I grew up as child of immigrants and I was embarrassed by it. I was living in a neighborhood and going to school with people who looked nothing like me. I had to shy away from going to class-mates birthday parties because my family couldn’t afford to buy a gift. On career day, I’d see parents line up to talk about their fabulous jobs as doctors, architects, business moguls as their kids beamed with pride. Whereas my dad was tethered to a hospital bed in desperate need of a kidney and my mom worked at a factory overnight. Our family outside of America thought we were living the dream with buckets of cash when in reality, we were lucky that the bank didn’t repossess our house. Gradually, I turned that embarrassment into pride. I began to breakdown the adversities in my childhood and realized how much its shaped me into the woman I am today.
It took years for me to perfect this habit. I’ve had a job since I was 16 years old. Like most people, I blew my paycheck the nanosecond it came to my bank account. It was nice to have money for once, money that I personally worked for. Finally, I can afford to buy birthday gifts. I can buy clothes at the mall, not a department store. I can actually eat out at a restaurant after practice instead of rushing home for the usual rice and lentils. I never cared to change my spending habits because I was always able to pay the bills and use the rest for coffee, traveling, and shoes. It wasn’t until my car accident in 2019 that made me take a hard look at where my money was going. While I was driving to work, I got rear ended on the highway by a woman who was too busy texting. Since this woman was driving a rental car, the rental company stated my medical bills would be paid for altogether AFTER I was done incurring the bills. How fucked is that? The hospital bill, the 3 months of physical therapy, the medication, the doctor check-ups, and the leave of absence I had to take from work amounted to just over $20,000. Not to mention, my car is totaled. Thankfully, I’m an established sales rep at my job and my monthly commission checks were able to cover these costs as they came up. However, I couldn’t help but think back to my childhood and how frugal my family was because of my dad’s medical bills. My dad had a well-paying job as a computer programmer but once he got sick, he was let go; leaving my mom to do all the heavy lifting. I was so wrapped up in being able to afford things on my own all these years that I didn’t have enough in my savings to account for an emergency. Life happens, my dad’s health problems and my car accident are glowing examples of that. Once I got my cut of the check from the rental company, I was able to buy a new car and put the remaining amount into savings. From then on, I always put half of my paychecks into my savings account and the rest go towards bills. It took a near death experience for me to realize the full extent of spending problem but it also took a near death experience to create a financial safety net for myself.
Having a strong work ethic
Growing up, I never told anyone that my mom worked in a factory and that my dad didn’t even have a job. I was embarrassed and I didn’t want the pity. No one ever suspected a thing. The house we lived in served as the ultimate illusion that my family was loaded. My first day in college was the day I had a change in heart as I thought back to my childhood. My mom is such a warrior. She didn’t even have a GED yet she was able to support our family through crisis with her factory job. She worked tirelessly. Weathering overnight shifts, mandatory overtime, and pay cut after pay cut. Her shining example of a strong work ethic became the benchmark for me to thrive on as I embarked on getting a degree. I pushed myself to work full time and pay for college because she pushed herself to work a crappy job to pay the bills. The day I retrieved my diploma was proof that my mother’s fortitude did not go unnoticed.
Growing up I knew we had money problems. I was six years old when my dad’s kidney had first failed. Being the youngest meant that everyone was too busy trying to protect me from the situation to realize that I was well aware of what was happening. I knew my family loved me enough to want me to have a normal childhood but that’s tough to do when your dad is in the hospital for chunks of time. Even tougher when no one tells you exactly what’s going on. The easiest thing I could do for my family was to act oblivious but I had my quiet ways of trying to help. I started by not wasting any food. We couldn’t afford for me to be picky so I ate everything on my plate. I stopped watching TV as well. In my head, if the TV was on that meant electricity was being used which adds to the electricity bill. I began to go to the library every week and checked out stacks of books. If I wasn’t outside playing with my friends, I was inside the house reading books to pass the time. I read so much that I began to write stories in the notebooks my mom would buy. Flash forward to adulthood and these little habits turned into smart life style choices. I’m the type to eat leftovers for days to ensure the food I bought/made doesn’t go to waste. Plus, compared to my friends, my screen time is low. I’ve never been the type to scroll through Facebook for hours or be on my phone while at work. I barely watch TV too. I’m good at staying focused at the task at hand and I stick to reading and writing as my outlets.
I’m no longer embarrassed of being a chid of immigrants, I wear it as an emblem of pride. It’s been the back-bone of my success all these years with how I’m able to save money, work hard, and have meaningful hobbies. My parents may not have been able to control the situation we were put in but I still managed to flourish from the roots that were established.