Very long (but extremely interesting!) story about “Marie”, who lives in Texas. She writes of family (in particular her father’s) influence on her view and management of money.
I am 24 years old, currently live in Houston, Tx, and work at a higher education institution. I have to examine my grandparents and parents finances to lead up to my own financial situation as a 20-something. Both of my parents were born and raised in Latin American countries, and their respective families were well-to-do/wealthy in Latin American standards, translating to maids, large houses, private schooling, and attending college ‘abroad,’ either in the US or Europe.
However, neither of my parents’ family was flashy or flagrant- my mother had 5 siblings, and she emphasizes to myself and my brothers how hard both her parents and my father’s parents worked to be able to provide the lifestyle they lived.
My father was a ‘surprise’ baby- born when my grandmother was in her late 30s, he was 10 and 12 years younger than my two uncles. This large age difference coupled with the fact that my grandparents were older and couldn’t deal with a young child, led to my father being spoiled as he grew up, and eventually sent away to boarding school. Constant indulgence meant my father never learned self-denial and has acted on his impulses all his life. To this day he live paycheck to paycheck, doesn’t have health insurance, life insurance, retirement savings, pays all his bills late, his credit score is in the garbage, and to top it all off owes the IRS money and my mother back child support, leading to his bank accounts being frozen and assets seized multiple times. Ironically, my mother is the epitome of self denial- she currently lives on $500 a month from Social Security.
So how did these opposites get together? My mother became pregnant while in college, and they got married. This was the start of many bad decisions, as my parents continued to have children and my mom never finished her college degree. This meant she was limited in the jobs she was eligible for and the maximum pay she could receive. I think she was happier than I was on my college graduation day, because simply having a degree opens so many more doors for you.
My father, although obtaining a degree in architecture and working as an architect for a few years, decided that he did not like having an ‘office job,’ and coinciding with my birth he quit the relatively lucrative field of healthcare architecture for his passion, photography. For the majority of my childhood he was the sole breadwinner for our family of 5 with a maximum income of around $50,000. That income was supplemented by my paternal grandparents (still indulging my dad!) and my mother eventually working full time prior to my parents divorce.
Growing up, however, I wasn’t fully aware of our financial situation- my parents (with my grandparents help) bought a large, slightly run down house in a good neighborhood, and we attended good schools. Summer vacations were funded by my grandparents, and we did have brand name luxury items due to my father’s self-indulgence and desire to indulge his children as well.
I have a vivid memory, however, of being around 10 years old and my next door neighbor, a girl a year or two younger than me, asking ‘what it felt like to be poor.’ I also remember my father always making the joke after Christmas about ‘Santa being broke.’ And we never had health insurance until my mother started working full time.
So fast forward past my parent’s divorce, my mother suffered a stroke which left her partially paralyzed. She could no longer work, and my younger brother and I (still dependants) were eligible for Medicare and other governmental assistance. I was actually glad because this meant I could go to the doctor if sick, get new eyeglasses, etc. I had also entered high school, and started working to pay for my clothes, discretionary spending, etc.
My father, continuing to indulge his children, bought me a brand new car when I was 16- which took him 6 years to pay for. I applied to college, and lucky for me was accepted to a large public institution with a full financial aid package, including about $5k in loans a year.
In college, I was the model of living above your means- large apartments, opening credit cards to pay for living expenses (including a bed, mattress, computer, lots of clothes and eating out) and basically maxing out everything available to me. I studied abroad my junior year, living in France for a total cost of $30k, about $25k of which was funded by loans. My mother constantly asked me about my credit cards since all my mail went to her house, saying that she was worried about how much I owed.
By the time I graduated college, I had about $53k in loans and $15k in credit card debt, with no one besides my mother knowing the full extent of my finances. My father’s car was repossessed at this time, so when I moved back home he started using my car and after finding a job I bought a used luxury car for the sweet deal (not) of $17k, bringing my total debt to a little over $85k.
That was about a year ago, and I had a wake up call about 6 months ago. My entire life I had been surrounded by irresponsible financial decisions, and had never learned how to manage finances successfully. My debt was consuming me- I worried about money all the time, and I couldn’t do anything that I wanted to do because all of my take home pay was used to pay credit cards, my car loan, and my school loans. I had no idea where my money was going or what it would take to pay off my debt. I couldn’t move out of my dad’s house because I couldn’t afford an apartment.
My boyfriend kept nagging me to take a vacation together, but I couldn’t tell him the real reason why this wasn’t possible- my massive debt. I finally cracked in December and told him how much I owed, which makes 2 people who know the full extent now. 🙂
I try to be open and honest with my family and my boyfriend now about my finances and money in general, especially with my younger brother who is a sophomore in college, paying for it the same was I did- primarily loans. I also lecture my boyfriend, who doesn’t budget and doesn’t have any retirement savings. I have a pretty strict budget, but it’s hard to constantly battle the urge to shop, eat out, etc. I read lots of PF blogs for budgeting/saving ideas and bolster my resolve to pay off all my debt.
My total debt now stands at $72k, and I’m also funding a 403b through work and building an emergency fund. In terms of the future, I’m considering getting a second job to help pay off debt faster, and help defray the costs I will incur when I move out of my dad’s house next month.
Did I mention I will also be applying to medical school this year? So although I know my financial situation will get waaaaaaaay worse in the next few years because of med school loans, I think I am at least better educated now to not fall into the same traps I did growing up and in undergrad- including using credit cards endlessly, not budgeting, not facing my financial problems, etc. Also, I hope to have all my consumer debt (around $19k) paid off by the time I enter med school in the fall of 2009. Then I will only have student loans left, which the interest can be deferred while I am in school.
Whew! If you got through all that, congrats! I’m glad that Marie is now on track with her finances, and on her way to a fairly lucrative career as a doctor (although, the loans!). Marie – what did you think while your father was indulging you with the cars & such? Do you think that watching his behavior made you assume that having credit card debt is okay? Has money affected your relationship with your father now?
Please check out more Money Stories here!
Email me if you want to share yours.