Growing up in Buffalo, NY, my family had very little resources—well, let me rephrase that. My family poorly managed what little resources we had. Both my parents worked blue collar jobs and made just enough money to take care of our small family. But, somehow we frequently found ourselves moving from house to house, apparently dodging the landlord. From time to time, our utilities were discontinued. My siblings and I never received the “popular” brand of anything. I was ashamed to wear the local discount store’s brand of sneakers. While other kids wore brands like Keds and Converse, I wore TF Flyers.
Conversations with classmates revealed to me that there was a better way to live. I never heard them speak of their lights being shut off or having to move. In fact, many of them lived in the same house for years. It didn’t dawn on me that they actually owned those homes, and no one was coming to look for the rent. They spoke of things their parents purchased for them and the vacations they’d taken. It wasn’t long before I started chiming in with my own stories—made up of course. In my stories, my dad bought me a new coat, took me to an amusement park (which he did–once), and gave me a necklace that I’d found on the way to school.
My parents separated when I was 12, and my two siblings and I lived with my mom. My dad’s job was located near the home to which we moved. Whenever my siblings or I needed something, we’d walk to my dad’s job to ask him for money. This was never a pleasant experience for me. Before giving me what I’d asked for, I had to endure a lecture about how he didn’t have money to spare, how he needed to eat and pay his rent. For a 12-year-old, this was torture. All I wanted was a couple of dollars for a school event. This may be why I’ve worked so hard over the years. I never wanted to be in the position of having to ask anyone for anything.
I believe if my parents had known better and possessed the foresight to see how properly managing their money “together” would have better served our family, they would have done better. It is important for you to make the decision now to be a better steward of the resources God provides for you and your family.
One day, in the middle of the school week, my dad dropped by our house to bring groceries. He would do that sometimes in lieu of giving my mom money to buy groceries. While there, out of the blue he asked if my brother and I wanted to spend the night with him and somehow I ended up going by myself. I thought this was an unusual invite being that my dad and I did not have a warm and fuzzy relationship other than the one I made up in my stories.
When we arrived at his house, I discovered that he had a lady guest staying with him. She was visiting from Boston. I don’t remember much about that evening. I remember that she cooked breakfast the next morning, and I didn’t eat it. I’d never had fish fried in flour. As hungry as I was, that recipe just didn’t appeal to me. I think my dad knew it was a bad situation. As I got ready to leave to catch the bus to school, he reached into his pocket and gave me seven dollars. He-gave-me-seven-dollars. I didn’t have to ask. I didn’t have to make it up. It was as if all the stories that I’d told were validated that very moment. He was like the other dads. He gave me stuff—for real. It made me feel included as if I really belonged with the regular kids. It was emotional.
I quickly stuffed the money, one five-dollar bill and two one-dollar bills, in my sweater pocket and ran to catch the bus. I had a smile on my face the entire ride to school. When we arrived, I quickly made my way to my usual group of friends while hoping I’d get the opportunity to casually bring up the fact that my dad gave me seven dollars this morning. I reached into my pocket for the seven dollars and quickly realized that it wasn’t there. The money wasn’t there! I panicked and ran to trace the path I’d walked only 30 seconds earlier. Nothing. Then the tears came. My friends asked why I was upset, and I told them I wasn’t feeling well. I skipped school that day and walked home.
Losing that seven dollars gave me such a feeling of loss. Looking back, I realize that it wasn’t about the amount of money that was lost. But, it was what the money represented. It represented security and acceptance. It confirmed to me that someone cared and provided for me. It made me see my dad for what he could have been to me, said to me, or done for me.
Losing that seven dollars became my defining moment of for how I would view and manage money for years to come. I learned to appreciate and handle money with care. I learned not to be wasteful. I learned to save and not spend money on things that were of no real value. To me, debt is equal to losing money. I never liked paying “extra” money for something I wanted. If I used debt, I wanted it gone as quickly as possible. I learned to keep a close eye on my money by budgeting. My friends and family called me cheap. I preferred to be called frugal. Even though my salary easily allows me to afford the big home and luxury car, I choose to live in a moderate home and drive a gas-efficient car. I look for bargains on everything, including clothes, groceries, and vacations. My spouse teases me because I research EVERYTHING trying to find the best bang for my buck.
My madness has boded well for me. Although I’m not a millionaire and nowhere near, I can say that I’m pretty much prepared for the most common emergencies. I have no debt other than my home, which I’m scheduled to pay off next year–7 years early on a 15-year mortgage (seven must be my number). My financial planning for retirement is tracking nicely so that I can retire for real.
Losing that seven dollars was my defining moment. Have you had your moment yet? Have you reached a point to where it becomes real that you must do something different to have the life you want, financially speaking? Are you prepared to fund an emergency, college, retirement, or that dream vacation? Have you had an emotional moment with money? Maybe it was when you couldn’t pay your rent or mortgage. Or perhaps you found yourself in a situation where you had to borrow money from a family member or friend reluctantly. Maybe someone you know needed a financial blessing, and all you could offer were your prayers. What is it going to take for you to change your behavior so that you can reach your financial goals? The truth is, you don’t really need a moment in time. All you need is the desire and commitment to make it happen. Your moment is now. There is a better way. It’s time to do a new thing.