We live in a very nice neighborhood in a very nice community. Unlike other fancier and richer subdivisions, most of us here have had to work hard building what we have and therefore appreciate it more. Entitlement syndrome is pretty rare here as it’s hard to feel entitled when you’ve never had anything to begin with.
We hosted a campfire at our house this weekend with two other neighborhood families attending. We’ve known them since we moved here a couple of years ago, have kids (eight total were running around playing Ghost in the Graveyard and flashlight tag) the same age as ours and are of the similar socio-economic make-up. But we never really heard their story and were surprised to find a lot of similarities to our own. Someone asked “Who here’s had to eat government cheese?” and most raised their hands. One grew up the son of a pig farmer shoveling shit in a rural small town. Another’s dad supported five kids and a SAHM on a factory worker’s salary (not a big one like in Detroit in the day, but a small one that allowed sustenance but not much else). I lived in a trailer the first couple years of my life until my folks scraped up enough to buy a humble ranch on a busy highway. Holly’s parents’ divorce wrecked economic havoc for her as her mom wasted the divorce settlement. They bounced from apartment to apartment and she was forced to wear the same clothes multiple times a week to school because they couldn’t afford new ones. The kiss of death for a teenager.
For whatever reason the collective group has all been able to fight this force and build successful lives, unlike other brothers and sisters or cousins of ours from similar backgrounds. Holly and I are still in wonder that we live in such a great location and our house is as nice as it is. For those keeping score, it’s a comfortable, not too big 2,500 SF. It may not be that large compared to other homes here, but is way, way bigger than the house I grew up in and way, way nicer than the starter, foreclosed house we bought when Holly and I were just starting out. Our campfire friends also expressed the same astonishment upon purchase of their homes, not believing they deserved them either.
In our cases, these humble beginnings have lead to all of us having fiscal responsibility. Getting into actual money discussions (Wow! Doesn’t happen that often as it’s often a taboo subject among friends), we were happy to see that our friends practiced the same habits as us. No credit card debt. Driving paid off cars. Only real debt is mortgage. Using their owned business to maximize tax implications and protect assets. Maximizing savings vehicles. Pay cash or don’t buy it.
Our own children are growing up in an era of prosperity and privilege that none of us have seen until adulthood. We discussed what we could do as parents to feed humbleness and a strong work ethic when many of their classmates are entitled. It’s not like we have a family farm or the family salt mines to have them help out with. We all require chores, and do our best to encourage hard work over utilizing their natural talents and abilities and provide equal parts discipline and encouragement. As a group, we are teaching them about the value of money, letting them use their own allowance money to spend as they see fit, but encouraging them to save. For my family, Birdsnest has taken this to heart at eight years old. Since she opened up her savings account this winter, she has socked away $55 in it already from allowance and grandparent money for V-day and other random $5 events. We’ve also talked about owning companies (stock) and she wants to save up to own a piece of the Disney Company so she can tell her friend she “owns” Disney.
Life’s hard knocks are important to grow up to appreciate what life has to offer and not take it for granted. My neighbors, my wife and I all have fought against gravity to release into orbit. Our humble beginnings made us who we are today, and while it is impossible to replicate, we tell our kids all sorts of stories as well as reinforce our position in life with appreciation to instill these values in them as well. While it’s much to early to tell, our two are really great kids who have always listened and behaved very well. We are very thankful for what we have and will continue to be that way. Your lot in life isn’t predetermined by your birthstock and you make it what it is with the decisions you make. Hopefully you feel appreciative in that same way, regardless of where you came from.
Other people had humble beginnings as well, even doctors: