Tough childhood leads to success in later life? A path to FIRE (financial independence retire early)…

 

Don’t give up, always dream for a better future!

Nelson Mandela:  “The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.”

My wife and I are recent early retirees at ages 51 and 48.  We’ve been slow traveling with our traveling companion Toby, a 13 pound Pomeranian dog since our early retirement in August 2020.  We’ve spent a month or longer in various destinations across the eastern parts of the United States, visiting Ocean City (Maryland), Atlantic Beach (North Carolina), Claysburg (Pennsylvania), and the Poconos (Pennsylvania).

In this post, I’d like to share my thoughts on how tough childhood impacted my current self in life and in pursuing financial independence and retiring early.

I didn’t have a good childhood.  Before immigrating to the United States in 1981 (I was 9 years old), my family lived in a one room studio with no modern appliances or a bathroom.  Our bathroom was a combination outhouse (for doing our ‘business’) and the kitchen, to wash ourselves.  We got drinking water from a drinking well we pumped ourselves.  

In the winter time, the water pumps would freeze up and we would have to resort to extreme measures to unfreeze that...

When we immigrated to US in August of 1981, I was ecstatic.  I had imagined eating all the chocolates (Hershey’s, M&M’s, Snickers), exotic fruits (bananas, mangos), Spam, and Kraft American cheeses I could possibly want!  We finally had appliances like refrigerator, oven, drinking water, and a bathroom!

My life in America started out well.  It wasn’t until I turned 12 that my childhood became a nightmare.  Due to unpaid rents for number of months, we got evicted from our apartment right before summer recess.    My father was traveling internationally at the time and apparently no one bothered to pay the rent...

We got practically thrown out onto the streets that day.  We had about 30 minutes to gather our personal belongings, then we took the subway to go live with our uncle, who was residing in Brooklyn, about an hour ride away.

I got my first taste of being an adult that summer.  I got a job working 6 days for about 6 weeks, at a deli grocery store.  I was devastated as my friends were busy planning their summer recess while I was busy working to earn money...

It wasn’t the childhood I had imagined.  Things didn’t improve when my father came back to the United States towards the end of that summer.  I remember my dad renting a U-Haul truck to pick up our belongings that had been confiscated during the eviction.  

I remember spilt pots that still had soup inside them.  The storage unit stank of rotting food and spilt soup. Most of our valuables were missing.  My brother’s prized stamp collection was gone, and so was cash that my mom had hidden inside books.  It wasn’t a lot of money, but it would’ve helped us that summer...

That fall, we moved to Jamaica, Queens, which was a pretty rough neighborhood.

My first day at that rental was remembered for two things:  

  1. Huge cockroaches 
  2. A man stealing a watermelon during broad daylight from the store in front of our apartment 

It was an auspicious(?!?) beginning to our tenure at Jamaica, Queens.  Compared to where we had lived for few months, the rental in Jamaica was at least ours.  We didn’t have to bunk with my uncle in his room...

My childhood didn’t have many highlights.  There was no trip to Disney World, overnight hotel sleepovers at a destination for our family, nor a week long vacation anywhere...

I envied my friends who would go on vacations to the Niagara Falls, Alaska, South Korea, Cape Cod, etc...

We were poor, so my brother and I understood at an early age, to not bother our parents too much for money.  Don’t get me wrong.  I wanted the latest Air Jordan sneakers, the latest Sony Walkmans, the latest gaming consoles, and latest triple fat goose jackets in winter, just like all my friends...

What being poor also taught me is the need to have money.  I didn’t understand too much about how I was going to make money, but at least I understood the utmost importance of money.  Money meant roof over our heads and eating.  Money meant our parents wouldn’t fight much when we had it...

I guess I grew up earlier than my friends.  I understood early on what it means to be poor.  Figuring out where we were going to sleep, what to eat changes a person...It puts focus on surviving and not on what to buy and where to go for fun...

It was during these years that I forged a financial identity all my own.  I understood the importance of money and how it helps in everyday life.  I watched my parents argue over money and I experienced first hand what life without money is like...

I promised myself that I will work hard and figure out how I was going to get out of poverty.  I wanted to create a future that was much brighter...

Here are some things I told myself:

  • Work hard to make money.  
  • Figure out how to save that money.  This was pre-FIRE movement.  I had no idea how I was going to accomplish this at that time, but I at least realized saving money was important.
  • Don’t follow in my father’s footsteps when it comes to money.  My father didn’t plan things financially. Jobs were not consistent, so paychecks were not consistent.  I told myself to not do that...
  • I didn’t ever want to be evicted from my place again.  I guess this was the most important thing I kept telling myself...
It would take me late into my thirties to learn the ‘how’ of financial independence.  Looking back, I’m glad my life was hard.  Without that, I’m not sure I would’ve had the urgency, that fire in the pit of my stomach telling me to want more, and to be ambitious about money.

Without the urgency and ambition to learn about money, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

In conclusion:

Although my childhood wasn’t very good to me, I’m glad for it, as it helped me to want to learn about money.  This desire to learn was really the spark that I needed to achieve my goal of financial independence and to retire early later on.

Even if you didn’t have a tough childhood, I encourage anyone to have that desire to learn about money.  Besides allowing you to have a roof over your head and let you eat, it is absolutely an important part of living your life.  Without it, everyday is a struggle.  With it, you can do the things you want, without worrying.  

These days, I’m constantly grateful to not have to worry about getting evicted, or worrying about what to eat tomorrow...

So for me, tough childhood ended up being the impetus for my financial success.  This may not be relatable to everyone but know that all of us go through some hardships at some point.  Learning from that is the big takeaway.

Don’t fret over, depress over, or be angry over things that happened.  Instead, put that to good use.  Apply the hard lessons you learned to figure out how to reach whatever goal it is you want to achieve.  Always learn and have the desire to learn to accomplish your goal(s)!

Thank you all for reading!


Jake

Wandering Money Pig 


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