The Long And Sometimes Windy Road To Financial Independence – Vol. 1

Blogs walk a fine line between information and soul baring. I agreed to do a guest blog to contribute to Mrs. Mad Money Monster’s endeavors with this website, but did not look forward to the self reflection that comes along with it. So without delay, let’s get into the reasons I have chosen the path to financial independence with Mrs. Mad Money Monster…

You Learn What You Live

 

I had a mother who was thrifty. She was a single mother during the crucial, formative years with my brother and I. It was just the three of us from roughly 1973-1978. Two boys during the oil crisis of the mid-70s, working three jobs, with a mortgage, a Volkswagen Beetle with no front brakes (we used the emergency brake) and liver for dinner. This paints the picture of a woman doing all she could all on her own to raise her children. Once my step father came into the picture things stabilized, somewhat. We got a new house, new school, and a new lease on life.

Home And Garden

 

middle school

Me in middle school with an Academy Award!

While my mother saved money, Mrs. Mad Money Monster pointed out that she didn’t really build wealth. My mother and step father paid off a thirty year mortgage in half the time. We drove beater cars that cost no more than 500 dollars and the only new vehicle we had while I lived at home was a 1979 Ford truck, bought at half price because of a newspaper ad print error. My mother could be shrewd when she saw an opportunity.

Eventually, my mother returned to school and got her nursing license. By the time I was in eighth grade in 1980-81, money complaints eased up. However, the majority of our groceries were still the white generic labels with bold black print: “COOKIES, BREAD, CRACKERS, PASTA...”
Fast food was a once a month treat. My mom would call from work, take an order from one of the fast food chains up town. She would come home with front seat covered in bags and styrofoam containers. Now THAT was livin’!
Our lawn mower was bought at a yard sale. Our lawn service was me. When it came time to give our 1965 Cadillac a new paint job, it was a family affair that put The Brady Bunch to shame. Me, my brother, and a bunch of my neighborhood friends descended on that auto dinosaur with sanding blocks. We stripped that sucker down for the cost of a few pizzas and sand paper. My step father bought the paint and painted the car himself in his father’s barn.

Travel

 

Big Beach vacation

Our big beach vacation to Seaside Heights, NJ

We had one true family vacation. My mother was fired from her main job at an auto parts warehouse for trying to form a union. She and her “Gang of Six” took their employer to court and after a year legal battle, got a small settlement. It was hardly a windfall. Instead of spending it on a car or some kind of extravagance, my parents put the money into our house. They were able to add a family room in the basement and carve out a washroom and some storage.

The remainder of the money allowed us to go out to an Italian restaurant one evening to celebrate her Norma Rae-esque victory. “You can get anything on the menu”, she told my brother and I. I celebrated with a fried clam strip basket. That gives you an idea how high end the restaurant was.
Her total settlement was around eight thousand dollars in 1979. In addition to finishing our basement and some fried clam strips, we were also able to afford a new truck, money towards my mother’s return to nursing school, and our lavish vacation to Seaside Heights, NJ. Pretty wild, huh? We stayed at some economy motel near the beach. We ate on the boardwalk and I had my first dish of blueberry pancakes!
All of that on eight grand in the late 70s, early 80s. Not too shabby, Mom!

Low Expenses And Eliminating Debt

 

Keep in mind, while we were living our extremely frugal lifestyle, she was also making multiple extra mortgage payments every month. We lived with a dog and several cats over the years. We did not have cell phones, and only had basic cable – which was a big deal in 1979 – and much less expensive than the astronomical prices charged today!
My mother kept a zero balance on her single credit card. She carried the firm belief of “you don’t have it, you don’t buy it.” My brother and I were given the Atari 2600 one year for Christmas.  But, there were no games to go along with it. My parents never once bought a single game cartridge for us, as my mother made it clear she thought they were a waste of money.

Building Wealth

 

Now before I tackle that hypocrisy, while she saved money everywhere she could, she never invested. They had CDs, and when she became a nurse she had a 401k type of retirement, but they owned no stocks and they did not actively build wealth through investing.
While my mother railed against video game cartridges, she was a three pack a day smoker. Pall Mall, unfiltered. She started smoking at the age of 13 and by the time she was 24 she was up to almost three packs daily. She hit the three pack plateau by her 40th birthday. Mrs. Mad Money Monster did a calculation of how much was spent on smoking in my mother’s lifetime, and what it would have translated to in properly managed wealth today. She can insert that here…
Hi, Everyone! This is Mrs. MMM. It’s true, I did a quick calculation of how much the cigarette money would’ve amounted to today, had it been invested. The total was somewhere just south of $1,000,000! Womp. Womp.

 Debt Freedom – Debt – Debt Freedom Again

 

collage

Not all pictures are digital!

My mother also liked to party. To be clear, she was a social drinker and weekend warrior. She did not drink at all during the week,  but when Friday rolled around, the gloves were off and she gave the week a good kick in the ass. Beer was the beverage of choice. Weekends were home or away gatherings of her and my father’s friends, cards, smoking and beer.

When my mother’s step father died in 1985, he left her $25,000. She used part of it to get herself a new Chevy Cavalier and another chunk replaced all the upstairs carpeting that was the original stuff since the house was built in 1973. Trust me, that carpeting took a beating over the years from all the parties that went on in the house. By the time I was in college and out of the house, the mortgage was paid in full. The remainder of the $25,000 was used to eliminate it completely.
They were 100% debt free by the time Reagan left office and that had a HUGE impact on me.
The 90s arrived with a paid off house. And, my mother finally decided to fulfill her longtime desire for an in-ground pool. The house was paid off, they were sitting pretty, and this dream pool had a $50,000 price tag. I advised against it. Why? My mom was not an outside gal, my dad would get stuck with the maintenance, and I was out of the house AND didn’t swim. So I sure as hell wasn’t planning on coming by at the start and end of swim season to help open and close the pool. No thanks.
They did it anyway. However, my father was recently promoted at work and the extra income went towards paying the pool debt off early. So, by 2000 they were once again debt free.
No car loans. No mortgage. No major credit card debt. Not too bad.

A Family Business

 

My dad took over a successful family tire garage. They bought the business from his father for around $200,000. Their goal was to pay it all off in five years. They met that goal! By 2005, their debt was repaid and the tire garage was functioning in the black and thriving.
There is a small side story to this. During that five year period focused on paying off the business, money was tight. During a visit one hot summer day, my mother lamented my father having to mow the lawn by hand. The riding mower needed a new battery and it was $60. While I could have easily given her that for the battery, I replied “Well, how about both of you don’t smoke for a week and there’s your sixty bucks!”
I know, I know…in this over sensitive, politically correct age, I sound like a spoiled ungrateful son. After all my parents did for me, I couldn’t spare sixty lousy bucks to make my dad’s lawn care a tad easier.
I could have. I chose not to. Like she chose not to contribute to a wasteful habit like video games. Had I called her from college and said I couldn’t afford books or a class, the first thing she would have said was, “Well don’t party for a few weeks and use the money you save for books.”
I spent a lifetime in second hand smoke with a mother who was a nurse and knew exactly what that exposure could do. If the battery was important, they could choose to suspend their cigarette purchases to buy one.
Where does all of this go? My mother’s health started to show signs of failing by 2000. Shortness of breath, poor skin tone and weight loss had me thinking cancer. With the amount of smoke that circulated her body, I would be amazed if it wasn’t.
Instead, it was emphysema. She finally decided it was time to travel. They did jaunts to Disney, then out to the Grand Canyon, California, and Alaska. By 2005, my mom could barely walk from her car to the front door. She stopped driving that year for good. She retired in 2002 from nursing under the umbrella of disability. When her doctor showed me PET scans of her lungs and they were as black as construction paper, the end was clear.
I got her approved for a double lung transplant that she refused. Aside from the trauma she would endure with no guarantee she would be any better off, she admitted the real reason she didn’t want new lungs. She would smoke with them, and that wasn’t fair to someone who needed new lungs and wouldn’t deliberately destroy them.
She died in 2007. There was never concern for keeping the house. There was money to keep her comfortable medically. She was able to stay in her own home without the fear of losing it.
She unfortunately died in the nearby hospital and not in her bed as she had hoped.
This is a very abridged thumbnail, sketch of a wonderful mother and person. Her will left everything to my dad, which my brother and I agreed to. But there simply wasn’t a lot there. I did receive her Beatles collection and while that had significant value, it’s only if I liquidate it, which I never will.

 Show Me The Money…Or Not

With all of their debt elimination, I felt they should have had more money. Wealth. They should have accumulated wealth. There were no stocks in her name. No investments. The few CDs yielded a little more than nothing.
The amount of money on cigarettes and beer alone could have resulted in significant wealth. I will defer to the lovely Mrs. Mad Money Monster for those figures.
Hi again! It’s me, Mrs. Mad Money Monster. It is true. If Mr. MMM’s parents would’ve taken the money they spent on beer and cigarettes and invested it instead, they would’ve been sitting on 7 figures – assuming an 8% return.
A life misspent takes on a different meaning from a purely financial perspective. Opportunities were there, they simply weren’t taken. Missed opportunities and a failure to invest alongside debt elimination equated to little wealth accumulation. After joining forces with Mrs. Mad Money Monster, I realized I want to tackle both sides of the financial coin. I want to be financially independent.
My next installment will be a look at my financial workings in the mid to late eighties and what led to a self imposed exile.

And there you have it, the very first post by Mr. Mad Money Monster! What’s your story? Why have you chosen to become financially independent?

 

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  • Miss Mazuma Jun 2, 2017, 9:01 am

    Wow – incredible story. It is so funny how things look different when you are in them and when you can look back at them. Your mom was a unique kind of woman. Her spirit shows clearly in her quest to organize a union and turn down a transplant – selfless comes to mind and there are so few that would put others before them in that manner. Though she didn’t invest, she made sure to work her butt off so her debts would be paid for. That is a HUGE accomplishment considering she gained no interest during that time! Amazing woman and you are lucky to have had her.

  • Miss Mazuma Jun 2, 2017, 9:00 am

    Wow – incredible story. It is so funny how things look different when you are in them and when you can look back at them. Your mom was a unique kind of woman. Her spirit shows clearly in her quest to organize a union and turn down a transplant – selfless comes to mind and there are so few that would put others before them in that manner. Though she didn’t invest, she made sure to work her butt off so her debts would be paid for. That is a HUGE accomplishment considering she gained no interest during that time! Amazing woman and you are lucky to have had her.

  • MB55 May 26, 2017, 1:40 pm

    Mr 3M,
    Great post! Thanks for sharing your story. It’s a reminder how are attitudes toward money (and everything else) are molded by our childhood experiences. It made me reflect on my own experiences growing up and how they influenced future decisions.
    @MillionaireBy55
    MB55

  • The Luxe Strategist May 26, 2017, 10:17 am

    I really enjoyed reading this story!

    My parents also saved, but didn’t build any wealth. They were uneducated, spoke little English, and just were unaware of American financial know-how. It still kind of pains me to think how my mom has rented her entire life, but could have bought a house for equity purposes if she used her savings for a down payment. Or how her retirement savings could be 5x what it is now, if she didn’t just check off the default funds. I’ve tried so hard to have her let me take control of her retirement $ and move it an online institution where I can watch it, but she’s stubborn about leaving it in a silly local bank CD!

    I’ve always been practical, and because my parents didn’t build wealth, I think that motivates me to be better with my money. Since there’s no safety net for me, I’m building my own 🙂

  • Dads Dollars debts May 24, 2017, 5:37 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story. Very well written. Did you ever buy any Atari games?

    As for smoking, my main selling point to my patients is asking them how much they spend a week on cigarettes. It may not make then stop but it gets them thinking at least.

    • MMMM May 25, 2017, 6:40 am

      Well, the cost of her smoking didn’t daunt her. Even the personal cost to her family. After she died, I cleaned out her sink area and in those cabinets I found fake lipstick tubes that were refashioned to hold cigarettes. Even while on oxygen she was sneak smokes in the bathroom, like some high school kid in the lav.

      As for Atari games, yep, I bought a handful, but it was my brother who put the most money into the collection. My favorite story on the financial waste was the purchase of the 1982 Atari version of Pac Man. Many like to think it was the “ET” game that popped the video game bubble in the 80s. More damage was done by the terrible version of Pac Man. That cartridge was 60 bucks at the time. I put in 30 of my money but I was already working for money to save for a car, so it was my last venture in buying games. It was the first time I truly was conscious of being ripped off as a consumer. All the red flags were there in advance, the biggest being no screen shots of the game on the box or the tv commercial. That should’ve been a big tip off. When we bought, we were the hit of the neighborhood. We brought it home to a group of amazed kids. We plugged it in and the initial screen and game play was so horrible, we reset the game and removed the cartridge and restarted, thinking it was a glitch. It couldn’t be so bad. But, it was. We returned the game but we’re refused. Turns out millions of other people did the same on this hit and run.

  • Sylvia May 24, 2017, 4:40 pm

    Wow. Thank you so much for sharing. It’s amazing how much of our upbringing is intrinsically tied to how we value and perceive money and wealth. I think it’s easy to think that we all approach it from the flat, fixed perspective that ‘accumulating wealth is important. Frugality helps.’ But it’s definitely a bumpier, more subjective road than that.

    Just curious, did your mom get good use out of her pool? At the very least, did it increase the value of their house?

    • MMMM May 25, 2017, 6:31 am

      As predicted, the pool was underused. To be fair, it was the center of many gatherings which she liked. However her own use of the pool was few and far. She was a social creature and it was the group dynamic that she dived on. I am not sure on the increase on home value, for if it did, the 2008 bubble break likely set it back.

  • Mrs. Groovy May 24, 2017, 3:55 pm

    Thanks for sharing, Mr. MMM. These are both joyous and painful memories and probably not easy to write.

    Your mom turning down the opportunity for the lung transplant is really telling. She knew herself well enough to know she’d still smoke.

    Why do you think she wanted the pool so badly? She doesn’t sound like someone who was motivated by keeping up with the Jones’s . Do you think maybe when she was a little girl, having a pool signified wealth or a happy home?

    • MMMM May 24, 2017, 5:16 pm

      Thank you and what a great question. I think it was indeed some kind of childhood thing. It was something of personal vindication. She was definitely not a “keep up with the Joneses” type. Yes, her refusal of the transplant said a lot about her character, as painful as it was for us as a family. Thank you so much for the sentiment and most of all for commenting and taking such time.

  • LizzyI May 24, 2017, 2:00 pm

    Your mom was AMAZING!!!!

    • MMMM May 24, 2017, 3:30 pm

      Indeed she was. Thank you.

  • FullTimeFinance May 24, 2017, 12:31 pm

    My mom was also a nurse that smoked. Thankfully she quit about two decades ago which hopefully lessens the likelihood. Beyond that though her financial position is around the point of debt free but with a great pension. So very similar. I just don’t get that mentality.

    • MMMM May 24, 2017, 3:29 pm

      I don’t get it either, but it says something about the addiction. Thanks so much for reading.

  • Kate May 24, 2017, 10:23 am

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I find it fascinating to read about the different upbringings each of us has had and how that’s impacted our choice to pursue financial freedom. I look forward to reading the next installment.

    • MMMM May 24, 2017, 11:36 am

      Thank you. My story is in no way unique. Not sure if it benefits anyone but for me it was the interest in how money can trickle away so easily. Glad you liked the post, and appreciate your time and feedback.

  • Lindsay | Notorious D.E.B.T. May 24, 2017, 8:56 am

    Wow! What an interesting story. THIS is why I don’t smoke – I don’t have the cash for it, and I’m not willing to trade cigarettes and smoking for my future financial goals.
    I see echoes of this with my own parents (who are still quite alive, thankfully), but with weight struggles. I love my parents dearly, but man, those people love to eat. They’re approaching retirement now and their bodies are so beaten down with joint problems from all of the weight they’ve carried over the years that they may never get to fully enjoy their retirement. Their remaining years on Earth aren’t going to be as fun or as cheap as they could be if they’d made healthy decision making a priority. But, you better believe I’m also taking that lesson to heart now – I run 5k at least 3-4 days a week now!

    • MMMM May 24, 2017, 10:09 am

      Thank you for the time to read this. Yeah, the alternative lesson here is not to smoke. Period. However it’s easy to throw stones, and when I post further guest articles you’ll see I wasn’t exactly the smartest with my own advice and observations. Keep up the running and thank you!

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