Sometimes people see a personal finance blogger striving for financial independence and think that we must have grown up with well-off or financially savvy parents. Well, that isn’t always the case. I’d classify my parents as lower middle class and let’s just say I didn’t learn any positive financial skills from them!
I know that a lot of people had things way worse than me. It’s also true that I got extremely lucky with a few of my choices; and a lot of people who make similar choices may not have the same luck. However, I think it’s fair to point out that you don’t have to come from rich parents who are good with money to get on a quest for financial independence (though I’m sure it helps!)
Growing Up Lower Middle Class
I honestly don’t know what my household income was when I was younger. My parents owned a home in the South suburbs of Chicago, we always had food to eat, we got nice Christmases, and we went on vacation (camping) a few times per year. Seems solidly middle class, right? However, we did live across the street from some pretty terrifying apartments that had cops patrolling more often than not. I’m also pretty sure our neighbor across the alley got busted for dealing LSD. It wasn’t the best neighborhood, but it was far from the worst. We could play outside without fear as long as we stayed away from the apartments, which is a luxury a lot of kids didn’t have.
When I was very little, my father worked as an insurance agent. He sold insurance in Chicago’s terrifying ghettos (shameless plug, but he wrote a fictionalized account of his experiences, Check it out on Amazon!). This job didn’t make him well off, but he made enough money to support the family.
Dad Loses his Job
Unfortunately, when I was still in grade school, my father lost his job with the insurance company. My parents turned to delivering papers to make a living. My siblings and I had to do paper routes three days a week after school to help them make ends meet. For the first few years, this was unpaid labor. At the time, I didn’t understand why I was being forced to work for free, but I get it now. They needed the free labor to keep up with the bills. We were working to support the family.
To my parent’s credit, they were able to take what they learned delivering papers for someone else and make a business out of it. They started hiring more neighborhood kids to deliver papers for them, and they started paying us for the work that we did.
Unfortunately, even with running their own business, there wasn’t a lot left to save at the end of each month. Or maybe my parents prioritized vacations and nice Christmases over emergency funds and retirement accounts. Either way, they had no savings. They spent most of the money they made each month and allowed us kids to do the same. If we wanted something super expensive, they would tell us that we needed to save up on our own for it (my brother was obsessed with getting Scottie Pippen shoes, so he was the best about that!) but that was really the extent of our lessons in savings.
My parents got divorced when I was in high school. My dad kept the business and was able to rent a home from his sister while my mom basically had nothing. After our family home was foreclosed on she had to go live up north near her parents. To be honest though, their divorce kind of worked out in my favor. It’s way easier to get loans for college if you are a child of divorced parents with low incomes. I got enough financial aid money to pay for my entire college education (via loans and grants, mostly). I didn’t use all of it, because I decided to join the Reserve Officers Training Core (ROTC) when I got to college, which helped pay for a lot of my schooling (My first great financial decision!)
15 years later
Even now, neither of my parents is good with money. I don’t think either of them has a retirement plan or a solid emergency fund. They both work, and I think both of them plan to just continue working until they can’t anymore.
My siblings and I learned very different things from this upbringing. My brother learned that he can get by with working until he dies. He doesn’t worry about saving money and values spending everything he earns on making sure his kids are happy (Just like my parents did). My sister was the same for a very long time. She valued appearances and expensive things, because she didn’t want to feel poor. However, in the last few years, through my obsession with financial independence, I have helped her learn the value of saving money for the future. She wants to pursue FIRE too!
I went the opposite way. I saw that my parents were just barely keeping their heads above water and decided that wasn’t what I wanted for my future. Therefore, I took it upon myself to learn financial literacy. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way; but I think I’m getting there.
The point of this story is that learning financial literacy is not easy, but it can be done. It isn’t really taught in school (at least it wasn’t in my school!), and if you don’t grow up in an environment where it is practiced every day, it’s hard to grasp. However, that doesn’t make it unattainable. It would have been great if my parents could have given me a head start on this, but they couldn’t. What I learned instead was the value of hard work, and that I didn’t want to be destitute in the future. These were valid lessons too, and I’m glad I got them.
What did your parents teach you about money? Let us know in the comments!
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.