I grew up in a pretty poor family. I didn’t really realize it at the time, but looking back I realize we were relatively broke (it wasn’t until I met my partner that I realized some parents actually do pay for college and cars and have money to loan their kids to buy a house… that a life without credit card debt is possible). I never really worried about where my next meal was going to come from, but we were on food stamps occasionally and all eight of us lived in a 2-bedroom apartment for a while. There were also periods where my family would go through the trash cans in the morning around the local park to collect aluminum cans to get the 5-cent deposit. My family and I lived with my grandparents far more often than we lived in our own place.There were people in my school worse off than me, but
There were rarely new clothes or school supplies in August and I could tell at the time that receiving those lists of “required supplies” for six kids stressed my mom out. If it was a good year I would have more than just one new t-shirt and a pair of jeans, in a way I was the lucky one because I was the oldest and got new supplies while my siblings got hand-me-downs. Well, that eventually stopped when I stopped growing and my siblings didn’t, I’m the shortest of the Neiger siblings and I’m sure my nieces and nephews will surpass me soon.
At around the age 12 or 13, I started working. I had a variety of jobs. I delivered newspapers for the city paper twice a week year round, I mowed neighbors lawns during the summer, and I helped my grandfather out at the occasionally rare coin and stamp show that he would display his wares at (in hindsight, I probably wasn’t actually helping my grandfather that much and the pay was way above market). I also set up a soda stand at the local baseball diamond and sold cans for about twice what I paid for them.
When I turned 15 I started working at a grocery store after school and I’ve been employed ever since… and ever since my life supplies were provided by me. I paid cash for my first car ($600 for a bright orange Ford Pinto), I bought all my own school supplies and clothes, and I purchased my own CDs and Star Trek: The Customizable Card Game cards. I don’t think I ever received an allowance.
I’m not a stranger to constant work, but the idea of having any wealth or savings is new to me. Despite those many jobs, I didn’t save a dime. When college time came around I couldn’t afford to go to a university so I went to a community college and I took out debt to pay for it. Community College lasted about a month before I dropped out and just delivered pizzas, blowing all my money on stupid shit.
As the years have flown by I still never had a savings account until recently, and it feels weird… almost uncomfortable. Debt I’m comfortable with, debt I’m familiar with. It doesn’t bother me when I didn’t have money I just stopped paying my student loans and credit cards. My credit score is garbage, but who cares? I’m not going to be buying a home or new car and I’ve never owned anything of real value for them to take.
But now, my life is different and I don’t really know how to feel about it. I’m caught up on all my bills and the debt collectors aren’t calling, and I have actual wealth (not a lot of wealth granted, but when I look at my Wealthfront and Coinbase account I know that I’ll be okay if something crazy happens). This wealth comes with a weird paranoia like it is going to disappear. I’m constantly tracking my income and checking my accounts daily as if I’m afraid it is all a dream and will disappear overnight. Every fluxation in the value of Bitcoin or my IRA makes me bounce between elation at my good luck and terror that it is all going to crash down.
It is weird not being poor, even when I know that I’m not poor because of my own decisions and hard work. Deciding to live as a minimalist and not having kids and not owning a car all lead to my financial situation being stronger than my parents (who are still underwater on their house), but it feels undeserved. I feel like it came too easily, and anything that came easily can disappear easily.
Maybe someday I won’t feel the need to wake up and check my accounts on my phone, but that isn’t today. Or maybe my whole life will be feeling like a yo-yo bouncing between joy and terror, with a financial Sword of Damocles hanging over my head.
I’d love to hear from you… (www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH).