I had an amazing childhood and was afforded many opportunities.
First and foremost, I had the great privilege of being born in the United States.
Another good fortune bestowed upon me was being born to incredibly supportive and downright pretty amazing parents. I am an only child and to this day have a great relationship with my parents. In fact, I always credit being an only child as one of the reasons we have such a close bond. They live about 20 miles away and we see each other often.
My mom and dad were married for 14 years before I came along (never give up hope). They had considered adopting, but unfortunately, it proved to be a cost prohibitive endeavor. After 14 years and relegating themselves to the idea they would never have children, I decided to show up on Christmas morning. Needless to say, I was their “gift” (although, I’m pretty sure during my teenage years, I strongly put that notion to the test).
I owe a lot to my parents and can confidently say without their influence and example in my life, I would not be who I am today. They are some of the most generous people I have ever known, are unwavering in their faith and have offered my wife and I an excellent example of a marriage which stands the test of time. 45 years this June and still going strong.
Setting the Stage
Looking back, there are some things from my childhood and youth which had a strong influence on me wanting to learn about personal finance and managing money.
Lack of Education
I do not come from an educated family. In fact, quite the opposite. My parents did not go to college. Actually, no one on my dad’s side of the family went to college and only a small handful of family members on my mom’s side (an uncle and a few cousins) have a college degree. I am the only one in my entire extended family, on both sides, to have an advanced degree (MBA). Similarly, financial education is not prevalent in my family with many family members living paycheck-to-paycheck and generally making poor financial decisions.
Not a lot of money
We did not have much money when I was growing up. In fact, my parents have just recently reached a position where they are comfortable financially (thanks in large part to my mom’s pension and having no mortgage). Thankfully, we never went without and always had a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs and food in our bellies, but our financial cup certainly never ran over.
It’s amazing how once you reach a certain age, you start to become more aware of things. It was probably around the end of middle school / beginning of high school that I really began noticing my friends’ houses. We lived in an 800 sq. ft. home built by my maternal grandfather in the 1950s. I remember dreaming of living in a two-story home and for some weird reason, wishing we had an island in our kitchen. If I only knew then what I know now. Now, my wife and I talk of downsizing our >2,000 sq. ft. home. Nonetheless, at the time, I wanted a McMansion.
Anyone remember the Chevy Lumina? How about the Chevy Luv? Oh yeah, Baby. Old and crappy … yet, still financed when purchased. Similar to the houses, around 14 or 15, I started comparing our car(s) (at times, only one) to the cars of my friends’ parents. Nicer … newer … that’s what I wanted too.
Dad becoming disabled.
When I was in high school, my dad was placed on permanent disability and was unable to work. It was around this time things got really tight. My mom is one of the strongest individuals I know. During this time, she was the sole income provider for our family, made sure I was taken care of, did all the shopping and cooking and provided care for my elderly and ailing grandparents. I still don’t know how she did all this. After realizing how much we were struggling, I vowed to one day become “rich” so I would never again struggle financially.
Motivation for Learning about Personal Finance
If you want to get rich, you’ve got to learn how to do it, right? My interest in personal finance, investing and business was piqued, so I began my quest for knowledge … a quest which continues to this day.
My motivation was much different back then than it is now. My three biggest drivers were becoming rich, the pursuit of material possessions and financial security. Only one of these factors continues to drive me. I wanted it all - to be rich and possess all the trappings of wealth. Homes (plural), cars, toys, luxury vacations … yes, please! Delusions of grandeur if I’ve ever seen them.
My motivation to continue learning all I can about personal finance and becoming a better manager of money is now much different. I have a crystal clear why and it is what gives me strength to continue on my financial journey.
Care to venture a guess as to which motivator from my past sticks with me today? The desire for financial security, more time with my family and the prospect of an early retirement all push me to continue learning and applying what I’ve learned. I no longer pursue material possessions (a fool’s errand, in my opinion), but rather experiences and opportunities I can give to my young and growing family.
There are lessons to be found in every story and mine is no different. Below are some key takeaways.
Find lessons from your own childhood and youth.
Have you ever stopped to think about what experiences you had during your younger years which really shaped who you have become? It might be an interesting and worthwhile exercise to do. Find lessons from your upbringing which can serve you now.
Unfortunately, some people think when they finish school, at whatever level that may be, the learning stops. Strive to become a lifelong learner. No matter where you are on your financial journey, vow to continue learning about personal finance and money management. Your future self will thank you.
You can change the legacy of your family.
Thankfully, we do not live in a caste system. We are blessed with the opportunity for upward mobility, provided we are willing to put in the requisite hard work. We are also not bound to the status quo. If you want to reshape the legacy of your family for generations to come, step out of line and do something different.
Plan for the unexpected.
Life sometimes throws us curve balls. I’m sure when my dad was my age (30), he never would have thought he would become disabled and unable to work in his early fifties. This is something I think about often. I try to lead the healthiest lifestyle I can, but will genetics eventually catch up with me and leave me disabled as well? God forbid that were to happen to you, what would the financial implications mean for your family? A good stance may be to hope for the best, but plan for the worst. This is the position I take when it comes to this.
The important thing is to keep the important thing the important thing.
Focus on what’s important in life. Life is far too short to spend your time wishing for a bigger, nicer, newer thingamajig or whatchamacallit. What good did all that comparing I did when I was younger do? If anything, it ensured I placed too much importance on the not so important. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Focus on what truly matters in your life.
Our experiences shape us and mold who we become. I would not be who I am or where I am today without the experiences I have shared with you. I am thankful this all culminated in me pursuing an understanding of personal finance. Through a series of events, one thing led to another and now I’m even writing about personal finance. Life truly is a beautiful journey with lots of twists and turns along the way.
What led you to learn about personal finance? What experiences from your upbringing shaped who you have become?
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