June 9, 2000 was the day we arrived.
Mom, dad and little me left our little fishing village and flew across the ocean to America. It was my first time on a plane, my first time in a car lane and my first time seeing my mom cry. We left everything behind, although not without premeditation. They started the long, expensive, immigration process 10 years ago, right before I was born.
The first 6 months we lived in my aunt’s one-car garage in San Francisco. The three of us slept on an used mattress my dad found on the side of the road. I pretended to be sound asleep when I was really listening intently to their late-night conversations. One sentence, in particular, became the first concept of financial demise in an otherwise complacent childhood of financial ignorance.
“You know if one of us gets sick,” mom half-jested to dad, “it’s over. We crawl back to China with our tails in between our legs.”
My parents had no health insurance. San Francisco was a particularly expensive place for two supermarket stockroom workers in their late 40s. The three of us clung on to the razor’s edge for the next 12 years like that. You can play therapist and argue the plethora of ways it has affected me today. The effects of poverty has properties to PTSD 1 2. Poverty permanently impedes brain development 3. Imagine my enthusiasm as a neuropsyc major when I was sitting in the university lecture hall learning about that.
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Fast forward to present day and my hyper-frugality seems absurd now. I am working on it. The last thing I thought I was going to learn when I joined the personal finance community was how to expend money but here we are!
Three years ago, I recall spending 28 minutes sulking in a Safeway because I was tortured by the thought of having to buy an entire carton of milk when I just needed 3/4 of a cup for a recipe. I looked at the carton, looked at the price, walked around, thought about it, put it in my cart, walked around dazed, looked at it again, took it out of my cart and placed it back into the store refrigerator. I left the store empty-handed. This was my struggle with milk. Guess my mentality on anything else that required spending.
By pure monetary circumstances, I shouldn’t have to question a $1.99 carton of milk. But that was my financial illness. I was not financially healthy. Financial health is not just about controlling spending but it’s about becoming unafraid to when you become financially secure enough to do so.
Financial health matters because excessive anguish and fear over any financial matter should not be the makeup of life. Although one cannot undo 12 childhood years of perpetual financial fear, I am indeed trying. I even entertained the idea of a (guilt-free) cruise with my husband next year!
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