Variations on the path to financial success. Part 2.
There are times of need when we cannot do things alone, and the challenges that each person faces are unique. However, too often we underestimate our own potential. We accept the mediocre options offered to us by our tragically limited imaginations or resign ourselves too soon to an underwhelming, soul-sucking existence.
This is Part 2 of a series illustrating that financial success can come in many forms, and it does not always come from an easy path of privilege.
The value of an incomplete money story.
Michelle Jackson is a personal finance blogger at Michelle is Money Hungry. She describes herself as "unapologetically money hungry because being broke sucks." But, she doesn't focus on being greedy. Her aim is to make mindful decisions when it comes to her dollars (you can totally see why we're on board with what she's selling, right?).
When Michelle began blogging, she was depressed, overwhelmed, overweight, frightened, lonely, and deeply in debt. Before beginning her blog, she had just finished completing graduate school while supporting both herself and her mother through the economic downturn. Even after graduating, jobs were scarce. Both Michelle and her mother, who had worked hard all of her life, had difficulty finding work.
"Like most people, I was ill-equipped to handle this financial tsunami that threatened to drown me."
- Michelle Jackson
Debt accrued because she had to use credit cards for groceries. Bill collectors called, and people talked down to her about what she had to do to keep surviving. But Michelle didn't roll over and give up. She re-educated herself about money and worked hard to eliminate debt and change poor financial habits.
Michelle is only halfway to her goals, but just because her story is more modest than some (at this point) doesn't mean that she hasn't racked up some huge accomplishments.
Michelle has learned financial discipline and achieved some pretty major feats. She...
- Stopped shopping for a full year.
- Bought a car with cash (and learned how to drive as an adult).
- Stopped using credit.
- Dug in and learned a ton about personal finance.
- Reduced her monthly expenses by half.
- Quit her day job to take care of her health and mental well-being.
- Learned how to make money from side-hustling.
- Learned how freelancing works and used strategies to give herself a raise with each client.
- Paid ahead on many of her monthly bills.
Michelle might not be planning her early retirement part just yet, but she has conquered so much. In particular, she defeated the demon that plagues so many people who would like to improve themselves: Inaction.
Michelle recently had her personal finance story turned down by an editor because it wasn't sexy enough. This is what Michelle had to say:
I feel really proud of all of the financial progress (and financial moves) that I’ve made. Who was this person and organization to tell me that in order for my story to have value, that I should already be at the end of my story? Sorry, not sorry, I’m in the middle of my journey and like everything, my progress is accelerating.
This kind of drive and confidence is not a fluffy bunch of inspiration; it's allowed Michelle to start moving financial mountains.
From Small Town to Big Time:
The Teacher who decided to aim for Early Retirement.
Teacher Investor first caught my eye because people are quick to dis on the profession of teaching, especially when it comes to it's financial rewards. Teacher Investor (who we'll call "Teacher" as he adheres to the time-honored tradition of anonymous financial blogging) is also a parent and musician. He was raised in a low-income family in a REALLY small town (like "Population 1,000" small). Teacher's blue collar family placed no value on education, yet raised four boys who went on to find success.
The "one-stoplight" town of Teacher's youth was like many in rural America. No fast food restaurants, one grocery store, two gas stations (both closed on Sundays), a few local shops, and a high school that served as the center of practically everything. Like many other rural towns, it's entrepreneurial opportunities have been extremely limited since a WalMart went in 40 minutes away.
In fact, Some of the worst economic inequality is the United States is in rural America. Many of the country's more isolated places continue to experience vast economic decline, while the economies of coastal cities have bounced back.
Teacher knew more than the isolation of small town life. He had something that many rural-raised kids don't get... The ultimate blue-collar travel experience: a father who was a long haul truck driver.
"The thing that strikes me thinking back on this is it (the town) didn't feel quite that small to me in the 80s and 90s. That's probably because of my family's occupation for the most part -- trucking -- it got me out of town frequently. I spent almost all of my summer's riding along with my Dad (and relatives) across all parts of the country. NYC. LA. Dallas. Chicago. Miami. That exposure and diversity did a lot for me."
In rural America, Teacher saw that financial illiteracy was frequently road block to people's ambitions and achievements. While his parents didn't sock away a 65% savings rate, they did provide a stable and strong foundation for their growing boys. A secure home, regular routines, and family vacations were provided for on their modest income, even if things like investing, planning, education, and long-term security weren't a part of their mindset.
In addition to stability, this blue-collar upbringing taught something else: Absolute grit. Their 5th generation military family not only bounced back with strong will from every set back (with brothers ready to help each other up along the way), but they had service and discipline instilled from them at an early age.
Teacher was the first in his family to go to college. Creativity is what Teacher credits with helping him break through this barrier. Teacher was first recognized at a festival for his musical talent. A full-tuition scholarship soon followed. When Teacher got to college, he found that higher education filled a thirst activated in him by his love of learning and summers spent in distance cities.
Following his bachelor's degree and some time teaching school, fellowships allowed Teacher to achieve a graduate level education and explore some prestigious higher education posts, including administrative leadership. Now in his 40s, he has headed back into the classroom as a full professor.
Teacher has saved a lot of money along the way, but hasn't forgotten his rural roots and remains completely aware that we live in a country where only 4% of Americans born into poverty will make it into the middle class. Luckily, not all success is financial. Teacher is quick to acknowledge that his parents built something incredibly meaningful with what they had... A strong family:
"My Mom never completed high school. She left school one day. Got on a bus to Georgia. And married my Dad at Fort Benning before he shipped out to Korea for 3 years. Almost 60 years later, they're still happily married... That's happiness and success if you ask me!"
Looking for more non-traditional success stories?
We've got 'em... Read Part 1: Variations on the path to financial success here.