How to get out of poverty – My Formative Years

ShackI 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?

20 Replies to “How to get out of poverty – My Formative Years”

  1. Thanks for sharing Eric. Thanks for opening up. Great story and very inspiring. Lots of ups and downs.
    I hope and aspire to be a rental landlord like yourself in the future but I’m gonna keep investing in stocks for the time being until I feel comfortable enough to switch.
    Take care and keep hustling bud. Cheers.

  2. Great post.

    I really like your attitude. Even though you didn’t have everything handed to you on a silver platter, you did not let your circumstances prevent you from achieving the success you desired.

    Congratulations on your success!

    1. Thank you for reading!

      Having a positive attitude makes a huge difference. I saw my mother working her butt off, yet she never complained. I may have picked up on it and try to continue to have a good outlook on things. Life is what you make of it.

  3. Great story!!

    Its stories like this that make me spit blood when I hear people complain that ‘the little guy cant get ahead”, or that they deserve “$15/hr for not having any skills”…..The loser mentality that has overcome our country is the worst part, because people are losing the time honored connection between hard work, frugality and wealth.

    1. Thank you for reading!

      Our country is headed for disaster. Far too many people expect something for not working. Our society makes it easy to get by, often living better than retirees that have put in 40 years with a company.

    2. i could never figure out why tightening bolts on an assembly line is a good job (and deserving of government subsidies) while flipping burgers is a bad job and deserves less money.

      Anyways as the old Menonight saying goes too soon old too late smart. It’s all about either making smart decisions in your 20′ or spending your 30’s and 40’s trying to make up for lost time.

      1. Thank you for reading!

        I think the issue is that tightening bolts is a skilled job. It takes some training, at least in the days before robots. If a High school kid can be hired for $15 an hour at McDonalds, why would you ever pay more than that for a worker that has been there 15 years. There is a difference between 15 years of experience, vs. one year of experience 15 times over.

  4. Wow, our lives/up bring were pretty good and stable compared to yours. But great to see that you landed on you feet and are doing very well for yourself. Hat tip to you sir!

    Still a bit jealous that you did grow up on Hawaii…..the Dutch beaches are nice, but northing compared to those in Hawaii.

    1. Thank you for reading!

      Hawaii was great, and I learned a lot. It was probably a good thing to move away. Job prospects are limited, and poverty is rampant. Housing is expensive. The house we lived in just sold for $749K. Google streets is pretty cool, I just went back and walked down my streets and visited my schools.

      1. It is too bad that property is so expensive in Hawaii, would have been a great place to have a real estate portfolio! Google street view is indeed very neat for this, lost cheaper than a flight too.

  5. Do you ever feel that your adversity during childhood gave you an unfair advantage? I had a similar poorer upbringing (with it’s own challenges). I almost feel guilty in my mid 30’s and getting close to financial independence when I compare myself to middle class raised friends. They just don’t have that same drive, and will probably have to work decades longer.

    1. Thank you for reading!

      Interesting concept. I do feel I can live on less, and am satisfied with less. I do not need a fancy house, nor a fancy car. It just needs to get me where I am headed. That may be a definite advantage. I can also do things myself, rather than pay someone. My father used to fix all kids of stuff when I was younger, I do the same.

    2. This is hilarious, LuckyOz! In addition to your strong work ethic, you must have a predisposition for guilt. Welcome to the club. 🙂

      I had an upper-middle-class upbringing and I feel guilty for having had some help getting started in life. Fortunately, it didn’t make me lazy, it makes me feel I need to work that much harder to try to prove that I could have done it even without the help.

      Well done to you and Eric for busting your butts and pulling yourselves up entirely on your own!

  6. What? Am I reading the same thing as everyone else? Where was the adversity? The only thing that was “difficult” in your life was moving away from Hawaii.

    1. Thank you for reading!

      Don’t you think being raised by a single mom, moving between multiple schools, seeing your parent only a few hours a day, and then they are sleeping, being a minority in school, having to get new friends every few years, etc. is not adversity?

      What is your definition? Maybe if my mother quit work, and we lived in public housing and collected welfare?

  7. Thanks for sharing your story!
    I agree with you that even though life can be unfair some times, there are still many options available to grow rich and get some success. Or more success and make a million or more.
    This is proof that a ‘normal’ guy can make it as well.
    I do believe that overcoming challenges early in life does forge character and help realize things can be taken for granted. I like the idea of your dad giving 1$ for B and 5$ for A was a good idea!

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