What I Learned About Money: Selling vegetables by the side of the road, dating someone financially compatible, and reaching peace with money
Interviewee Bio: University professor, male, mid-50s, highly visible and very successful in his field
-Set financial goals for yourself and figure out to achieve them (by setting a budget, investing, etc). Try your best to stick to your goals.
-Try to date someone who is financially compatible with you.
Question: Tell me about an experience you had with money that was notable to you. What did you learn from it?
Answer: There are five short stories that come to mind.
1. I grew up in a lower-to-middle class household (veering much more toward lower class) and my dad worked at the local bakery. This was in the 1960s, we lived in the midwest, and he was part of a union. At one point, the union went on strike and everyone was out for work, including my dad. He didn't work for nearly a year and this was very hard financially on our family. My dad is a quiet, shy man, and his self-esteem really took a massive nosedive.
My mom worked as a secretary and her meager salary helped to keep us afloat. We also went to the local food bank often, and my dad and I would sell corn by the side of the road. My dad would also walk door to door asking people if he could mow their lawns. I don't think he ever got hired to mow anyone's lawns but he did it anyway, mostly because he felt so bad about our situation and needed to feel productive.
I was under age 10 when this happened so I don't remember being scared or worried. I just remember being excited about all the free bread we were getting from the food bank. It wasn't until I was older that I mentally processed what really happened. Our insecurities with food ultimately influenced the career path I went into.
2. My first tenure track professor job was at an Ivy League school in the early 1990s. I joined a group called the Assistant Faculty Support Group (or something along those lines, I don't remember the exact name now). I taught in the business school and the other people in the group taught in other departments.
I had just bought a house and everyone began talking about how GREAT teaching in the business school must be, and how they all struggled with money.
Well, that made me mad. I made $50K / yr and even though the school offered loan assistance with the 20% down payment, it was still a struggle for me to pay the monthly mortgage bills. But I did it by giving up other perks. I barely traveled (and if I did, it was a car roadtrip!), I didn't go to expensive restaurants, I cooked a lot, I essentially worked hard at keeping my costs low. I took the old-fashioned route and stuck to a budget.
I just wanted to tell everyone else in the group, "I doubt I get paid that much substantially more than you do. But you need to learn how to budget, save money, and stop spending money you don't actaully have." A simple lesson, but you'd be surprised at how many people don't listen to it.
3. I once dated a female PhD student in the late 1990s. She began talking once about how much credit card debt she had (around $25K at the time). I asked her how she planned to pay it off. She said that once she got married, her husband would just take care of it.
I asked her how that was going to work. She said she just assumed that was what was going to happen. The lesson I learned from that was - When you date someone, make sure that you are on the same page about money. Needless to say, I did not marry her.
4. In the early 1980s before I started my PhD program, I spent a year working in the Small Business Administration. I had a friend there around my age and we spent time together outside of work. We both liked to run and had similar interests. He was just a very normal, nice guy. One time, he invited to have dinner at his parents' house. When I arrived, I was surprised to discover that his parents lived in pretty much a mansion and that they were very wealthy. Turns out, his dad was the then CEO of Bell & Howell. My friend said that he never told people about his wealth because he didn't want people treating him differently. They had done so before and it made him wary.
5. When I was in college, I worried about money. I worked part-time as an Amway door to door salesman. One time, I was talking to my mentor about money. He looked me in the eye and said, "Trust me, you will never worry about money. You will always be okay."
Very simple words, but it brought a feeling of peace that I had never experienced before. And he was right - I have always been okay.
What is this?
An anthropological look at how people think about money. Created and edited by Star Li.