I was born into the US version of poverty. This means that I was a WIC baby, a SNAP child (before it was called SNAP), a DSS monitored preteen, a public-school teenager and a Pell Grant college student.
I have to give those qualifiers because “born into poverty” in some countries would mean crying my first tears in a shack, with no food, no water, no access to schooling, and no means for improvement.
Because I was born into the US version of poverty, there were no starter funds available for me when I set out on my own in the world. I was fortunate to merit enough scholarship money to complete undergrad at almost no cost, but my first residence — the down-payment, the mortgage, the utilities, the maintenance — was my responsibility from day one.
The Vanishing Paycheck
That means my first paycheck, though it was the most money I’d ever seen in my life, was spoken for before it ever arrived. I’m not alone in this. Perhaps you were (or still are) stuck in this financial mode as well. I felt great about making the money… don’t get me wrong… but it never belonged to me. I got to hold it for a few days. The same thing was true for paychecks I made for the next ten years.
There was always consumer debt to pay: for the residence I lived in, for the car I drove, for insurances.
While I have since made some provisions to ensure that my son does not have to start from this exact same position when he goes out into the world, I still have not amassed enough money to gift my son a down-payment for his first home. I simply have not been able to do that and secure his access to the best schooling possible.
The Education Benefit
I know good schooling leads to good employment, which leads to more money, which lessens the debt burden, so those costs were non-negotiable. I have made significant investments in his education including private school fees, tutoring programs, reading material and etc. In my mind, that too was an unavoidable revolving debt.
Now, the best way to ensure that I cut the US poverty link in my immediate family is to make sure that my son’s first year wages — in whatever field — can be saved and invested, not immediately owed. What’s the most expensive consumer debt in modern America? You know, I’m sure: it’s housing.
Understanding the Tiny Concept
I have purposely exposed my son to the family finances: the cost of the mortgage, what it cost me to develop the property and secure the loan, what it costs — minimum — to keep things running every thirty days, what it costs to drive the car I drive, what it costs to eat good, fresh food on a budget.
At the same time, I have shown him an alternative life that I did not understand at his age. This life includes the freedom of buying a used car cash and only having to pay liability insurance. It includes understanding the benefits of having solar and propane energy. It includes making the decision — ahead of time — not to waste money on fast food or expensive weekly dining at local restaurants. And, it ends with owning a home that is cheap enough to purchase outright or for very minimum monthly cost.
That’s right. I’ve exposed him to the brilliance of tiny homes.
Against the Grain
I recognize that telling my son to live minimally, on purpose, sounds defeatist to some. For so long in the Black community we have been taught to give our children everything we didn’t have, no matter what. But I am simply teaching my son what I hope to teach all of my children as they mature and get ready for college: the “what” matters!
Do you know what I want my son to have that I didn’t have? Freedom.
Tiny Living, Big Freedom
Instead of holding his pay for just a few moments every other Friday, he can effortlessly give to charities that mean the most to him. He can pad his 401K early. He can start his investment portfolio ten years earlier than I did. He can secure an emergency fund, a real one, with 6 months of costs set aside for emergencies. He can eat well without worrying about having enough money to pay for utilities.
Best of all, he can pack up his home when he’s ready and see the country in his free time. He would probably even have enough money to see more of the world than I can hope to see EVEN NOW because of my financial limitations.
Think About This
I’m already too old to reverse certain financial decisions I made when I set out on my own. There are certain debts that must be paid, certain assets that are not really assets, etc. However, I am just old and wise enough to help my son avoid the errors that have locked me (to some degree) into place.
Is it too late for you to trade in your debts for the greater freedom of a tinier, simpler life?
If it’s too late for you, is it too late for your kids?