I grew up in a middle class suburb in the high desert of Southern California. Although I was born in the San Francisco Bay Area, my family moved to the desert when I was very young so I spent most of my early life there. When people who are not from California think of it, I see their eyes light up as if they are imagining palm trees, beaches and movie stars. And sure, those things are there, but Inland California where I am from, it is nothing like the glamorous Hollywood that you see on television. It is much like the rest of Middle America: somewhat suburban and rural, with lots of housing developments, shopping centers and restaurants. In my town, there wasn’t a whole lot going on, but in the late 1980s, houses were cheap. My parents took advantage of this and moved us into a large two story home with an in-ground jacuzzi in a nice housing development near a private lake and a country club. My parents were ordinary, blue collar, middle class high school graduates with some business and real estate experience, but we lived at an inflated standard compared to the reality of now. I grew up knowing nothing different.
I never wanted for much at all. I don’t recall ever asking for anything, but it seemed that I always had more than I wanted or needed. Pulling out the Mervyn’s or Montgomery Ward credit cards for a back to school wardrobe was typical.
From time to time, I would see my parents struggle. There would be tension in the house over finances. My dad commuted to Los Angeles everyday for his managerial job, and that was not a short drive. It was about 3 or 4 hours round trip. My parents, who didn’t know any better and weren’t taught any better, would simply finance things that they couldn’t afford right then. They always took pride in their FICO scores. I knew what a credit score was way before I knew how compound interest worked.
Like everyone caught in the lies told to middle class consumers, my family’s financial stability depended on the ebb and flow of the normal economic cycles. The job market, the real estate market, mortgage rates, and so on. There were some times that were tough. For much of my childhood, I learned what it meant to be “house poor”. We lived in a nice house and had nice things, but I ate fried bologna sandwiches for lunch, and canned green beans, meatloaf, and fried potatoes for dinner.
I don’t point the finger at my parents or blame them for not having the knowledge to do things differently. Like me as a parent, they did the best they could. They wanted me and my sister to live in a nice house and wear new clothes, whether they could afford it or not. My mom, who grew up very poor, would probably lay down and die before she would let me grow up the way she did. And my dad, well, he was raised by The Greatest Generation. He knew nothing besides working hard, saving what he could, and being frugal.
The schemas that were taught to me have had a great effect on how I deal with money now. For example, I was taught that being frugal in and of itself was a virtue. But, is it really? If you are pinching every penny with no goal in mind and no budget, are you really being that wise? The truth is, probably not. I always thought that having nice things, like brand name clothes, was a sign of financial wealth. But, I know now that is false. Most people walking around have decent clothes, but the majority of people do not even have $1000 saved up in case of an emergency.
My husband and I have gone from literal poverty to middle class stability through the grace of God and lots of hard work, but we have not arrived yet. There is still lots of work to be done. We don’t worry about where our next meal or tank of gas will come from, but we do wonder if we will be able to retire comfortably someday, or if we will ever pay off our student loans.
This last Summer, I put my foot down and had enough. We had just bought our first house earlier this year. Having a mortgage and a growing family meant that things just got real. No more messing around. No more acting like we were 25 and buying unnecessary things to make ourselves look cooler.
I was always afraid to really stick to a budget. If I am being honest, I got knots in my stomach each time I logged into online banking to check our balance. I was afraid of what I would find. I didn’t want to face the truth about the wasted money and inefficiencies of our financial lives.
Out of necessity, I began to get the courage to educate myself on family finances. And let me tell you, there were some hard truths to face.
I started listening to the Dave Ramsey Show podcast, and then I read his book, The Total Money Makeover. I used to think financial books were just for Republican Dads with gray hair. I didn’t think there was anything to learn. If I had no money, then it wouldn’t do me any good to learn all those fancy words like “IRA” and “APR” now, would it? 😂
I am here to tell you that I was an idiot. I was wrong. I should have done this a long time ago.
Dave always says things that I remember when dealing with finances. Act your wage. Live within your means. But one thing he has talked about that has really stuck with me is: Change Your Family Tree.
I don’t do things the way I was taught anymore. I have made some hard rules that I will not go back on. One of those is avoid debt at all costs. Whatever it is, it does not need to go on a credit card. I promise you.
There are lots more little things I’ve learned that are quickly helping my family and I get on the track to paying off debt and building wealth.
DOING IT DAVE RAMSEY’S WAY
I love Dave Ramsey. I am a fan all the way. I listen to his podcast religiously. I’ve read his book, The Total Money Makeover. Our family abides by the Baby Steps, we use the free EveryDollar app for budgeting (which I update everyday, sometimes several times a day, and there is not a dollar spent that does not have a job). I love his Tennessee accent and his no nonsense approach. He is the man who understands middle class finances, except now he is a millionaire, and he thinks everyone should know exactly how to become one, if they choose. It’s really not complicated. Did you know that 86% of millionaires are self-made? It really blows the whole “born with a silver spoon” mentality out of the water. There are no excuses; no such thing as the Haves and the Have Nots. If you want financial stability and wealth, there is a way to do it, and Dave will show you.
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