I did not start off as a rich kid, far from it. You could say I started in poverty. As a kid growing up, my mother and father were divorced when I was seven. That was in 1967 or so, and women in the US were just starting to begin working careers. Few women at that time worked outside the home. Divorcees could be discriminated against, and credit could be denied to divorcees. It was not an easy life for a single mom.
So how did I wind up being financially independent?
My father was in the military, so when I was a kid, I lived at several different places. I went to seven different schools between K-12. When my parents got the divorce, we were living at Hickam AFB in Hawaii. After the divorce, we moved to the Nuuanu side of the island of Oahu. The weather was great, but for a seven-year-old kid, it doesn’t really matter where you live. Even my surroundings, at the time it did not seem like we were living in any type poverty. My mother was a RN, and would have never applied for any assistance benefits, even if she was eligible.
My First Rental Property (a a renter)
My mom, sister and I went to live in a rental property. It was a three-bedroom place, and did not come with appliances. I cannot remember ever being with a stove or oven, but I do remember being without a refrigerator. We used a Coleman cooler to store our milk and juice and anything else that needed refrigeration. We drank a brand of milk called “Ditto”, which was an imitation milk.
Our kitchen table was our old picnic table from the back yard. We had a sheet for a table cloth. I never really minded the conditions, and always thought things were pretty good.
Eventually, my mother applied and received a line of credit and purchased a refrigerator and a dishwasher. The dishwasher was a small portable one, and was a bit of a headache to use.
Our mattresses were on the floor, without frames or box springs. so it was a bit sparse. I can remember the day my mother purchased a set of bed frames and box springs. She was incredibly proud, and now we would have regular beds. For me, as a kid, it was like a death sentence. Now the bed was off the ground, and ‘monsters’ could hide under there. I did not know what the monsters would look like, or where they had suddenly appeared from, but I knew they were under the bed. I knew they would grab my feet if I did not leap from the door frame in one bound. I also know that is I stayed in bed, and was quiet, they would not come out to grab me while I slept.
Money for Grades
All was well in Hawaii and I went to school, happily getting ‘C’s and ‘D’s on my report cards. As long as I passed, I was happy. I would always visit my father in Minnesota every summer, and I was able to have two homes, sort of. When I was in seventh grade, my mother who was having personal issues decided that I should stay with my father for that school year, so I had to tell my friends that I would be back in a year, not a few months. I received ‘A’s and ‘B’s, as my father gave out $5 for each A, and $1 for each B. An extra bonus was received if I made the honor role. Money was an incentive for me, even in my early years.
I did come back and finish eighth and ninth grade in Hawaii, which was warmer but a lesser education. I went to Kawananakoa Middle School. I was one of the few white kids in the entire school. I was a bit of a scrapper, so I was able to hold my own. In today’s world, either I would have gotten kicked out, or the other ‘bullies’ might have. A bully is only a bully until you kick their butt.
Off to Massachusetts
The summer between ninth and tenth grade, I stayed with my mother’s side of the family in Massachusetts. That was a great adventure, and if I would not have done that, I would have had many relatives that I never would have ever met. My mother came out to visit her relatives that summer too, so it was a bit of a family reunion. She came out for the middle of the summer, while my sister and I stayed for the whole summer. My mother flew back to Hawaii, and I was looking forward to getting back to Hawaii as well.
Unfortunately, my plans were waylaid. My mother had met someone while she was visiting us and decided to get married and move to Massachusetts. Yikes. That means I had to tell my friends (again) that I was not coming back. Possibly ever. I was 14, a bit young to start in my own, but old enough to know I needed to adjust.
We lived initially in a beach town of Swift’s Beach, Wareham, Massachusetts. It was a place that the summer population was 10K, and the winter population was 100. I met a lot of folks, including a family that owned rental property on the beach. Eventually, my mother got a divorce (again), and we moved to Middleboro, where I spent my junior and senior year in high school.
My best friend(s) at that time lived in Somerville, MA and they spent weekend and summers at Swift’s Beach, MA. After we moved away from the beach, my friend’s parents would pick me up on their way down to the beach. Every weekend, on their way down from Boston, I would get picked up in an old 4-speed Ford pickup truck, and we would ride to spend the weekend on the beach.
First Rental Property Experience
The weekends consisted of helping them maintain the rental property, lots of great food and cutting firewood. And some great teenage parties… I remember pouring concrete driveways, relining shower stalls with a Masonite board, pouring hot tar on a flat roof, building an addition on a home. There was always something to do. We also were able to get into a bit of trouble, and teenage males often do. This was a beach town, and the submarine races were always fun to watch.
Discipline Never Hurts Anyone
Life went on and I eventually visited my father in Minnesota one summer in 1978, a year after I graduated from High School. My cousin was joining the USAF and was already signed up. My father convinced me to talk to the recruiter, and I decided to join. I had to (once again), contact my friends and mother and tell them I would not be back for a while.
After the USAF, I had the choice to live with my mother who had moved to Florida, or my father in MN. I correctly assumed that my father would likely have deeper pockets and could help more financially than my mother. I did make the mistake of thinking the pockets were much deeper than they were.
I attended Inver Hills Community college. My main goal at that time was thinking that I wanted to move to FL. Get a degree, move to FL and get a job. After a year of community college, I took a fast track route to attend Control Data Institute. It was a 9-month course, a fast way to get to FL. As I found out after graduation, a 9-month tech school gets small pay and few job offers. So back to school I went. I received a BS degree in computer science and math.
I saved quite a bit from early in my working career. That is important, as savings and money gives you choices. In the end, life has no shortcuts; hard work is rewarded. Anyone can be a (multi) millionaire here in the USA, if they have enough drive, ambition and determination. I am living proof.
Have you had to overcome adversity? Are you prepared to sacrifice what it takes to get ahead?