I think poor and lower middle-class people should talk about money more than we do.
A person’s financial health is as crucial to their well-being as their physical and mental health.
In fact, an uncertain, shaky, or stressful financial situation can actually lead to mental and physical health concerns.
…and if you don’t talk about what’s going on, how will you get the help or the sound advice you need to get out of a bad situation?
Though I’ve never borrowed money from anyone, asking for help in other ways was how I got a non-familial co-signer for a loan to go to college. Talking honestly about my financial struggles saved me from sleeping outside on a trampoline because I had no where to live and got me into a safe, warm home during a painful life transition.
Writing and discussing money is very personal for me.
I was a first-hand witness as a teenager to what happens to an average two-income American family when couples are not educated about how to handle money especially in times of trouble.
Even with college educations and jobs that hinted at upward class mobility, over-consumption, bare-minimum savings and head-in-the-sand decision-making was enough to negate any potential progress. Over the course of 7 years, my family unit quickly spiraled into debt and depression that changed our lives forever, the damaging inter-generational effects persisting nearly 20 years later.
Financial ruin can happen in the span of only a few years and it can happen to anyone but especially to poor people, or people who hail from families who struggled to make ends meet.
I want to prevent this from happening to kids like I was once.
Just because you grew up in poverty or in the midst of financial chaos, does not mean that you can’t overcome that situation and get out of it. You may be emotionally scarred for life, but in the United States, you are not bound to your circumstances, despite all of this country’s income inequities. With basic financial literacy and a fiery determination to build a better life no matter what, you’ll have the instincts to do what you need to do to get out of it, just like I did.
Many years of soul-searching, therapy and exercises in forgiveness have led me here to this corner of the web to tell my story.
I believe that the best antidote to generational poverty is Financial Literacy. Though it is not taught consistently in schools or churches, it is the single best way to prevent the pain and suffering that can result from not having enough to survive and thrive where you live.
Having clawed my way out of poverty and onto stable footing against all odds, I have learned about Financial Independence and have come to consider myself a member of the Personal Finance community. I am on a 10-15 year path to FIRE. What does that stand for?
‘Financial Independence/Retire Early’
Coined by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez in their 1992 book ‘Your Money or Your Life’, they described a lifestyle characterized by the sense of personal responsibility to know where your money comes from and where it flows so you can make choices about how you spend your money that reflect your values. Those who follow this ideology commit to saving at least 50-75% or more of their annual income by living a largely anti-consumer, frugal lifestyle. They instead focus on “having enough” to uncover their life’s true purpose. They trade money for time in their life to dedicate to their families, communities and the world.
Nowadays, some reach FI by investing in rental properties and/or Index Funds in addition to following the steps outlined in the book. If you’re looking for more information about this book/this movement click here.
That said, having just returned from my first Chataqua retreat in Ecuador with members of the FIRE community including the above mentioned Vicki Robin, Paula Pant of Afford Anything and Tanja Hester of OurNextLife.com I have concluded that for many people it may not be mathematically feasible for a variety of reasons to “retire early” or to have 25x your annual expenses saved up before the age of 65.
It is however possible to build the financial skills necessary to live a solvent, stress-free financial life with room for time-off, pivots, creativity and lifelong learning without the dread of bills and looming emergencies following you like a rain cloud of stress wherever you go.
If you can get your money off your mind, you can put your mind to better use.
The FI message has resonated with me so much over the last 6 years. I had no education about money except for the subtle examples set by my grandmothers that were seldom discussed. All I knew was that my parents were struggling to keep the lights on and I needed those lights to do my homework so I could get to college and get out of the financial mess I recognized I was born into but was still too young to entirely understand. I had to save just in case they needed to “borrow” that money to keep the heat and the lights on. A.K.A Self-preservation
Nothing teaches you to save money like not knowing what financial emergency might come crashing down the mountain headed straight for your wallet.
As an individual who came from poverty, debt, and financial anxiety, I understand the impulse to not look at your statements, debt totals, and pitiful net worth. It just plain HURTS. And it’s scary as hell! I have been there, my friends.
But I made it out!
Not only did I figure out a way to survive, but eventually I got so good at surviving and preparing to survive in inevitable times of insecurity, that I grew a nest egg and kept adding to it until it was sizable enough that I could let out a deep sigh that I’d been holding in for a decade.
Only then did I start truly living in my late, late 20s and early 30s. In my mind, ages 14-30 were financially uncertain, painful, and frustrating because all I wanted to do was have space and time in my life to learn, be creative and travel.
Though I knew next to nothing about how to manage money, I knew that having enough of it and then a surplus of it was the only way I was ever going to have the space and time in my life to learn, express my creativity and to travel.
I was right.
Now I’m ready to share the lessons I learned through much adversity with anyone struggling to make ends meet or with the ever-present fear and anxiety that you don’t have enough or that impending doom is just around the corner.
You are not alone in this feeling and you will not be trapped in it either. You can get out of it without being the recipient of an inheritance or winning the lottery.
You will have to make hard choices and sometimes even extreme ones, but if you keep your mind focused on what it would feel like to not feel stressed about money all the time, you’ll bring yourself to that point in due time.
While I may not be Financially Independent, (characterized as having 25x what it costs to pay for everything including pleasure in your life) I am debt-free and financially solvent with 4 years worth of living expenses saved in addition to a growing retirement portfolio. I travel for pure pleasure on my own dime or through credit card points an average of 9 months out of the year and I have my own apartment and a growing career I learned my way into that I genuinely enjoy.
I no longer feel frightened, trapped, hopeless or stressed about affording my basic expenses and funding my dreams. My financial life is on auto-pilot which regulates my emotional well-being so I am free to learn, create and travel to my heart’s content… as long as its in the budget!
I want you to live a less stressful financial life no matter how much money you make right now.
You CAN live your life differently with less stress and strain as a result of not having enough. You can do it if you are willing to look at the cold, hard numbers and work smarter to get out of debt and amass a savings that will give you the comfort and confidence that only comes from having enough and then some.
If you want approachable, down-to-earth advice from someone who knows where you came from, subscribe and stick around…
…as we plan to be spontaneous!