I talked a bit about my mom in this Fruclassity interview a year and a half ago, but I wanted to share some encouragement today about how mom went from serious poverty and persevered to financial security. Now, her idea of financial security might not be what yours is, but compared to where she started from, she’s feeling pretty good about things. I hope her story encourages those struggling financially right now.
Let me start out by saying that both my mom and dad are wonderful people. They are there whenever us kids call and they really work hard to live their lives for the Lord.
My parents’ mutual divorce in the late seventies was largely about stubbornness on both their parts; both admit that if they could go back in time they’d try harder to save their marriage.
In the Beginning
After the divorce, dad faithfully paid the monthly amount of child support determined by the judge: $300 a month. Since our house payment was $250 a month, you can see how this left mom and us three kids in quite a bind financially.
In the beginning, mom applied for welfare and food stamps and that helped ensure we had food on the table, most of the time anyway.
We didn’t have a car, and mom didn’t get her driver’s license until a couple of years after the divorce. We walked the mile to the grocery store every two weeks, mom had her list in hand and we got enough food for three meals a day. In the summertime we’d pull the groceries home in a little wagon, and in the winter we spent the money on cab fare. We did try a couple of times to drag the wagon home in the winter through the snow and slush, but it became clear real quick that that was not the best use of our time and energy.
Mom suffered from some pretty serious depression during those first two years. It was a tough time for all of us as we adjusted to living on so little and dealt with the emotional ramifications of our broken family.
The Beginning of Change
Through group therapy mom got back on her feet and decided that she didn’t want to live on welfare forever. She bought a used typewriter at a garage sale and taught herself to type.
She worked with the welfare system and they sent her on various job interviews to help find something that worked for her minimal skills. She started out working a few temp jobs and got a permanent job a few months later. She was let go from that job after six months; depression had set in and her job performance suffered.
After another stint of being on welfare, mom picked herself up again. She asked a friend teach her how to drive and bought the biggest piece of crap car I’d ever seen: an early 1970’s rusted out Chevy Vega. To give you an idea of how big of a POC it was, it cost her exactly $50, and she says that was a ripoff.
Perseverance Through Poverty
The car lasted for just a few months. It was an honest-to-goodness luxury having our own car (dad got the 1975 Ford Granada and the payment that went with it in the divorce). We could actually drive to the grocery store and mom could drive to work once she started working again. We were still dirt poor, but relativity is everything and we felt rich driving around in our Vega compared to where we had been.
More job gains and losses followed, and more POC cars came and went. Mom eventually got a job in the health insurance industry with a small, private company. That job paid her enough after a while to get approved for a car loan, and mom bought a modest early 1980’s Mustang sedan. It was a simple car but it looked good and ran great. The car was about five years old and if I remember correctly she paid just over $100 a month for it.
I was working by this time and contributed to the household income to help pay for groceries, etc. I felt it was the least I could do given how hard my mom worked for us all.
Money was still tight. I remember our yearly back-to-school clothing budget being $50 per kid. It wasn’t a lot, but it was paid for in cash. Mom never carried a credit card balance for more than thirty days and worked meticulously to live within her means, aside from the car loan. I remember vividly her sitting on her bed and working the numbers over and over until she could make all of the expenses fit into the income that would come in for the month. And she balanced her checkbook each and every month – down to the penny. I remember her spending hours to find a discrepancy, even if it was just a cent or two. None could afford to be wasted, and none could afford to be lost.
Eventually she found out that the head of the small company she worked for was engaged in fraudulent activity, and the FBI literally came in and shut the place down. She was shocked that the man who had treated her so well for so many years was using the company’s funds illegally.
After several months and a few more job failures, she found another job at a health insurance company. This company was bigger than the other one, and they paid her better. She started contributing to a 401(k) account through them and worked hard to manage her money well, even though she was making more than she ever had before.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
She bought her first brand new car in 2004 – a Saturn – and paid it off in three years. She still owns that car today. It has less than 50,000 miles on it and still looks and runs beautifully. She cares for it well and as a retired person doesn’t drive it much.
It was May of 2007 when she got unexpectedly laid off from that job due to the impending recession. She was in shock. She had a bit in retirement; about 40k, but she had an almost-paid-for house and no debt, since she’d chosen to pay the new car off just two months earlier.
After unemployment ran out she continued looking for work but ultimately decided to retire permanently. Her social security payments are just over $700 a month. Her and her husband (they have totally separate finances) sold their little house in 2015 and she now had another $40k to live off of since her retirement monies were almost gone by that point after 8 years of retirement living.
She now lives in a simple but nice active retirement community where she pays a small rent (her husband, who is much more financially secure, pays the bigger portion) and continues to live a thriving life on a small income.
She still budgets meticulously, making room for small entertainment expenditures such as bowling and the occasional meal out, and paying cash for everything, being certain not to live above her means. Her life from a material standpoint is a far cry from how most people live these days, but she traded in “stuff” for financial security a long time ago and is incredibly happy with her choice.
Her life may be far from luxurious compare to some, but mom knows how blessed she is to be able to pay cash for everything and spend on occasional luxuries like taking our family out to eat. She loves doing that because as kids restaurants were out of the question for us.
The take-away here is that no matter how low you’re starting out, persevering in the right choices will bring you up. Maybe not up to where you’d like to be, but up to where you’re doing better than you were before. Hold on to that dream and do your best to turn your money situation around, even if it’s just baby steps at a time. It really does all add up.
Have you ever been in the middle of a journey where baby steps don’t seem to be making much of a difference? Have you every persevered through a tough financial time until you reached success?