My mom married my dad at 17. They were flat broke and had no one to depend on, except for each other. My mom was from a broken family and my father was an Air Force brat who ditched his parents in High School so that he could be with my mom. The times were tough, but somehow, they kept the lights on and managed not to starve.
How did they do this without being on the government cheese?
Easy -- they sought out some jobs and they worked hard, long hours. They worked their asses off. They worked as though life depended on it. And it did.
When I was born, I certainly added to their dilemma - after all, kids are expensive.
Nevertheless, my ass-busting parents made it work. They scrimped and saved; eventually they scraped enough cash together to build a home. They invested their money thoughtfully. They were frugal and made penny-pinching buying decisions: If something wasn't on sale, it wasn't an option.
My parent's work ethics and tenacity earned them well-deserved promotions. They made more money, yet continued to live conservatively, saving up for 'the next thing.' By the time my little sisters came along, that next thing happened to be a newer, bigger home. Then, my mom was able to ditch her beat up Volkswagen beetle and buy a newer, better (safer) car. My dad was able to trade his tiny Datsun pickup for an all-American Ford Bronco.
Life was good. We were living the dream! But even as we evolved, we kept our conservative nature.
Growing up, I had very limited budgets for clothes and school supplies. I didn't have a lot of toys - and the ones I did have were usually gifts from people other than my parents. I rarely asked for things, because I knew my mom would always say, "No we can't afford it."
I remember having anxiety about money before I was even in grade school. Would we run out? Would we have to live in our cars? What if my dad lost his job? What if my mom lost hers? What if we did become homeless? Did we have a back up plan? You might say these are pretty hefty concerns for a 10-year-old - but these concerns set my wheels turning about goal-setting, family planning, and house-hold budgeting at a very young age. I didn't know it at the time, but my parents were setting me up for success.
Even though my family was more than financially secure by the time I was in middle school, we lived as if we weren't. I had 7 outfits to wear - one for each day of the week. I had one folder that had to last me all year. I had a hand-me-down trumpet with a broken second valve for band practice. It was mortifying, yet it taught me to be resilient.
There were no phones, no computers, no video games - we were a home without luxury. The only splurge I was privy to was department store makeup because my mom was disgusted by grocery-store brands - and if we bought our face powder at the same time, she was able to get a bonus package which usually came with a free lipstick and eye shadow... so her splurge was not without its ulterior motive.
When I got into high school, most girls were getting their hair dyed, manicures, pedicures, designer purses, and designer clothes... It seemed they were all competing to be teen models. I was the 'poor' white girl in blue jeans, t-shirts, using my backpack for a purse. I was snubbed by popular circles... but instead of feeling envious or sorry for myself or letting the rejection give me self-worth issues, I just embraced it. It taught me to resist conformity.
When I turned 16, I insisted on getting a job. I completed my first application at a fast food joint and was hired as soon as I could prove I knew how to count back change. Within a week made my first real paycheck. My parents bought an old Volkswagen, and in exchange for taking the little kids to school, I got to drive myself to school and work. I loved working. It taught me independence. For me it was freedom. Sweet, resplendent freedom! I used my first money to buy a pair of leather Doc Marten boots - on sale, of course. Nearly 3 decades later, I still have those boots, even though they're more of a symbol than fashion statement for me now.
When I turned 17, my parents and I began to have our first real conversations about college. They hadn't planned for college for me... a mistake they corrected on my sisters. When the cost of college came up, my anxiety about money returned. But instead of throwing in the towel, I looked into scholarships. I snagged one in music. Being a band nerd turned itself into a worthy investment.
At 18, I moved out of my parents home immediately after high school graduation. It was a choice I made boldly and unapologetically, even though I think it hurt my mom's feelings. But the way I saw it, I had earned my wings - now it was time to fly away from the safety of the nest. If my parents could make it on their own at 17, I could surely pave my own way, too.
And I did. Having something to prove was a priceless motivator. I set high expectations for myself, and failure was not an operable word in my vocabulary.
I continued to work while I was in college. Through the summers, I worked full time and saved. During semesters, I cut back my hours and ate ramen noodles. I couldn't afford anything else. I didn't bitch about it - I just lived through it. I never once saw myself as a victim, or felt 'poor,' and I never envied the success of others - in fact, I saw their success as something to look forward to for myself.
At 20, I moved to Austin and attended UT. With my mom's co-sign, I got a student loan. It was the first time I had established a credit line for myself. Painfully, I put down a huge amount of my savings to buy my first computer (laughably, a 1-Gig Mac, which was top-of-line at the time) and a printer so I could survive in the quickly-evolving world of higher education. Evolution begets evolution.
Austin was a spirited town and I quickly became resourceful to survive on my own. I managed to pry my way into the bar business, which was lucrative at the time, and saved my money whenever I could. Despite many opportunities presented, I steered clear of negative influences and focused on my goals. Bartending was not in my 5 year plan.
Within three years, I finished my degree - becoming the first in my family to do so - and with my own cash in hand, I went back for a second. I met a good man, fell madly in love, and married him. We moved in together in his old place and I helped him fix it up. I got a good job and I supported him while he finished with college and eventually through his training at the police academy. It was another worthy investment.
Together, my husband and I worked hard and we built a life. We earned promotions and made more money over time. We traded in our old home and built a new one. Then we traded that one for an even newer one. We made thoughtful investments. We made frugal purchases. We waited to have children until we felt we would be financially fit to support them. We made hard sacrifices to invest and keep our life afloat. There were plenty of challenges. We fought through them.
Over 15 years later, I'm proud to say that I own my own home. I have a dependable car. I have nice clothes and quite a few more than 7 outfits. I even have (more than several) purses now. And I'm proud to say that I paid for them all. I earned them. And I won't apologize for the life I've built - because if I did, it would be a complete slap in the face to my parents.
Society says I'm privileged - I do have to agree. I have been highly privileged. But not by MONEY. I am privileged by EXPERIENCE. Growing up, I was witness to my parent's work ethic and conservative nature. Their values were instilled in me. I honored them and looked up to them for their dedication and recognized their sacrifices. All I wanted in my life was to BE them.
And the only way I know to repay them for what they did for me is to echo their hard work and dedication in providing for my own family today. I'm proud of that. I'm proud to say I learned success from the very best. Make no mistake - I will not feel guilty or apologize for the situation I'm in.
But I will say something far more appropriate; simply: Thanks, Mom and Dad.