I may have mentioned this, but I did not have a good childhood.
My father barely worked – partly through no fault of his own, but mostly through fault of his own. My mother had basically minimum wage jobs. We had federal assistance, and help from our church, so we never truly starved, but some days and weeks it was a close thing. We never truly had what we needed, and having something like, say, a bicycle or other toy was a luxury.
Basically, I grew up in poverty.
Now, I’m aware that the poverty I grew up in is not the same as, say, the kind of poverty that the Filipino girls I sponsor live in. We had an okay house, running water and electricity, etc. It could have been worse. But the point of this story is not to “check my privilege”, so to speak. It’s to tell my story. You want privilege checking, go to Mother Jones or some other crappy rag like that.
Anyway, that’s the environment I grew up in. But I was smart. And I got into computers. That was at the same time the smartest and stupidest thing I ever did. I won’t go into why it was stupid, but it was smart because it gave me the opportunity to make enough money to live on. And I have had a fairly decent career, all told.
But twenty years ago, I was just starting out in my career, and I made some very bad choices. One of those very bad choices was to take work at a rather unstable start up at the height of the dot com boom. I was not in the habit of saving anything, because in my background of poverty, I had never been taught good money management.
Let me stop here to tell you that there are two different kinds of poverty. They can both be extant at the same time, or it can be one kind or another. The first kind of poverty is simply not having enough resources available. This is found in some African countries, or other third-world places. This is the kind of poverty you usually think of when you think of poverty. It’s bad, and I have sympathy for those in that situation. But the other kind of poverty is self-inflicted – coming about because there is enough money and resources available, but those who are in it are making such bad financial decisions that they are unable to lift themselves out. The people who prioritize getting their nails and hair done over feeding their kids are an example of this kind of poverty. I have some sympathy for that, but much less so, because it’s something that they are able to lift themselves out if they choose to take the necessary steps. They don’t choose that.
I grew up in the first kind (though from my parents’ perspective, it was probably more the second kind), but the story I’m telling you is about the second kind. I made some bad decisions.
So the dot com boom came in 2001, and I wasn’t prepared. The company I was working at folded, and I’d saved nothing. I couldn’t find another job. I was completely mentally incapable of lifting myself out of that situation, so I ended up staying with some folks in Colorado Springs for a month while I tried to find a job.
Now, with regards to the people I stayed with, they were nice to take me in. For that alone I will always express gratefulness, because they didn’t have to. But at the exact same time, they weren’t very nice people, and we clashed. I had found a minimum wage job at a local buffet-style restaurant, and then they kicked me out. I came home and found my stuff all packed up, they gave me a little bit to get a motel for the night, and I was gone.
I managed to somehow make it to Toledo to live with my parents for a few months, and then slowly started to drag myself out of that morass. It took a very long time, and I continued to make similar mistakes (but thankfully with much fewer consequences) over the next twenty years.
I was literally one day from being homeless, and it is pretty much literally by the grace of God and one or two of his followers that I was not.
I don’t ever want to repeat that.
So lately I’ve been trying to dig myself out f some bad financial habits. I’ve started making a budget, which I’m not terrific at keeping, but I’m holding to it pretty well. I’ve saved a very sizable nest egg – enough to keep me in my style of living for nine months to a year. I have a significant 401(k) account as well that I’m contributing frantically to. I’m in better shape financially than I ever have been.
And I’m utterly terrified.
See, I’m not really learning how to manage my finances because I want to take the next step in life – though that is one reason and certainly the one I’m working towards. I’m learning how to manage my finances because I don’t ever want to end up one day from being homeless again. Even the idea scares the crap out of me. I am terrified of someday running out of money and having no choices or options other than those that I simply can’t imagine making.
I want to invest, but every time I do, I’m terrified of seeing that number drop. I want to make money, but I’m terrified of losing it. I want to be financially independent, but I don’t know how to get there and I’m terrified I’m going to screw it up and end up in the same situation I was in twenty years ago.
Right now, I’m doing okay. I think I’m going to do okay for a little while. But that can easily change in literally a heartbeat, and what do I do then?
I’m scared. I don’t really know what to do.
But this is what happens when someone who has lived in poverty their entire life gets some money and has managed to shift their mindset just enough to know how to keep it and maybe even grow it a little bit. All of the old traumas come back, and what them? Guess I have something to work through.