Money isn't everything... but it's still pretty damn important
Growing up, no one ever taught me anything about money. My dad had a decent enough job as an insurance claims adjuster, and my mom worked in a continuation school as a classroom aide. My brother and I grew up living a perfectly adequate middle-class life. No complaints at all. I consider myself blessed. My parents paid the mortgage and the bills and had enough left over for the occasional Friday evening trip to the video store, along with a couple of pizzas and a 2-liter of Coke. Enough to set us up nicely for a nice, smooth coast into the weekend.
They got by. But as far as I know, they never aimed to build financially.
When I finally found my "good enough" job, moved out of the house, and got my first apartment, I looked at my parent's model as a guideline, making getting by my one and only aim. I was making enough for rent, bills, video games, and whiskey, which, as a young man in my mid-20s, is all I really wanted out of life. I regarded the whole concept of saving and building wealth as something completely foreign to me, relegated to those who were born into much better circumstances and who made much more money than I did or probably ever will.
When flipping through the channels, I'd skip over CNBC with its perpetual scrolling ticker full of meaningless stock symbols that may as well have been Russian to me and talking heads spouting cryptic gibberish about "fluctuating markets" and "Dow Jones averages." I wondered who watched this stuff. And who out there could actually make sense of it all? It was boring, stupid "rich people shit."
I didn't have a savings account, a retirement, or a single cent in any type of investment. Why should I care? What did I have to worry about?
I was getting by.
Yup. Paycheck to paycheck was my name, and getting by was my game. In your mid-20s, you have your whole life in front of you. You may as well be immortal at that age. And if the whiskey did me in early, so what? I wouldn't be around to care anyway.
I envy any young person who, in early adulthood, was properly taught and has fully embraced the concepts of handling money responsibly for their future. They are blessed to have the foresight that I shrugged off for far too many years.
I try to explain these hard lessons to my son, who turned 18 this year. But I don't know how much of it has actually penetrated so far. Teenagers are not known for their receptiveness. I can only hope that he's been watching and is smart enough to watch his dad's struggles and attempts to financially self-correct far too late in life.
I struggled with money through marriage, divorce, parenting, the early loss of my parents, and finally, my decision to grow up, go to school, and get my shit together in my mid-30s. As I grew older, getting by was quickly giving way to scraping by. Shit seems to get exponentially expensive with age, and when you toss inflation and the cold mirror of the second half of your life into the mix, that ho-hum daydream attitude you had towards money in your 20s quickly vaporizes away.
Through a steady resolve, fueled mainly by the desire to make up for wasted years, I got seriously locked in and went full throttle through my schooling, earning my bachelor's degree at the very... full age of 39.
A real "big boy pants" management job quickly followed, and with it came an urgent desire to make some very smart moves with my money. The only problem is that my maturity in relation to all matters of personal finance was stunted, and the specter of early adulthood was still following me. I did what I thought was the right thing: downloaded the Robinhood app and dropped several thousand dollars into individual stocks, mostly big tech names like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft.
Oh, and a few more thousand into Crypto.
Knowing what I do now, I look back on this and just cringe. I don't know, I felt as if I was being smart at the time. I was doing all that high-roller CNBC stuff that perplexed me through my younger years. This is what smart people do with money. They invest, right?
I lost thousands.
Fortunately, I'm a pretty avid reader, and the winds of fate put Ramit Sethi's New York Times bestseller, I Will Teach You to be Rich, on my reading list.
Sethi's book is clearly directed toward readers much younger than myself, but it was an immense help to me. His book was the one that finally brought my man-child attitude towards personal finance properly in line with my age, and after reading it, I completely overhauled all of my investments, personal budgets, and savings and now have a stable system that I am confident in and one that allows me to sleep at night knowing I'm not just wildly poking around with a stick in the dark.
Is it too late in life for me to correct course? I'll leave that up to fate to decide. But for now, I'm aggressively paying off my remaining student loans (goodbye COVID forbearance), stacking up my Chase points, and throwing every extra dollar I have into my newly established Roth IRA.
Sure, I have regrets, but the past is past. My prevailing attitude is better late than never.
Were you fortunate enough to achieve financial literacy in your early adulthood? Or are you just now making up for lost time? Sound off in the comments! Since MidThoughts is still in its infancy, your feedback is vital in growing this community and delivering compelling content that resonates with you.
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