For the most part folks seek financial independence to have the freedom to choose what they want to do. Life is too short to actually spend most of you’re awaking hours on a cube doing something that doesnt’ make you happy. People that realize this are fortunate and for the most part have a choice – there’s a reason that financial independence do exist and you can read thousands of articles about it. These are ordinary people, work their way through life and prioritize what truly makes them happy.
Last night, I thought of my former co-worker way back when I was still working on a food chain. Let’s name her L. L works as a cook in the fast food restaurant for 40 hours a week. In addition, she also work at another fast food chain for another 40 hours a week. L gets a minimum wage and work her ass off. She can barely speaks english but is probably the most hardworking person I’ve ever met. I can’t imagine being on my feet for 16 hours a day, more so working 80 hours a week. She deserves better, the thing is circumstances are not on her side. Fast forward, 13 years, I volunteered to prepare taxes for people with low income. I have clients supporting families on income that I can’t even imagine having. No matter how frugal they become, it will be very difficult for them to retire early. Actually, it will be very difficult for them to retire at all. After finishing their taxes, I tried to sway them to discuss the possibility of opening up a bond, or really any other form of savings account. We try to discuss other benefits that they can qualify for. Here’s what I found out during this process. First, my clients had a really long day. They probably just got out from work, some of them have their kids with them. If you are not the first in line and it’s the week that W2s were sent out, you better be prepared to wait. Worst, we might not even get to you and you will have to try your luck the next day. For the most part, they try to listen, but I can see that they’re exhausted and want to go back to their families, maybe have a couple of hours of sleep before getting another shift. Secondly, most of them really don’t have any concept of personal finance. Having a savings account is probably the most I’ve seen but no one has ever open any other form of financial products, even a bond or a CD. Lastly, most of them can’t see that their are other choices, that financial independence can happen – most of them do not even have access to computers, how would you actually expect them to read articles about so and so retiring by doing so and so. And believe me this folks don’t eat out, probably the most frugal person you’ll meet, supporting more than 1 family.
There are times I will come home after volunteering, crying on my way home. I was lucky that I found a way. It could have easily been my life. Growing up, I didn’t know anything about personal finance. I actually learn it from watching sex and the city — you know that episode when Carrie almost lose her home and she has thousand of shoes. She went to an ex boyfriend and he said that you need money to make money. That’s when I open my first Certificate of Deposit at age 17. I then told my parents about it but they never really act on anything. My first day in high school includes me walking to a metal detector. It’s probably the worst school in the city (still is), but I finished. I remember my classmates talking about taking on a full time job in a manufacturing company after high school, after all it was paying $14/hour at the time. I mean score, right? To be honest, I almost took it. After all, the sooner I earn money, the sooner I can help out my family. I only applied to one school, but I got accepted. After all, I did get a straight As, took whatever AP classes that the school offered (1 at the time) and for some reason, got a really high score at SATs. We are so poor that the expected family contribution of my parents are 0. I pack 2 suit case and my parents drop me off. My mom looked at all the other rooms — gosh everyone has laptops, flat screen tv, mini fridge and playstation. I have none. My room is so bare. My comforter was a hand me down from my grandma, the thickest that I could find at home at the time. My mom insisted on buying me a laptop. I did my research and told her that there’s a 24 hour library and I can use the computer then. I still didn’t win and we went to Best Buy. She open, probably her 20th credit card so she can get an interest free financing for a year. I worked 20 – 30 hours a week while in school in order to give her the money every month and finished the payments in 12 months before we get hit by the interest rate. Until now, I still have that computer and it will never get thrown out. I took student loans. I got accepted to study abroad and took it. Financially, my parents offered to take a parent loan for me without any hesitations. They were so excited when I told them that I got accepted to the study abroad program — I didn’t tell them that it was really not that competitive.
My parents did everything that they can from the information that they have. My father worked 2 jobs until I finished college. They never spend, they can’t. Since I live in a household that don’t spend on anything that do not relate to food, housing or education, my spending habit until now is equally the same. I graduated college, got a job that pays more than I ever imagined. I was never afraid to take risk since I know how it’s like to have the bare minimum. I still go back to that neighborhood, I get the cheapest haircut ($15 + $5 tip), my wedding dress was altered there and heck you can get the cheapest produce on that market. Whenever I go, I find myself surrounded with truly happy people. My hairdresser, even though she can barely speak english, will always compliment my hair. Employees are friendly to each other and for the most part are really friends. Life isn’t all that bad.
I’d say if you really want to do something, do it now. After all, the bare minimum at the lowest point of it isn’t really that bad. I’m very grateful to where I’m at right now, but I don’t regret having the bare minimum.