An odd middle-class existence

This is a response to LAL’s “Rags to Riches”, because I thoroughly enjoyed reading LAL’s post on “Rags to Riches”, and I think that every one of you should read it as well.

It is really incredible hearing the story of how she grew up told in such a frank matter-of-fact manner.

My grandparents helped us out a lot non-financially by watching me while my mom worked. She basically came home ate dinner, and then worked at home.

My grandparents lived in a shack.

I know many people think I’m joking, but I bathed in a tub where you boiled water and poured it in, used an outhouse, and there was two bedrooms. My grandparents did not own this place either.

Still it was an upgrade from my great-grandmothers house where the bathhouse was outside and we used wood to boil the water for the bath.

Anyway I had no idea this was “poor” until I got older and realize people normally don’t live like this.

Honestly I thought it normal.

She wrote it in a response to the ripple that’s been going through the PF blogosphere where Meg from World of Wealth (FB Read: I just interviewed her recently), came out of the closet (so to speak) and admitted that she comes from family money.

We’re talking not having to worry about bills or where her next meal came from, and basically living a comfortable life that was relatively stress free, financially speaking.

I’ve been following Meg’s blog for a long time now, and what Meg has admitted to has really started to generate a lot of great discussion about how growing up wealthy or poor has affected you and what financial decisions you make in life.

I agree with LAL that it’s really personality and attitude that is what separates you from within your own socioeconomic class. There are lazy people in ALL levels of society, and there are hardworking people who save and are smart about their money in all levels as well.

As for my story, compared to LAL, I cannot consider myself poor at all. Unless of course, I count on the fact that I can never go to my parents for money because they just simply don’t have it. If we’re using that as a yardstick of what class I fall under, that’d be it.

But I grew up in an upper to lower middle class, I’d say. I was upper middle class for the first part of my life, and then lower middle class later on. But feel free to correct me. I don’t even know what the levels are.

For the first 10 years of my life I lived in a totally different country, so keep that in mind as you’re reading this.

Both of my parents worked full-time at fairly good jobs, and I feel that we had a upper middle class existence at that time because we all went to private schools and had lots of activities to go to. Plus, my mom was always shopping with my aunt (we had no idea what credit cards were by the way, so it wasn’t all on credit).

Each of my siblings and I were enrolled in music lessons, foreign language lessons and either ballet or karate lessons, as well as private tutoring sessions in math, science and English.

We also went on 2 family vacations a year, mostly to the U.S., and I remember seeing almost all of the States before I turned 9.

We also had servants around the house, although not as much as other families we knew so we could be considered mid-middle class?? I am told we had an au pair while growing up, but I don’t remember her, or have any pictures of me with her and a servant to do some cleaning part-time. Other families had people to cook, clean, do the gardening, drive them, take care of the kids….etc, etc.

My mom eventually got rid of all the servants once I was old enough to go to kindergarten and handled the rest because she felt uncomfortable having strangers in the house, and having people work for us. The reason why she felt uncomfortable was because of her upbringing.

My grandmother took care of me once I turned 5, and I attended a private kindergarten near her apartment.

My parents both grew up in very poor existences during the War, much like what LAL is describing, but the difference was that each of my parents came from households that had 10-18 kids, each.

So we’re talking about a total of 36 aunts and uncles here.

They lived in haunted houses, empty shacks, anywhere they could find shelter.

They scrounged for food on the ground that people threw away after eating, they stole fruit from trees of their neighbours and they were pitifully thin in all of the pictures I’ve ever seen. They ate lots of rice covered in lard for some calories, or drank soup made from bones because they just simply didn’t have the money for any food.

They drank that yellow powdered milk from large bags and my mom just recently realized that she was considered to be one of the starving poor as a child because she recognized the bags of milk UN was dropping off. It was the same milk she drank as a child.

As for my father, he was adopted into a richer family that needed an heir and his life improved after he turned 15, so that may have changed his outlook on life and his work ethic.

Like LAL’s mother, by pure luck, my father had won a large sum of money. We’re talking over half a million in a lump sum.

Anyway, we then decided to take the chance to leave the country, and move to Canada. Once we moved, my father basically stopped working, since he had all this money in the bank.

He worked part-time for minimum wage at a local grocery store, and my mother entered University to pursue a different career, which my father paid for in full.

We stopped going on vacations as a family, and stopped going to private schools and lessons (we only kept up on music lessons), and we were on our own for tutoring or learning.

My siblings started taking care of me. Teaching me how to cook, do my own laundry. All when I turned 10, because we did what we had to do, since my parents seemed to have mentally checked out.

My mom was super busy with University, then running home and trying to take care of us for an hour or not seeing us at all during the week. My father was working part-time but spending most of his time in gambling houses or “out”.

We just took care of ourselves and that kind of independence is something I really cherish because I was very well prepared for University, having known how to do everything to survive on my own.

After my mom finally graduated, she dropped into a deep depression because she couldn’t find a job, as she was over qualified for any position now with two University degrees.

Looking back, I’m a bit sad and angry that my father wasted all that money.

At least, I feel like he wasted it but you may have other opinions.

He could have at least worked full-time at the minimum wage place, and we didn’t have to buy such a large house, or a luxury car to drive around in. It was a waste of money considering that he wasn’t earning a good income to begin with.

On top of that, he thought he could strike it rich with playing the stock market, and gambling at casinos.

My dad was always looking for the quick fix, and the casinos were the answer because he had won so much at one before that he thought he could do it again.

In addition to that, with my mother in a deep depression the only thing that could lift both of my parents’ spirits was gambling. So that’s what they did for 10 years. I used to come home from school, and see my parents excitedly packing some quick things to get in the car to drive to the casino to gamble.

I remembered feeling sad and kind of feeling like I was the parent sometimes.

I kept telling them that I didn’t like them being away at night, or gambling so much, but they said that it could be their lucky night tonight, and I had homework and was a big girl, wasn’t I?

In the end, they gambled away my and my sibling’s tuitions, and when it came time to go to University, they ignored the question and pretended they never promised me anything.

I’m a bit bitter over that, because I had worked extra hard to make sure I got scholarships and bursaries, but I needed money to cover the rest which I expected to get from my parents.

So I got into $60,000 worth of student debt to get my degree. And it’s why I don’t feel such a huge obligation to my parents, because they lied when I needed them the most.

It wasn’t even so much the money that bothered me.

I’d have preferred if they sat me down, told me they didn’t have money saved to send me to school, and told me I had to work my ass off to get anything in life now. I would have respected them more if they had told me that before lying to my face as a kid.

It’s something I’ll never do to my children in regards to their tuition. I’m going to always tell them the truth about finances because kids worry when they don’t know what’s going on, and if you promise them the moon then say “JUST KIDDING!”, they’ll still feel hurt and resentful for a long time to come, the way I feel now.

And on top of that, I went into the world without understanding anything about budgeting or personal finance. Because my parents simply didn’t know, and they never told me or taught me anything about money. They just weren’t open with me, and I paid for that lack of knowledge by racking up all that debt when I could’ve been saving when I was younger, and being more frugal at school.

It’s partly why I became so interested in money after I graduated with $60,000 in debt.

I realized that I had to pay back all this money, and I’d be damned if I spent the next 10 years doing it. I also never, ever wanted to end up like my parents – relying on luck to get them through and then squandering it because they weren’t responsible.

That’s another thing I’m going to teach my kids all about – credit and personal finance.

It’s weird but I also remember my father being really frugal. He kept trying to get us to turn off lights, or stop using so much heat and water. I don’t think we ever used credit cards or kept a balance.

Once my mom got a job (finally!) she used credit cards unwisely and racked up $16,000 in debt in which she finally realized that the minimum payment barely even covered the interest. She had no idea about money and how to use credit wisely.

Still, after learning that what she was paying was not enough to clear the balance, she cut up the cards on her own, paid it off in a year and vowed to never use credit again.

Anyway, after I left at the age of 19 to go to University, I left for good. I never moved back in with my parents again, except for a short project that I had for 5 months, and from there, the rest is history.

I paid off my debt in full in less than a year and a half (I’m counting it from when I started caring about my debt), and budgeted and saved my way to what I have today.

I know that we were lucky to never have to worry about food, or the house being taken away, or not being able to pay the utility bills.

My parents did the best they could on the knowledge that they had. I know that but it’s just that hindsight is so clear, that it makes me mad that they didn’t save for retirement or bother to learn about their money to pass on those values to their kids.

It’s why my siblings and I are so weird with money. My siblings cannot make enough of it, and we’re all squirreling it away like there’s no tomorrow. It’s why we pushed ourselves so hard in school when our parents told us to relax and take it easy.

I think, even without telling us about the financial situation they were in, we knew that the life we had lived before was not realistic or sustainable (we learned that after graduating University). And we also developed a strong aversion to gambling.

So that’s my version of my odd middle-class existence. In the end, I’m lucky in that all the challenges we went through because without them, I couldn’t have learned all that I know today, or like I said on Meg’s blog, realized that I was able to do anything if I put my mind to it, like dig myself out of seemingly endless debt.

It’s just never too late to learn about your money, and the sooner you budget and track your expenses, the better!

About the Author

Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver. I cleared $60,000 in 18 months earning $65,000 gross/year. Now I am self-employed, and you can read more about my story here, or visit my other blog: The Everyday Minimalist.