My Money Story

When I try to imagine the concept of money as it relates to my early childhood, the first things I picture are the coin jar my sister and I shared, and my mom’s food stamps. I remember grocery shopping with my mom when I was little. She usually bought Tang, Pepsi, Doritos, frozen pizza, and cigarettes. I don’t remember her buying any actual FOOD though. We shopped at the Big T Supermarket in our little town of Livermore in northern California. Mom paid for groceries with a combination of cash and food stamps and there were lots of times when we were at the register and our mom realized she didn’t have enough money. There’s a scene in the movie “Terms of Endearment” when Debra Winger is grocery shopping and the cashier shouts, “Can I have the register key? She doesn’t have enough money!” My sister and I have watched that movie a million times together and that scene always makes me cover my eyes and cringe. It’s like watching my childhood play out and it’s truly mortifying. Unlike in the movie though, my mom always seemed unsurprised to learn how much she owed and indignant that they actually expected her to pay.

My Parents — Not Good People

My parents were both born in Livermore California, my dad in 1948 and my mom in 1953. My parents were both very fortunate to be raised by loving and very hard working parents, and my sister and I were very lucky to have those 4 loving Grandparents in our lives. My mom graduated high school, then started nursing school but didn’t finish. I think she only had one other job after that working for Intel (which sounds cool to me) but that job only lasted 1 year. My dad was drafted in 1968 when he was 20 years old and served in Vietnam. I know he didn’t choose that and I can imagine that part of his life was incredibly difficult. My dad’s parents were extremely proud of his service, and his older brother was also drafted and serving in the military at the same time. After he finished his time in the military my dad probably had other jobs with paychecks but I don’t know for sure. I do know he pulled lots of scams and committed various crimes to make money throughout his life, which caused problems for other people, including the one he pulled on his own parents that resulted in them losing their house.

My parents met in 1971 when my mom was 17 and my dad was 22, after my dad returned from Vietnam. They were married in 1972, and their divorce was finalized less than 5 years later in 1977. I was born in 1974 when my mom was 21 and my sister was born 16 months later. I don’t think my parents spent very much time together while they were married, and I’ve been told they separated when I was 2 years old. What I think is most interesting about them is that they both had such loving parents that were really good people, and yet they both turned out the way they did — not good people and definitely not nice to others. My parents were loved, protected, and cared for by their parents and taught to be responsible, contributing members of society. My aunts and uncles are all loving parents to their own kids and contributing members of society. So what’s the deal with my parents? They were both rebellious and determined to take whatever they could from everyone they met, always avoided doing an honest day’s work, had no respect for laws or other people, chose the unethical path at every turn, etc. My parents were both incredibly toxic individuals. And of course they were terrible to each other and awful together so it’s no surprise their marriage was a disaster.

After my sister and I were born my mom’s actions and words made it clear that she didn’t want to have kids. And my dad was always honest about the fact that he only wanted a son. My sister and I are only 16 months apart in age, so we have always been there for each other. Our parents were much worse together than they were apart, so it was good for us that they didn’t stay together. Since our dad took off when we were babies we barely spent any time with him. Our time living with our mom was pretty terrible, but it certainly could have been worse and we moved out when I was 12 and my sister was 11. We definitely had some tough moments with no food to eat, no one in the apartment to care for us, or worse when there were dangerous people in the apartment with us. Sometimes I think my mom was trying to get us taken away by Child Protective Services. But my sister and I had each other, and even at the worst times our Grandparents were only a mile away. In elementary school when we showed up at school in dirty clothes, too hungry or tired to concentrate, or if our teachers discovered a problem and reported it, the school called our Grandparents.

We didn’t learn anything about money directly from our parents. But in a sense we actually learned the most important lesson — how to set goals at an early age and work towards accomplishing them. I knew when I was tiny that I didn’t want to be anything like my parents when I grew up. My sister and I both wanted to be like our Grandma. As a little kid I decided I wanted to have a job so I could earn my own money and be self sufficient as quickly as possible.

That’s my mom and dad, apparently within a few days of when they were married. Don’t they look happy?

Amazing Grandparents

My Grandparents tried everything they could to improve the situation for us and my mom. They supported my mom no matter how badly she treated them, because they wanted to protect us. Since our mom couldn’t cope and our dad pulled a disappearing act, our Grandparents did what they could to make sure we were safe. Our Grandma did the paperwork to get my mom an apartment near their house so we would have a roof over our heads and they would be nearby. Our Grandparents also tapped into their savings to buy my mom a used car, supplemented my mom’s rent, gave her monthly pocket cash, paid her utility and phone bills, and paid very close attention to me and my sister. Our Grandma also regularly came over and picked up our laundry and dishes, cleaned them at her house and brought them back. And of course Grandma was constantly coming over to check on us, dropping off food, taking us out to feed us, and taking us home with her when we were hurt or sick. Our aunts and uncles and our dad’s parents were also trying to help. We were pretty darn lucky actually.

My First Money Lessons

Grandma was born in Fort Dodge Iowa, 3 years after the stock market crash that launched the Great Depression. She went to Iowa State University for two years but dropped out after she met my Grandpa when he returned from WWII. She later got an AA degree from our local community college as required so she could build a career as a librarian. Grandma loved buying things at bargain prices, reading library books on every subject, doing ancestry research, investing in the stock market, managing her money, and learning new things on every subject in the library. One of our earliest activities together was collecting coins, counting and rolling them in coin wrapping sleeves, and taking them to the bank to deposit. 

Grandpa was born in Boone Iowa, and he was a teenager when the Great Depression started. With no money for college and few job prospects he enlisted in the Navy at age 20 in 1936 as a Seaman’s Apprentice. He was an Aviation Machinist’s Mate on a PBY stationed in the Philippines when he was captured and then spent 40 months as a prisoner of war during WWII. His Navy career lasted 22 years. His second career as a mechanical engineer also lasted 22 years. Grandpa loved to draw and paint, to build new things and fix old things, and to laugh and act silly until everyone else was laughing. One of our earliest activities together was collecting aluminum cans, squishing them flat using a wooden contraption that he built, then taking the flattened cans to an aluminum company that bought and recycled them.

Even though I was born in the mid 1970s, I was raised by people who learned about money during the Great Depression. They weren’t perfect but they were pretty darn close, and their love was unconditional. They taught me to work hard, save every penny, and never waste anything. They also taught me to be proud of buying things used or at bargain prices. Wearing second-hand clothes embarrassed me when I was a teenager but it’s a behavior I’m very comfortable with today.

That’s my Grandma and Grandpa the day they were married. I love their love story! And I love that even though I was born in the 1970s I was raised by people who grew up during the Depression!

When Everything Changed

A little more than a month after I turned 12, Grandpa died, and my sister and I moved in with our Grandma. That terrible loss in all our lives made room for us kids to leave our mom for good. No one was surprised when our mom was not sad to see us go.

Some people might wonder why we didn’t live full time with our Grandparents from the beginning. The truth is, the situation we were in as little kids was the best option available for us at that time. We were only one mile from our Grandparents and we were with them often, but not every day. Now that I’m an adult I know more about our Grandpa’s health and how much he was in and out of the hospital during the last 12 years of his life, which were the first 12 years of my life. Grandpa really suffered during his 40 months of captivity and torture during WWII, and his body and organs were a mess when he got older. Grandpa was not doing well when we were kids and our Grandparents didn’t want that to make things harder for us. They also needed some space to deal with what Grandpa was going through without little kids seeing everything they were going through. Grandpa suffered multiple strokes and heart attacks; he had diabetes and significant nerve pain; he had terrible PTSD and suffered from nightmares and severe depression. So it makes sense that our Grandparents decided that as long as we weren’t in real danger with our mom we should stay with her. We still spent most weekends with our Grandparents and had regular slumber party nights with them as well. They did everything they could to keep an eye on us without having us live in their house full time.

With everything he was going through, somehow Grandpa kept his level of playfulness always in high gear for us kids and we enjoyed his love and good humor. We didn’t realize that our Grandparents were juggling a complicated balancing act of finances to support us all, along with such serious medical issues and emotional issues as well. At the time all I knew was that Grandpa always made me feel loved, safe and protected, and he was the biggest source of creative inspiration in my life. That’s why it’s so weird to say this — my life and my sister’s life improved by about 10 billion percent when Grandpa died because that’s when we left our mom and moved in with Grandma.

That’s my Grandpa holding me and Grandma holding my little sister. We are so lucky we had them to love and protect us when we were kids!

Our lives changed completely when we moved in with Grandma because she wanted us, she loved us, and she protected us. I always felt like Grandma was focused on teaching us how to survive and thrive in the world, which was the complete opposite of what I felt when I was with my mom. A normal night with our mom was some version of neglect or abuse or both, while a normal night with our Grandma was spent eating dinner together, talking about every thought in our heads and all of our hopes and dreams, and then we watched Grandma do her daily accounting work which included tracking every penny earned, spent, and saved. We also clipped coupons and if she needed to buy something for the house she talked to us about her decision and the cost. We also planted fruit and vegetable seeds in the garden, watered them, and then enjoyed eating food we grew ourselves that was practically free. My sister and I definitely left Grandma’s house after high school with the emotional and financial survival tools we needed most!

Retirement Lessons

Grandpa’s Retirement

Grandpa retired from the Navy in 1957 after a 22 year career when he was 41 years old. He had 3 kids at that time and the youngest, my mom, was only 4 years old so he kept working with hopes of putting his kids through college. He spent 2 years working on the design team for the Kaiser Building in Oakland, which was the largest office tower west of the Rocky Mountains when it was built. When that project ended he started a new career working as a mechanical engineering designer for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory where he stayed for 20 years and finally retired for the 2nd time in 1979 at age 63. I was 5 years old when he retired. Grandpa’s health was really deteriorating at that point so retirement wasn’t exactly a choice. He loved to travel when he was younger and talked about traveling the world after retirement. He wanted to return to Japan to see how it had developed since it had been 30 years since he was held there during WWII. I can imagine that trip would have been very therapeutic for him if he had been able to return to Japan. That had a huge impact on me during our first trip to Japan this year. He did go to Iowa to see family and spent a lot of time painting and building model trains and playing with me and my sister. But I wish his health had allowed him more freedom to enjoy his 7 years of retirement.

That’s my Grandpa on the left, John Bridges, when he retired. He was really excited about the idea of traveling the world and looking forward to some new adventures.

Mom’s Retirement

At around the same time that my Grandpa retired my mom also decided to stop working. For arguments sake I could call that retirement, but it was more like quitting job life without really starting. When she left the job world she was only 25 and had earned little and saved nothing. I don’t know the exact circumstances of her decision, I only know that she left her job at Intel after 1 year and stopped working forever. I suppose it’s possible she decided that since she had two little kids it would be easier to quit and take welfare so she could stay home with us, but she definitely wasn’t spending her time at home taking care of us. My mom was spending most of her time with her friends, sometimes at our apartment but often out in other places. Sometimes she left us home alone, and other times she took us with her to places we shouldn’t have been in. My mom’s drop out decision created a financial burden for my Grandparents and especially my Grandma, who was the only employed person in our family since Grandpa’s health forced him to retire. To ease the financial part of the problem Grandma signed my mom up for the Supplemental Security Income  Program and the Food Stamp Program.

Grandma’s Retirement

When my sister and I graduated from high school we were both anxious to move out and live on our own because we did not want to continue being financial burdens for our Grandma. We wanted to show her that we were willing to provide for ourselves and fully capable of doing so. I graduated from high school in 1992 and immediately left town to get as far away from my mom as possible. My sister graduated one year later in 1993 and decided to stay in town close to Grandma. Once my sister and I both moved out of the house, got jobs and started taking classes, Grandma was finally able to retire herself and she did just 3 years later in 1996 at age 70. 

Grandma started her librarian career in 1968 at the age of 42. Choosing to be a librarian gave her a perfect outlet for her love of reading and research. The job required a college degree, and since she had dropped out of university in 1946 when she met my Grandpa, she needed to back to school to get an AA from the local community college to make her librarian career plans work. She loved books and she used to bring stacks of them home from the library to clean them and then put them back on the shelves in the morning. She helped create the library’s children’s section where my sister and I spent a ton of our time. The task she seemed most proud of was entering the library’s massive card catalog system into their first computer. Grandma worked for the Livermore Public Library for 26 years.

That’s my sister on the left in the glasses and me on the right peeking from behind a book. Grandma was able to take us to work with her since we could keep ourselves entertained with all books and toys in the library. We loved the carpeted bathtub in the kid’s section!
That’s me and my Grandma at her retirement party. I was looking a little goofy as usual.

After Grandma retired she was excited to enjoy her retirement and travel. The first thing she did was go back to Iowa to see the old family farm and visit all of her relatives and meet their kids and grandkids. She had also been talking for years about traveling to Scotland to continue her genealogy research with her older daughter. But after Grandma retired she started developing Alzheimer’s Disease. She did make it to Iowa with my Aunt, but it didn’t take long for Alzheimer’s to rob her of her freedom and independence.

As Alzheimer’s started to take over Grandma’s mind we noticed she was doing strange things like putting ketchup in her coffee. That scared me but my sister who is a nurse said unless Grandma did something that could hurt her we shouldn’t interfere or overreact, because the weird coffee didn’t bother her but when we made a big deal out of things like that it really upset her. It was troubling to spot the changes in her eating habits, but the bigger problems were the impacts on her ability to read and to understand her finances. Over time Grandma lost the ability to understand the bills that came in the mail, the process of writing checks to pay the bills, and the meaning of the due dates. She went from masterfully juggling everything to falling into terrible debt. But my sister figured out what was happening pretty quickly because she could see the small changes in Grandma’s daily routine. Since Grandma needed help, my sister and her husband moved in with her and took care of Grandma and her bills. And since Grandma was perfectly healthy physically her Alzheimer’s was able to progress over a long period of time until she lost her ability to speak, and then walk, and then eat. When Grandma died in 2012 at age 86, the disease had destroyed her mental and physical abilities.

I’m grateful that my amazing sister took such great care of our Grandma. And I believe that Grandma recognized me and my sister all the way to her very last day. Her huge smiles and the sparkle in her eyes were a giveaway. But it was tragic. She missed at least a decade of life while she was still alive but not herself mentally and no longer had any independence. I wish Grandma could have enjoyed many years of freedom and whatever adventures she wanted after she retired.

Lessons Learned from My First Jobs

I got my first real job in elementary school when I was in the 5th grade, delivering newspapers. I thought it was scary to ride around on my bicycle in the dark delivering newspapers so I often missed houses and avoided the creepy ones. Every time a house didn’t get their paper and reported it that was deducted from my pay.

The first job I really enjoyed as a kid was at a pizza place, because I got a lot of free pizza. Since my cousin also worked there we had a couple of really awesome food fights in the back throwing flour all over. Pizza is still one of the great loves of my life.

I think my first job that required a “skill” which I definitely did not master, was holiday season work at the mall as a gift wrapper. I was always in trouble for tearing the paper at the corners. But it was really interesting to have a job that involved seeing what other people bought as gifts during the holidays.

When I was 16 years old I got my first job that required “dressing up.” I was working in a high end store at the mall selling perfume, and wasting too much of my little salary buying clothes that were nice looking and that I didn’t like enough to wear anywhere else. I still hate the smell of perfume.

Those were my early attempts at being employed when I was still a kid. It was important to me that I was helping to pay for myself and at least trying to save a little money. I was also learning a lot about what it was like to apply for different kinds of jobs and work with different kinds of people.

Lessons Learned About Credit Cards, Student Loans and Investing

I didn’t have very much money in my checking account when I moved away after high school, and I was convinced that loans and credit cards were a necessity in life. When I moved away Grandma encouraged me to do 4 things immediately: get a job as fast as possible, get a credit card for emergencies, sign up for classes at the community college, and apply for a student loan to help bridge the gap. Grandma volunteered to co-sign on anything I applied for, and I was ready to try to make it all work. She also let me borrow one of her cars for a while.

I was only about 2 hours away from Grandma and my sister but if felt like more than that. Luckily I had some good friends in my new hometown and most importantly I had my Aunt, my mom’s older sister, and her 2 kids. It was wonderful to be so close to my Aunt during those years. She was another stand-in parent for me and she was a lot like her mom, so I almost felt like I was still with Grandma. I even lived with my Aunt for a while. She never let me pay for anything and she had a lot of important money lessons to share. When we talked about money my Aunt mostly talked about the things she wished she had done differently when she was my age in terms of saving, investing, using credit cards and loans. Those conversations were really eye opening for me since I was making those exact choices at that time. I felt really lucky to be so close to my Aunt and have her love and support during those first few years away from home.

Within a month of moving to Sacramento I had signed up for my first two credit cards. I had run out of my savings within a couple months and then I was using my new credit cards for things like gas and food, but I wasn’t making enough money to pay more than the minimum due every month. And of course that means my balances were growing, while I was making minimum wages. Then when fall semester rolled around I registered for a couple of classes at the community college and Grandma drove over to co-sign my first student loan application.

At the time I felt like I was making progress and I could tell that Grandma was proud of me. She also reminded me that I should be saving money and investing as well, and to celebrate she bought me 3 shares of Intel stock. But the kind of jobs I had were part-time with no benefits and I wasn’t making enough money to save anything.

Grandma was a very active investor herself, and her investing methods were very personalized. She liked to read the newspaper and search for stock ideas and she typically chose large cap stocks with dividends. She also liked to talk about new companies that she read about in the newspaper that might make it big one day, though her investing strategy didn’t allow for getting involved with anything at an IPO stage (a strategy I still agree with). I remember when she told me about this new company called Starbucks in 1992 right before I graduated from high school. They were preparing for their IPO and she said we should definitely keep an eye on them because they were doing some really exciting things to grow. I was impressed that my Grandma taught herself how to invest in the market and I’m grateful that she taught me the “buy and hold forever” concept. Since Grandma started investing in the 1950s, her methods were tied to the era of paper stock certificates. After Grandma died my sister found her stash of stock certificates, but they were mostly worthless at the time of her death.

The paper stock certificates did make a great research project though. It was interesting to learn about paper stocks and all of the reasons a company stock might have been strong once but might not be traded on the stock exchange today. A lot can change in 50 years! In Grandma’s case she had stock certificates for companies that went bankrupt, dissolved, went private, merged with other companies, or had expired options in defunct company names. Paper is definitely not king anymore.

Double-Time in College

The first job I got after high school was at a stationary store. The job was not a good fit for me but the paycheck was all I cared about. One of the other early jobs I got was working nights at the Berry Berry Kix factory where I was responsible for sweeping up huge piles of purple and pink “cereal dust” overnight when the machines were offline, and that was actually a lot of fun. That job required that I get a pair of steel-toed boots, which were expensive but super cool. 

I had a lot of odd jobs while I was in college. The job I enjoyed the most was at the Sac State bookstore. The job that I had the longest and remember the most clearly was my waitressing job at the Red Lobster where my salary was subminimum wage, also known as a “tipped minimum wage.” I don’t remember exactly what my pay was but it was around $2 per hour. Maybe some people can do really well living on tips but that particular situation didn’t work very well for me. I had to pay for a lot of my own mistakes and also a lot of walkouts from people who dined and dashed. I kept that job for exactly 5 years to the day even and I probably could have won a prize for how often I dropped drinks on people. I still think about the woman who was there celebrating her 60th birthday with her entire family, since I dropped a tray of fabulous colorful cocktails down her back and all over her fancy camel hair coat. Then there was the guy out to lunch with his 4 little kids that got a tray of 5 cokes in his lap. Thank goodness his kids thought that was awesome. I made terrible money at that job but since it was almost all in cash it seemed like good money at the time.

I spent 8 years working minimum wage jobs and taking college classes part time before I finally graduated with a degree in english literature and $43,000 in student loan debt. I worked one or sometimes two jobs the whole time I was taking classes, but since I wasn’t making very much money I was also taking out student loans. For the first few years when I was at the community college the cost of school wasn’t outrageous, but I had no money for school so I took out a couple of small loans. After I transferred to the university I was making a little more money but the cost of school was much higher, so I took out a few medium-sized loans. On top of all that, there was a period when I was working enough that I could only fit 2 classes at a time with my work schedule, and when my student workload dipped below half-time my loans started accruing interest. I definitely had trouble finding the balance between work and school, which compounded the cost of my degree.

My Original Career Plan

I initially planned to use my English literature degree to build a career in publishing. There was nothing I loved more than reading and writing and researching, so I wanted to be surrounded by other writers. But when I started applying for jobs with publishing companies and consulted with a career counselor, I was advised that the entry-level jobs in that industry were offering minimum wage salaries and the pool of applicants was overcrowded with overqualified people who already had 10-15 years of experience. My career counselor said pretty clearly I that I should change my plan. So I shelved the idea of a career attached to creative writing, and started hunting jobs in public relations as she advised.

Right away I got a job working for a single shingle PR guru. My boss was doing all of the heavy lifting and after a couple of months I hadn’t learned anything new and wished I had a mentor or a team to learn from, so I looked for the next job. Then I found a really interesting job at a small PR publishing company along with a really good mentor, and an 80 mile commute. I was spending too much time driving or sitting on trains, and too much time isolated working on my own at home. After 2 years there I put my resume out on an employment website and immediately got a call from a recruiter. That’s when I hit the job jackpot.

My Career in Marketing

The recruiter described a job where I would be responsible for helping engineers, scientists, and architects win important projects in a competitive process. The work would include a lot of team-building, writing, editing, and presentations. The company had 3,000 employees and offices across the US. So I went in and met with the woman that would be my boss and her boss as well, and after about 5 minutes I felt like I had won the lottery. They started me at a great salary, which helped me hustle to payoff my student loans. I also had excellent retirement benefits so I could start power saving and investing for the future.

After 3 years with that company I had my student loans paid off and was learning a lot more about investing from my managers. Since my company was focused on engineering design and construction I became very interested in whether companies related to my industry were publicly traded or not. My company was employee-owned and had a really outstanding stock that has always performed shockingly well. And since my company was based in Omaha and I drove past Warren Buffet’s house every time I went to meetings at headquarters, I just had to have some shares of Berkshire stock. My bosses had Berkshire-A shares which were way out of my league, so I was very proud to own Berkshire-B shares.

All of that inspired me to get more serious about investing, and soon Alison and I got involved in a women’s investment club. Alison and I started spending a ton of our spare time focused on that investment club and we both had a great time researching individual stocks. It was a great hobby for us and an excellent outlet for my obsession with research and learning. I think I researched every large-cap company there is with any connection to engineering, construction, building materials, and transportation.

That’s me trying to look professional during my career days.

Time for a Change

As I approached my 13 year anniversary at work I was feeling stuck in my role and bored with my responsibilities. I started thinking about the fact that I had been with the same company, practically in the same role, for more than 12 years. And for all of that time I refused to talk to recruiters and never applied for a position with another firm. Now I know for sure that was a big mistake. That’s when I made myself a promise, the next time a recruiter from another firm called me I was going to agree to meet with them. And don’t you know it, the next week I got a call about a new opportunity back in Seattle.

The job was an executive level marketing and business development position in a small office 3 miles from my condo. I would report directly to the CEO, sit on the company’s management team, have open dialog with the board of directors, and have a ton of freedom to design the company’s first true marketing and business development strategy. And I would also have a chance to help improve the company culture. When the CEO made me an offer I negotiated it up 35% and accepted. The next morning I resigned from the company I had spent almost 13 years with.

Hitting FIRE

After a year I had really hit my groove with the new company, and I got home to some shocking news. That morning at work, Alison redid the math on our portfolio and realized we had hit our FIRE number. She asked me if I wanted to retire immediately, and I said… no. That seems crazy to me now. I wanted to stick it out to finish my strategic plan, watch the little company really blossom and grow, and gather up more of that big beautiful salary. Alison retired the following April in 2018, and luckily I got a new boss that I detested so that motivated me to quit as well. I made sure I had the new strategic plan completely finished and ready to implement before I left. The hardest part was was not being attached to whether or not they ever use that very awesome strategic plan. I first resigned at the end of July 2018 and my last official day was finally September 4, 2018. FU money rocks!

That Brings Me to Today

The Bad News — My Mom Still Sucks

Our mom is still the same in terms of expecting other people to give her money. Our Grandma helped pay for our mom’s life until Grandma died in 2012. After Grandma died our aunt, mom’s older sister, stepped in and took over that role. She also moved our mom away from our home town and away from my little sister, which was a really big deal and an amazing gift to protect my little sister. Our aunt moved her sister to Sacramento and agreed to be the main point of contact handling whatever my mom needed. Our Aunt died only 4 years later in 2016. Our Aunt was an amazing person, the last mother figure my sister and I had. Losing her to cancer at age 67, only 3 years after she retired, was awful. So when our Aunt died my sister and I stepped in and started paying some of our mom’s bills. Mom is still in Sacramento in the apartment our Aunt found for her, and hopefully she’ll stay there. One of the main agreements between my sister and I is that we will never take our mom in to our own homes. To be clear, my mom was physically and emotionally abusive when my sister and I were kids. She’s still emotionally abusive if we are in contact with her, but at this point we are committed to not seeing her and we talk to her as little as possible.

The financial support roles we adopted for our mom in 2016 also created an opening for emotional issues that we really haven’t had to deal with since we were kids. Maybe we should have expected that but this whole situation is new and full of surprises. In 2018 my sister and I both had the realization that we were completely unprepared to have our mom back in our lives. We have realized all over again that our mom is so toxic that we should not be in contact with her in any way at all. That’s exactly why I had zero contact with my mom for over a decade at one point.

I spent one hour in my mom’s apartment in October of 2018, and then Alison and I spent two hours with her over lunch in June of 2019. That’s the most time I’ve spent with my mom in a single year in as long as I can remember, and because I have stayed away from her so much I had kind of forgotten how cruel she can be.

That’s my mom when I went to see her in June of 2019. I expect that was the last time I will ever see her in person.

My mom is 66 years old as I write this, and at this point she expects me and my sister to continue paying some of her bills and giving her money. My sister and I are doing our best together to figure out how to handle our mom, and it’s complicated. At this point we want to be good people and we choose to continue helping her, even if our mom is toxic and she was never interested in taking care of us.

So Alison and I have a line item in our monthly budget for my mom, and I wish that extra money was going to a worthy charity instead. Right now Alison and I pay 2 of my mom’s bills and my sister and her husband are doing something similar. From 2016 all the way until June of 2018 my mom was contacting me often and asking me to send her groceries, pay for her Uber rides, and pay for some other really frivolous things. My sister and I were both doing stuff like that. But starting in June when I last saw my mom I decided I don’t want to pay for those types of things anymore. In fact, that last visit with her in June was so depressing for me that I decided I don’t want to see her ever again. And I mean it this time.

For now, I have decided that I want to keep helping my mom with her bills. I want to be generous and charitable with her, even if she’s never loved or protected me. And I think that as long as I can stay separate from her emotionally and physically the financial gifts are the right thing to do. At the very least I don’t want to instigate any drama with my mom by ending the financial commitment I made. But I’m sure I will keep questioning that decision as well. Like I said, it’s complicated!

Right Now — the Good News

Alison and I both retired in 2018. Alison retired in April of 2018, and thanks to the introduction of a boss that I couldn’t respect I changed my plans to spend maybe 5 years or at least 3 years at my job and quit early on September 4, 2018. 

By the end of October in 2018 we gave away almost everything we owned and moved out of our condo so we could list it for sale. We also sold our car. We each kept 3 bags of clothes and took off to spend November and December of 2018 with family. We have been nomads ever since and spend most of our time outside of the US. Our budget, thanks to Alison, is very detailed and very tight. And sticking to our budget every month is a game we both enjoy playing. In 2019 we came back into the US for most of June and then again for 2 weeks in September. We had a great time digging through our spare bags in Arizona and California during each visit and that was actually even more fun than shopping for new stuff.

Our plan is to continue as nomadic renters traveling full-time for at least 5 years before we talk seriously about settling down again. Though we are certainly allowed to talk lightheartedly about all kinds of crazy ideas whenever we want, and we do that constantly because we enjoy it. We also decided we get to change our plan whenever we want for any reason. For 2019 we paid for global healthcare coverage through IMG and as I write this we are planning to renew the same plan again for 2020. We are also interested in medical tourism to save money on healthcare costs by avoiding insanely overpriced costs in America. And we generally don’t make any purchases that aren’t food or experiences. On that note, I’m currently wearing a Charlie’s Angels shirt that I’ve had since about 1988.

That’s me in one of my favorite shirts in September of 2019. I refuse to get rid of that shirt even if it is 30 years old now (*gasp).

I have made some good financial decisions and plenty of not so good financial decisions. I certainly didn’t have the perfect start financially, but I had Grandparents who loved me and taught me some good money lessons. I’m pretty sure I could have lived without at least some of my student loans and maybe all of them. At one point I had a used car loan that was definitely a mistake but the car was nothing special and at the time it seemed like the best way to make sure I could get to work. I also know now that my temporary obsession with the idea of creating passive income through real estate helped Alison and I decide to keep our 2 rental properties for years while they were costing us money and definitely not providing us with income. I also went through periods where I felt the urge to slip into lifestyle inflation because I wanted to keep up with our friends and I also wanted to prove to myself that I’m not a welfare kid anymore. And even with all of my financial mistakes, I kept learning and Alison and I kept making headway together towards financial independence.

Moving Forward

In our current life as nomads, I’m not anxiously clutching at every penny I have. In fact, on the last day in any location if we still have a pile of coins or bills left, we enjoy giving them away to local people. Don’t get me wrong, as we get close to leaving a country we make an effort to spend down our cash, we aren’t throwing tons of money away. But we always have a few bucks left in Ringgits or Baht or Yen or Euros or Pounds — and it’s fun to give it away when it’s time to leave. 

At this point in my life I don’t worry about whether we will have enough money. I’m very confident about our FIRE journey. I’m not afraid that people outside of the FIRE community will stop liking or respecting me because I decided to retire early. I’m also not afraid that people inside the FIRE community won’t like or accept me in this niche. Or at least I work hard at not worrying about those things. I don’t feel any urge to shop or own things, and the idea of personally owning luxurious possessions actually makes me a little uncomfortable. But I also don’t want to wear frugality like a badge of honor. I try not to judge other people, I’m just doing my best to enjoy my life with Alison by my side. I’m done with work for good I hope, and I never want to have a job again. Alison and I decided a long time ago that we are just us, we are not experts, and we won’t try to match or compete with anyone else. We follow our own path.

That’s me and Alison in Etretat France after a nice long walk along the chalk white cliffs in August 2019, having a blast!


  1. Congratulations to you and your sister for surviving and ultimately thriving despite your parents’ deplorable behavior. Glad you were blessed with your Grandparents and Aunt. Thanks for sharing your story so honestly, who knows, it may help someone else who has or is going through a similar situation. I enjoy reading your blog and getting both yours and Alison’s perspectives. Continued best wishes on your future travels.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, that’s a huge complement. Thank you. I’ve always wanted to be a writer so I’m really enjoying blogging. Though I’m still more comfortable as a reader and researcher and writing personal stories is uncomfortable. I’m also more interested in emotion and information and less interested in grammar so it will be interesting to see if blogging continues to be a good outlet for me! 😉


  2. That’s an amazing story. That’s a really mixed bag of adults in your life, and your grandparents sound like really wonderful people.

    As long as you can maintain distance from your mom, making sure she has some security does seem to be in line with what your grandparents/aunt wanted. Maybe you can settle any uncertainty you have by thinking of it as a loving tribute to them?

    I hope you and your sister are still as close as you were (it sounds like it) and that you get to see each other regularly even with your nomadic lifestyle!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the feedback, that is helpful! 

      I keep wondering if someone’s going to tell me I’m nuts for continuing to help my mom. But you are right, it’s partly a tribute to honor my grandparents and aunt who knew my mom when she was a sweet young kid and loved that person. And it just seems like the right thing to do in terms of being a generous person and also avoiding instigating any new drama with my mom.

      And yes my sister and I are very close. We text/chat every day. And Alison and I have spent about 3 weeks with my sister over our 2 trips back to the US this year. Over the past 15 years while I was working I usually only saw my sister for one long weekend each year or maybe 2 long weekends if we were lucky. And some years I didn’t see her at all. I’m so glad this new nomadic lifestyle is giving us so much more time with family compared to what we used to have while we were working!

      Thanks again for the comment, I really appreciate it!


  3. Dear Ali,

    What you and Alison are doing is assessing and living your values. What anyone one else thinks matters not. By continuing to provide support to your mother, you are honoring the wonderful person you are. You can choose to be decent and kind and still be self-protective. If, at some point, you decide to stop contributing to your mother’s upkeep, you should feel no shame about that. Your mother chose her path and you can leave her to it.
    Thanks for sharing. Know that you are loved for who you are.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Beth. I’m trying to remember that I just need to do my best every day, and tomorrow I can change my mind if that seems like the right thing to do. It’s complicated and yet it seems more simple today than it did just a week ago. Your feedback really helps!


  4. This is the first post i’ve ever read from you, and i have to say it was an amazing read. Very well done, and i am so impressed by you and your sister and your family in general for going through all of what you’ve been through and coming out of it as great and considerate people. you are truly an inspiration and it seems there’s alot to be learned from the way you look at the world. I hope you’ll have the best of times while travelling the world. Safe travels and take care!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Abbie, I really appreciate your encouragement! This is definitely an evolving situation but I think my sister and I have figured out how to take care of ourselves, and Alison and I have figured out how to fit this complex scenario with my mom into our lives. We all have come a long way in the last year. It will be interesting to see what curveballs life throws at us next. 😊


  5. This is such a powerful post – about the past, about enduring love, about living your values even when it’s painful. Thank you so much for sharing it. Having just found your blog, I can’t wait to read more!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Cath! We are still new to blogging and just figuring out how to share personal stories. It really helps a lot to get feedback. Your comment is greatly appreciated!! 😊


      • Thank you for sharing your story. It is inspiring and a great tribute to your grandparents and aunt.
        How you and your sister choose to take care of your mother’s basic needs, as you protect yourselves, is wonderful and a great example. I need to share this with my husband and his brothers as their Mom is a VERY toxic person.
        Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your inspiring story.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hi Ellie – thanks for the positive feedback!

          My sister and I were just talking today about how things are going and what the latest issues are with our mom. Holidays usually add an extra element of emotion and in our case remind us of more disappointing and hurtful memories. But we both feel surprisingly good about things right now, better than ever before actually, so hopefully that means our decisions about our mom are working well for us so far.

          It sounds like your husband’s mom has done some damage as well. I hope you guys have a plan to protect yourselves that your husband and his brothers are comfortable with.


    • That is fun to hear, thank you! I miss my grandparents and tons of things remind me of them. Remembering them is kind of like having anchors that remind me that I’m happy and safe 🥰


  6. I’m in tears as I write this. Thank you for this post, for sharing your life experiences, your persistence and guts are inspiring. I bet you’ve looked into some kind of legal trust for your mother so you can have less contact with her. I completely understand your gift to her comes with no expectations but you still need to protect yourself while honoring your grandparents unconditional love and heroism. Truly inspiring to understand what “enough” means in your life, what you truly value is how you are living each day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really appreciate your comment Karen. It’s incredibly reassuring for me to hear that the post was meaningful enough to you to bring out an emotional reaction like that, because I still cringe a little when I think about this story. And yes we have talked through the trust idea and a few other things that are still open possibilities for handling things with our mom, which we will keep reevaluating as things evolve. And I know how fortunate my sister and I are to have each other, and our amazing spouses. We are all sticking together and doing our best to protect and support each other!


  7. […] My money background. [All Options Considered] — “[My sister and I] didn’t learn anything about money directly from our parents. But in a sense we actually learned the most important lesson — how to set goals at an early age and work towards accomplishing them. I knew when I was tiny that I didn’t want to be anything like my parents when I grew up. My sister and I both wanted to be like our Grandma. As a little kid I decided I wanted to have a job so I could earn my own money and be self sufficient as quickly as possible.” […]

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey I really appreciate you sharing this post. Knowing that you read it and liked it enough to share it really means a lot to me. Thank you for taking the time to do that.


  8. I’m sniffing back tears right now and I blame you for that. 😉

    My heart just swelled reading about what your grandparents did for you, including making sure that if you weren’t in danger, you didn’t have to suffer the pain of watching your Grandpa deteriorate. That was also a gift because you loved him so much and he obviously loved you so much. I’m so glad that you had these family members trying to help you through to adulthood.

    Your experience sounds so familiar and maps to parts of my family. While my dad was present in my life, he was actually a con and my brother followed in his footsteps though he never really entered job life either. Mom was the one trying to hold everything together and we lost her very early in her 50s starting with dementia or Alzheimer’s and ending with heart failure. She deserved so much more and more quality time.

    I hear you 100% on the complication with supporting your mom. I supported my dad for many years thinking that it was the right thing to do. I didn’t know he had been conning me for my entire adult life, not until he outright stole nearly $20k from me. At that point I quietly started the process of cutting him off entirely and we went no contact nearly two years ago. That was the right decision to protect my family and I’m well aware that I’m still conflicted over what I’ll do when he declines. I don’t want to help him financially anymore, I have literally poured hundreds of thousands down the drain for him (paid his debts and life expenses for nearly 20 years), and yet I feel guilty that his sisters are still helping him financially because I won’t. I feel like I’m punishing the good people. But for now, I’m telling myself to respect their choice to support him because they’re adults and they get to make that choice.

    I definitely had a lot of people telling me I was wrong to support him when I was – it was simpler for them to see from the outside but also at the time, I truly did believe that he loved me. Boy, was I wrong.

    You can only make the choice that you feel is right for you and thankfully you have the distance / perspective as an adult to gauge ways to do that while protecting yourself. That’s where I seriously failed because he started bilking me when I was 17.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Wow thanks for sharing. Sounds like we have some experiences in common. I can understand how that would be tough with your dad and the concerns around helping or not helping him while his sisters are still helping him. My biggest fear was that my sister and I would not be on the same page about what we would do with our mom. If my sister and I had disagreed that would have been very difficult for me!!

      And then I remember that my Aunt was taking care of my mom (her sister) for a while after my Grandma died, and at the time I thought that made sense since they were sisters and my Aunt really knew her sister better than I ever would. After all my Aunt was able to remember a time when her little sister was a sweet and loving little girl. My only memories of that same person are of a very mean spirited woman who never has a kind word to say to anyone.

      You can look at your dad and his sisters and imagine how their relationship is based on their experiences growing up “on the same team” which is really different from your relationship with your dad. You are not punishing the good people. Those siblings need to decide for themselves what they will do with and for each other and that’s super different from your relationship with your dad.

      This chat with you reminds me that I really do not understand my mom at all. So I will just say congrats to you for creating boundaries with your dad! We can both be proud of the fact that we are protecting ourselves!


      • Oh wow, that’s an amazing insight.

        I had assumed, because my older aunt shared some particularly stinging memories of him scamming her, that meant their memories of him were similar to my memories of growing up with my sibling who is a WHOLE OTHER story (new blog post coming on THAT), but you’re right. They do have very different memories of him over a lifetime that I have zero access to or knowledge of. She might really have been sharing them with me in an awkward attempt to allay my intense shame over not KNOWING he was a scammer, showing me that even she had experienced his machinations as a grown adult.

        Cheers, to protecting ourselves and our chosen families!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you so much for sharing this story! Through reading this blog, I’ve come to respect and look up to you two as good role models. It’s clear you’ve seen your fair share of strife and I’m very glad you had amazing grandparents to help you and your sister through. Knowing how to handle the decision of assisting family members that have been less than kind is something that I also struggle with.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Right now we are talking about our end of year giving plan and about our budget for giving next year and I keep thinking about how much money I’m giving to an abusive mother who I don’t see or speak to anymore, and it’s hard to feel good about that. I wish I could move all of that money into our charity/scholarship budget. Complicated!

      It sounds like you have a complicated situation with giving to family members as well. Without knowing what you are dealing with I’ll just say I understand how tough these situations can be. I hope you are prioritizing your own wellbeing first. Also – a good FIRE friend of mine just told me to watch Hillbilly Elegy the other day and I’m so glad I did, so I’ll just put that out there to you as well in case that might be helpful for you. 🙂


      • Just watched Hillbilly Elegy a couple days back. Parts of it were about haunting and close to home. Even though there were some definitely messed up things about childhood, it could’ve been a lot worse.

        I am careful to take care of my needs after exiting the feeling invincible stage of life, but glad to have the option to help if necessary again. My primary focus is on how their current behavior is, since I wouldn’t want to be judged harshly for an ugly past and it seems like they are really trying towards a more positive future.

        Liked by 1 person

        • This is brilliant – “My primary focus is on how their current behavior is.” This is really good advice! Sounds like you are doing a really good job of taking care of yourself and moving forward, leaving your past in the past as much as possible. Good for you. 👏👏👏


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