Personal Finance and Personal Development, from one 30-something to another

Why I am the way I am…

So, as I mentioned previously, I was raised by a financial advisor. My dad made me save 50% of everything I ever earned, and I didn’t get to decide what I was saving for. It was just gone. I didn’t get an allowance; I had to do work. Not household chores, mind you, but mowing lawns or paper routes. Nothing was given to me. I didn’t appreciate it at the time (boy, did I hate handing over 50 cents on every dollar), but, when I cashed out a mutual fund to pay for my first year of college, I discovered my dad was pretty smart after all.

Will I make JD Jr. save 50%? Probably not. I felt it was restrictive, and it really didn’t give me a lot of money to learn how to spend wisely. It took too long to save up for anything, so I just frittered it away on nothing. My money problems came when I started college. I got a credit card (heard this story before?) and ended up running up a pretty big bill that I didn’t have any way to pay for. Due to some other choices I made, not related to the credit card at all, I ended up having to drop out of college and get a job half way through my junior year. Not having a degree meant I wasn’t qualified for much except manual labor or factory work. I chose the latter, because I could work nights and earn shift differential.

Let me tell you, $9 an hour does not go very far when you have to pay for rent, food, student loan bills (those showed up after I had exhausted my savings mid-way through my sophomore year), a car payment for a crappy used car, and credit card debt. I distinctly remember depositing a $600 and some odd check at my two week pay day and still being overdrawn at my bank by over $100. Those were not fun days.

When I was 25, I joined the Army (it was just after 9/11, and I wanted to do my part). I met my soon-to-be wife in basic training, and we were married 9 months later. She had debt, too, but we resolved that we were going to get out of it as soon as we could. We got married five years ago next week, and combined, we had over $40,000 in consumer debt. Today, I am proud to say that it’s less than $10,000, and that is on one car payment. We carry no credit card debt and live very frugally in an attempt to pay that off as quickly as possible.

So, I believe it can be done. For us, it came down to understanding that we really were in control of our lives. Both of us want to travel, work in foreign countries where we’re considered the outsiders, and give back to the world. We realize that those types of jobs don’t typically pay very much, so we know that we have to develop a lifestyle that’s rather spartan in order to be able to subsist on substantially less than what we currently make. It all comes down to crystallizing in one’s mind what is truly important to that particular person. Not everyone has to have my dreams, but everyone needs some dream. Once you decide what’s so important to you that you can’t live without it, then you’ll start doing what you need to do to make it happen, no matter how (temporarily) painful the process.


22 June, 2007 - Posted by | ambition, giving, priorities

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