were within driving distance of our home. Financing was available: she had the money for the down.

Mom’s frugal lifestyle to save for the down included driving hand me down cars: a purple AMC Gremlin and then a Green Mercury Comet. Both could accommodate a canoe with tie downs through the windows on family trips. I loved these cars. But, I digress.

For those of us interested in teaching our children the benefit of real estate investing, pay attention now. As a kid, I missed the lesson. That’s OK. As an adult, a lot of the groundwork for how to live a life that allows investing was baked in. Mom didn’t have to tell us, she taught through example of lifestyle.

My take away from mom’s real estate investing was: it meant work.

Yes, this writer went through college and incurred no debt through the efforts of my forward thinking mother but, my prominent memory is that mom’s REI created unpaid work. Mom managed the properties herself. Upon purchase of each investment, mom laid carpet, grouted tile and painted the units herself. She also remembers hiring contractors to help with a porch roof and appliance work. My brother and I mowed and went with her to the properties for drive-bys and clean-outs.  Mom was very good at realizing the value of delayed gratification.

One change Mike and I are making to mom’s model is that we talk about active and passive income with our kids. We of course haven’t shirked active work in our lives but we don’t throw shade on the benefit of passive income either. We don’t put a moral prejudice on either form of income, both are needed to generate wealth.

Let’s be honest with our kids. They need to work hard and they need to plan their investments early. It helps if they also adopt a simple lifestyle that allows the greatest freedoms. Property ownership helps greatly.

Mom realized the benefit of passive income (and some indentured labor) and met her investment goals but, handing down the financial knowledge was not part of the plan. Philosophically, mom is a champion of work as the way to stay out of trouble. We were  to go to college and then to jobs. The purpose of real estate investment in her portfolio was to meet a single goal and not for wealth generation. She was an estate lawyer, I wonder if she just wasn’t impressed with the trust children of her clients.

So, what will I do that will be new? Going forward, I resolve to involve my kids not only in my drive-bys and some paid mowing, but also the books.

We are going to Bali, Indonesia next month to visit my Dad (another story) and I will be sure to show my kids how this travel is funded through our real estate. Our jobs are funding our monthly budgets and some retirement. REI is heavily funding our fun and the larger part of our retirement.

To all the REI moms out there:

  1. Teach your kids the value of work and RE investing. They go together well.
  2. Encourage them to start early.
  3. Structure your REI in a way that generates enough time to teach your children about your business concept.
  4. Budget for a property manager. For goodness sake!
  5. Network with families doing investments.
  6. Create your own women’s real estate investment network.
  7. Pay your kids for the work they do on the family investments. Their frontal lobes are not yet fully developed to understand the benefit of deferred investment.
  8. Encourage your children to invest as a means to finance their dreams in career and lifestyle.
  9. Encourage your kids to teach their friends about investing.
  10. Encourage your kids to believe that increasing passive income to acheive life goals is admirable, not money grabbing.

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