Thursday, December 12, 2013

Part 1: From nothing middle-class chump (Worth by 2003: < -$13,000)

I am going to be a millionaire and I'm going to tell you how I'm doing that even though my current net worth is -$115,443.00.

TL;DR I learned horrible money management as a kid, blew all my advantages as a young adult, except getting my degree in Computer Science, and until recently was a typical hyper consumer that racked up more than $100,000 in debt.

Why I became a in-debt middle-class chump (Net worth: $200)

I grew up poor in Minneota; the son of a single father.  That pretty much summarizes my entire relationship with money (at least mentally) up until I joined the Army in 2001.  To elaborate a bit that means that I would go with my dad once a week on a bus from downtown Minneapolis to some grocery store miles away to buy food with food-stamps then make the 1+ hour journey back home.  Free lunches at school. Occasional trips to the food shelter.

We were poor for mainly one reason my father was a non-functioning alcoholic and would relapse almost like clockwork ever six months. And when my dad had a job he would promise me very nice allowances (I remember at one time being promised a $20/week allowance), but then only receiving the two installments.  This also allowed us to get very nice tax rebates every year.  This tainted my relationship with money horribly.  Money came in then you spent it as fast as you could on the things you needed/wanted then you barely scraped by the rest of the time.

What's sad is looking back I seemed to have the traits of a saver.  I opened a savings account with $10.00 when I was in kindergarten because I liked the idea (my teacher or my father may have put the idea there). Then a few years later my uncle asked to borrow money from me and I gauged that he was high risk (seriously, I thought about it and decided there was a good chance he wouldn't pay me back and raised the interest rate on him) and I'd just learned about interest, so I charge him 10% interest per week (I picked a number I could actually calculate easily) on the $10 or $20 I had and loaned to him. These events were few and far between, especially as I got older. My more common modus operandi was to ask/beg for some money once or twice a month then immediately go spend it at the damaged goods warehouse store down the street or go to a movie. I very rarely had money; usually I was out and just demanded a toy and that was how I got stuff (I was a brat; mainly because it worked).

The biggest thing I had going for me after this childhood was that I've always been a planner and I knew money management was important (Thank you high school economics!) . When I was 12 and 13 I saved my money up and bought myself a refurbished TI-85 calculator and a copy Borland Turbo C++ even though I had never programmed anything more complicated than a text adventure game in BASIC at the time, because I knew without a doubt I was going to be a "programmer" and I was going to learn a lot of math even though I was on the fast track to becoming a high school drop out with my 1.9 GPA (my only A's were in electronics and wood-shop) my freshman year of high school, due to issues at home. I can think 1, 2, 5 years out and know where I want to be then decide all the steps that I need to take to get there (even if my plans were derailed by being a spendthrift or unfocused).  Eventually I decided to leave my dad a move in with my mom, who had just moved to England from Japan at the time. I spent the rest of high school being an geek and learning how to play the game of school.

The makings of a winner? (Net worth: $2,500)

When I graduated from high school I had earned probably less than $1,000 in my life and most of that in the last few months leading up to graduation by working at a grocery store. However while I worked at that Kroger in Duluth, Georgia I was excited because I put part of my wages into the employee stock program.  I loved looking at my pay-stubs and seeing that small number of stocks increase...however slowly (I knew stocks were the way to make money because you buy them for one price and they go up to another and that was about it, high school economics didn't go very deep into the material, but I loved the idea of compounding). But the number grew very slowly with such a low paying job and the stock price was just as slow, so I quickly got frustrated because I just resigned myself to accept it.

After graduation my next move was back to Minnesota to work in a plastic factory for a year. I had an uncle and some other relatives that worked at Juno, so I got a job there making decent money, I think at the time it was $10.00 an hour for entry level work.  I took the weekend shift and worked three 12-hour days Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and was paid for 40-hours; plus, I got four days off a week and two weeks of vacation a year. It was a very good job to me at the time and living with my grandma I had regular spending money for the first time. I even managed to save around $2,500 in that year for college, but that was as far as my money management went. Pay yourself first (I think I was around 10%, because isn't that what you're 'supposed to' save as an adult?) , then spend everything else. I was happy and thought I was doing well. And thinking back it was the last year I was debt free.

My first big mistake (Net worth: < -$10,000 student loans and < -$3,000 credit card debt)

That was the last time I was so care-free. The following fall I started college at the University of Minnesota. I followed all the instructions and filed my FAFSA, I qualified as an independent student and immediately got loans for as much as I could. Plus, I received around $10,000 from my mom and step-dad for tuition. I lived in the dorms and got a single-room ate in the cafeteria and enjoyed some spending cash on my dining card every semester. I lived and studied then at some point during my first year I started feeling a pressure from being in debt. My mom started talking about how expensive college was and that when I graduated I'd better be prepared to pay it all back and help my half-sister through college. "What? Really?", I thought to myself, "You expect me to pay you back and on top of that 'help' pay for Nicole's school?" That just didn't sit right with me. I had also gotten a couple of credit cards during the year and bought a 19" lcd monitor, one of the really early ones in 2001 for around $2,000. By the end of the year I'd gotten a new job on the systems team in the computer science department, but that was barely more than minimum wage,

I started looking into the Army Reserves as a linguist since I was triple majoring in Computer Science, Math and Japanese and ended the year by enlisting in the Air Force two days before 9/11. That summer I also borrow around $500 from an exchange student friend of mine to cover my credit card bills (I think  and never paid him back (That's the only debt I've ever skipped out on. I kept a record of it for the next five years, but eventually it was lost. I knew he wasn't hurting for money at all, but I still feel bad about it to this day.)