Money Growing Up – I’m Not Taking a Paycheck This Month

Money Growing Up – I’m Not Taking a Paycheck This Month

Every family is different. And every family’s financial situation is different. Growing up in my family was unique as well.

“I’m not taking a paycheck this month” were confusing words we’d hear periodically from my mom. We never fully understood what that meant or why at the time but we knew we’d be tighter on money for a little while.

We weren’t poor but we were far from rich as well. Looking back, I would have thought we were lower-middle class. However, after talking about some general numbers with my mom recently, I’d say we were probably closer to being middle class.

Mom was a single mother raising us for most of our childhood and she did a pretty damn good job if I do say so myself.

Many times folks want to attribute financial success to one’s background. Maybe the family already had a ton of money that helped get the child off and running. Or maybe the person received a nice inheritance or had their college paid for, which gave them a head start in life. Or perhaps they became a part of a family business that was already a running success.

I don’t buy into that. I’ve already said that you need to play the hand you’re dealt to live the life you dream and I meant that.

Sure luck plays a part in every person’s life – some good and some bad. But it’s up to you to either build on what you had growing up or overcome any adversity to give yourself a happy life.

I thought I’d share a little more of my background growing up so you can see where I came from. I consider us a success financially even though the road getting here wasn’t always rainbows and unicorns. We’re also not the richest family by any means, but being financially independent and retired since age 43 a few years ago makes me rich in my book.

I don’t think I had the hardest life, but I didn’t have the easiest either. But I made the most of it and here we are today.

Baller $$$… easy come, easy go!

For most of my childhood, I was raised in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. It wasn’t the richest neighborhood, but it was a nice area with a lot of good neighbors. We lived in a 3 bedroom, 1.5 bath house that was just over 1,900 square feet on about 0.13 acres of land.

It was me, my younger brother, my mom, and my dad. Dad worked as a sales rep at different trucking companies selling their services. Mom worked part-time on the weekends at a women’s clothing store called Hit or Miss (remember that one?!).

Dad started to make pretty good money in those days, which might equate to $90k/year. He also had a company car, expense account, and other goodies. Life was good and they enjoyed fancy dinners, trips to Las Vegas 3-4 times a year, and spending money like it was going out of style.

Money Growing Up – I’m Not Taking a Paycheck This Month - Brothers
Even the shirts tell the story… “Mom and Dad went to Las Vegas and all I got was this lousy t-shirt!”

Saving wasn’t high on the list, but if the money kept coming in, who cares, right? Please note the sarcasm as that’s one of the mental hurdles many high-income earners have that keep them from saving for retirement. Make your personal savings rate a priority, folks!

Dad developed some gambling problems over the years and the bets continued to get bigger… as did the swings of the wins and losses. Combine that with a possible undiagnosed case of bipolar disorder (something I believe I might have) and you’ve got a ticking bomb ready to explode.

And that’s exactly what happened, as he ended up killing himself. My brother and I were still very young – I was only 6 at the time and my brother was just shy of 5. As you can guess, at those ages, we don’t remember too much before this point in time. But we do know that he loved us. I have a few memories with him that have stuck with me over the years, but unfortunately, not too many.

Suddenly, on her own…

Remember that part about not saving much? Well, Mom was in a scary position at first. She had two young kids – the awesome one who now writes this blog – and well, that other one. 😉

They had a life insurance policy but it was only for $50k. In today’s dollars, that would be worth about $150k. That’s a nice sum of money for sure, but not nearly enough to handle a mortgage and raise a family of three for years.

Mom had turned around and found a full-time job she was just about to start working at… and then a miracle came through. She received her first check from Social Security survivors’ benefits. This turned out to be enough money to cover her expenses. It wasn’t a ton of money, but enough that she could stay with us and not be forced to go back to work right away.

Then the church for the Catholic school I had just started first grade at also came to bat for us. They provided free tuition for both me and my brother (once he started) all the way through eighth grade. There’s no way my mom would have been able to afford the school otherwise. 40 years later, she continues to donate to them consistently as a “thank you” for what they did.

Jim Second Grade Photo
Second grade… who sends their kid to school with hair like this?!

I could only imagine being a single parent, but with two young kids? Ugh. At least she was in a position financially with Social Security where that part of the stress wasn’t as elevated as many single parents have it.

About a year after Dad died, Mom went back to work while we were in school. She stayed there for about a year but realized that this job was something she could do as a business owner.

So she, along with three other co-workers there, quit their jobs there and started a new business. It wasn’t a huge business but they did alright. And it still left my mom with the breathing room she needed to raise us.

She worked about 20 hours a week there and usually brought home work to do at night while we were sleeping. But it also gave her the flexibility to work while we were at school. And during the summers, we spent many days going to the office with her and setting up shop. We’d play there or go explore the rest of the building while trying to somewhat stay out of trouble.

One time we found that my brother’s arm could fit right up the bottom of the building’s shared vending machines. We got a couple of good freebies that way until Mom found out and beat us senseless. Ok, she just yelled at us, but it sounds more dramatic with a beating.

And then there were days when my brother would get mad or cry after I’d put his stuffed animals through the copy machine. I felt like they enjoyed being preserved as black and white copies but I guess he didn’t agree.

But really, if that was the most trouble two boys were causing, no big deal.

Eventually, as we got a little older, Mom would leave us home during the summer while she went into the office. Of course, by the time we’d wake up, she was usually on her way home within a couple of hours.

Overall, Mom did a great job of raising us and pushing forward on going back to work and then starting and running a business.

Growing up in our family

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t have a ton of memories with my dad. In some ways, that’s good and in some ways, it’s not so good.

But I do remember the years of growing up in our family of three for close to the next decade until my mom remarried. Although we weren’t rich enough to do everything, I don’t remember wanting for much either.

We had landscapers mowing our little lawn. We took a couple of vacations to Disney World. Christmases never felt bare. We even got a nice above-ground Kayak pool built, which was one of very few in the neighborhood.

Money Growing Up – I’m Not Taking a Paycheck This Month - Brothers at the Ice Follies
Look at these brothers in their Snoopy sweatshirts at the Ice Follies… yeah, we were pretty cool.

So we weren’t poor by any stretch so that wasn’t an issue in our minds. But the money wasn’t free-flowing either. As my mom put it while talking to her, “we had some wiggle-room to do some fun things once in a while, but we couldn’t do everything.” In other words, we still had a tight budget to follow.

Hmm, that sounds eerily familiar. Where have I heard that before? Ah, yes, Paula Pant from Afford Anything! It’s her tagline: “You Can Afford Anything …but Not Everything.” Funny, right?

And there were times when the money would be tight. When we’d hear the infamous words, “I’m not taking a paycheck this month”, we knew that meant we weren’t going to be able to con Mom into buying us a pack of gum or candy at the store. There probably wouldn’t be a McDonald’s Happy Meal in our future either.

That happened quite a number of times. But, it wasn’t the end of the world and we survived just fine.

Overall, I’d say that growing up in my day never meant a lavish lifestyle but it wasn’t a life of wondering if we’d have food for dinner either. So, although the money wasn’t pouring in like a fountain, the modest lifestyle we lived helped to make finances less of an issue.

I think the weight rested more on Mom’s shoulders in simply trying to juggle raising us herself. She did a good job – I mean look how awesome I turned out and well, I guess one out of two ain’t bad! Just kidding, dear brother of mine!

And she had help from friends and family. I remember all the awesome camping trips my uncle would take us on with our cousins while we growing up. I remember when we’d be picked up from school by a good friend and neighbor and we’d stay at her house for an hour or so until Mom got back from work. Looking back, I can now realize that the love from family and friends helped make life much smoother after my dad’s death.

The memories I have of growing up are mostly good in those years. Sure, before we would walk into a store, Mom would threaten to beat us if we acted up, but that’s a part of every kid’s life. But a little fear went a long way! Besides, we were good kids.

And of course, sometimes my brother and I would tick each other off and then try to kill each other. But that’s what brothers do. And we lived… somehow!

For the most part, though, we were a happy family. We had fun playing games as a family, swimming in the pool, building forts, playing freeze tag, and playing video games. Life was good and that’s the way I remember it growing up.

Wanting and begging for toys was something that every kid does. Most of the time, the answer was a hard no, but occasionally, we’d get her to crack outside of Christmas. We weren’t spoiled by any means. Maybe that was because money was a little tight or maybe not, but I think that’s a good thing regardless.

I don’t wish life was any different for us growing up. Sure, sometimes I wonder what it would have been like if my dad was there throughout those years, but sometimes thoughts like that might be better than what the reality might have been. Perhaps life wouldn’t have been as good as I remember – nobody knows and I don’t linger with the thought.

Growing up the way we did was unique just like everyone else’s life and I have no regrets. Thanks, Mom!

Whatever growing up was like in your life, it’s important to remember that your past doesn’t define your future. You are the one who decides your destiny… make it a good one!

What was your childhood like? Do you think it defined who you are today?

Plan well, take action, and live your best life!

Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

You know you wanna share this!!

24 thoughts on “Money Growing Up – I’m Not Taking a Paycheck This Month”

  1. Our past can definitely determine our options for the future. Interesting story and could’ve been a lot harder upbringing considering what happened. Does your mom still work, was she able to retire/save up being a sole breadwinner with 2 kids?

    1. Once she re-married, she and my step-father started a seasonal business together. It was a side business for many years, but now that’s their only job and they’re getting closer to retirement. They’re not rich, but they’re living pretty comfortably.

  2. By comparison my brother and I had charmed lives. Middle class frugal millionaire parents who stayed married until death separated them after 63 years together. They taught us to love learning and steered us toward STEM careers that paid quite well. They paid our college costs so we had zero debt. They taught us to never borrow for cars or consumer goods, only for a house and to pay it off early. It was impossible not to succeed in careers and financially with role models like that.

    1. Wow, that’s fantastic! I can absolutely see how having that guidance and stability would give you a step up toward your financial future. But, you’re still the one that made it happen regardless – you could have become spoiled and nonchalant about money but you didn’t. You had an advantage and made the most of it and that’s awesome. So, you gotta couple dollars you can throw at Faith’s college costs so she can graduate with zero debt, too? 😉

  3. Something else we have in common, amazing single moms, and brothers that are…well…not as amazing as we are LOL. But seriously, thanks for more of your story Jim.

    P.S. Faith looks just like you in the pic with the Snoopy shirt!
    P.S.S. Wishing you and your visitors the best time – miss you all – we’ll be with you in spirit!

    1. Haha, brothers… they ruin everything! 😉

      I didn’t know you were raised by a single mom as well. She did well raising you!

      PS If you saw pictures of me and Faith side by side as kids, you’d think we were twins.
      PSS Thank you – there’s still time for you and the hubs to jump on a plane and meet up here! 🙂

  4. Jim, thanks for the transparent insight into your youth. Fascinating read. I thought I knew you pretty well, but interesting that we’ve never discussed our childhoods. I agree, it’s always important to remember the experiences from our early years. Thanks for sharing yours. Say hi to your visitors, I guess they really ARE your BFF’s, since they actually made the trip down to see you! Wink.

    1. Hmm, maybe they are better BFFs… but you can even things up a little by paying us a visit sometime soon! I already was disappointed that I missed you all that time you were in Ohio, but then I realized that you probably planned it that way! ?

  5. Nice story and insight puts perspective on things.

    My dad was a banker. Loan officer to be exact. That was after working at Ford Motor, having all the crap jobs to the point where the stress was causing issues. My parents moved to OH from PA and were broke but figured out how to get by. Anyway, my dad had to wear a suit every day and people thought bankers had money. He always corrected them and said he handled the money but didn’t make any. He never told me how much he made but I think I made more than him by my second job. So my guess is no more than $35k/yr. My parents were always frugal so that rubbed off. We never lacked for anything and lived in a small house my mom still lives in. We always tell our kids that it isn’t how much you make but what you do with it.

    1. I love that your dad would correct people and say he handled the money but didn’t make any… that’s funny. Your advice to kids is sound, Scott… it’s interesting to watch kids learn a lot of their ways from their parents. It’s always the hope that they do better than us.

  6. Thanks for sharing your childhood story. It is true, that we build our foundational beliefs from our childhood experiences. I was born in the mid-fifties and everyday the words spoken in my childhood still play a part in how I view and react to the world around me. Those words and messages from your family will be with you for life. When your parents are gone it is comforting to still have the gift of their words with you.
    I was the product of a father that grew up on a farm after the great depression. He was a WWII veteran that later graduated from college on the GI bill. Although money was not always easy, it seemed to be available when it needed. He often lived in financial fear that the next economic catastrophe was right around the corner. Because of this background, I have embraced frugality, and savor finding a good deals and saving money.

    1. Thanks for sharing some of your story, David. You’re so right about the words and messages from family being with you over time. My grandfather was similar to your father in that he was always looking ahead for the next economic downfall as well after the Great Depression. And like you, I think that might be where some of my frugality comes from as well… gotta love saving money! 🙂

  7. Good stuff…as I was reading your post I was thinking about my move away from family in NJ about 16 years ago to Florida. Overall, it’s been good for us. I come from an Irish clan of pretty hard partiers and I don’t know if it was conscious or not, but we moved. In some ways I feel that I’ve missed out, but in other ways it’s a relief.

    1. I can see how a move like that could be a good thing in a healthy way physically. It’s really an opportunity to have a fresh start. You might have missed on some of the partying but hopefully you’ve found it to be worthwhile overall. 🙂

  8. Actually, all things considered, it sounds like you had a pretty nice childhood Jim! I’m a bit jealous in fact!

    I don’t want to be a downer, so I won’t share my own story here… but I actually think it’s pretty impressive that your mom was able to raise you guys so well. Be thankful you had her!

    1. That’s for sure, Mr. Tako! I’m impressed by the job she did as well. Sorry to hear that your own story might not be so good. It seems you turned out well also though. Hope all is well with you and the family!

  9. I’m always going to say it’s both: where your starting line is placed AND what you put in. Actually it’s all three: that plus some amount of luck. I have family who put in tons of hard work, as much as my parents did, but started at a different place (had less education, had fewer resources) so their progress rate was vastly different. They made far better choices than my dad did (his were awful), but at the end calculations, they aren’t a whole lot further ahead than he is. They ARE more stable but not by much. He had a lot more to start and a lot more to lose and he did lose it.

    In my case, I worked my butt off with every ounce I had, and my terrible-decisions father conned and scammed money off me for many years. I’m in a solid financial position now because I fought for every inch but also because I lucked into meeting a wonderful partner who backed all my decisions and let me grow our money as I saw fit, and backed my decision to cut off my dad when I discovered all the lies. I know we’re in a good place now but it would be so much better if I hadn’t lost so much ground to his lies over so many years.

    It’s very mixed and there’s just no telling how it’ll all shake out, I think. I *know* it’s usually worth the trouble of trying to improve your circumstances and I also know that hard work by itself isn’t a guarantee you’ll get to the same finish as if you’d had more benefits to start or fewer drawbacks pulling you back.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Revanche! I couldn’t agree more – your beginnings and the work you put in are a big part of success, but anyway who says luck doesn’t play some part is lying. You can make a lot of your own luck, but that streak of knowing the right person or being in the right place at the right time can make all the difference.

  10. Thanks for sharing. It sounds like your childhood was okay. Your mom stepped up big time and took care of the finance. That must have been a very difficult transition.
    My parents were poor for a few years when we immigrated to the US. They worked minimum wage jobs with inconsistent hours. It was tough, but the kids adapted. Fortunately, they purchased a small restaurant and made it work.

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