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.
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.
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.
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!!