Money Stories: Round 3b – Miel’s College Money Stories

We have certainly realized through the process of reviewing our individual and collective money stories, how many there are and what an impact they have.  We’ve already shared some of our initial money stories in Round 1 and Round 2, as well as Darcy’s stories in Round 3a, and now we have Round 3b for my own stories from college.

College Money Stories

  • My money lessons in college started very quickly.  I had spent the summer working at Crater Lake Lodge and didn’t have access to my mail while I was there (before the days of email).  I went off to Lewis & Clark College and started out my semester like most typical freshman. About a week after classes started I realized that there was actually a huge gap between what I was eligible for in loans and grants and what I owed.  I think it was around $10k.  I knew right away that this wasn’t an option.  I started to consider back up plans, did I go to a community college, find a job until I could enroll somewhere, etc.  Just after this news I got a call for an interview for the job I really wanted at College Outdoors, organizing and leading outdoor trips for fellow students.  I told the nice guy that I really appreciated the offer, but that it turned out that I didn’t have enough money to continue with school and would have to drop out.  The next thing I know, I have a call from Student Financial Aid Services.  My would be boss had been so inspired by my application (where I told him all about growing up on a commune and camping from the early days) that he called them to find out if there was something they could do to help someone like me stay at LC.  I was grateful but didn’t want to get my hopes up too much.  The first question they asked as if anything in my family’s financial situation had changed in the last year.  In fact my dad had fallen from a ladder while fixing the roof after our house had caught on fire and he hadn’t worked for the rest of the year.  This change, as well as whatever else they were able to came up with, meant that there was a $3,000 gap.  My maternal grandmother said she could help with a one time payment, but that I’d have to figure it out after that.  It was my ticket to ride, and I took it and ran.  
  • I promptly got two jobs, one at College Outdoors and the other taking pictures of kids at the mall, working about 35 hours a week, plus a commute to one of the jobs, and saved enough to pay for the next semester.  My grades suffered, but I learned how to manage the multiple jobs and got into a groove of working for a semester to pay for the next semester.
  • With the hours I worked I didn’t have much of a social life to speak of.  I had three roommates at the time (including one from Croatia – while the war was happening there- and the other from Germany). None of them worked and all got an allowance from their parents.  Occasionally they would complain that I had more money than them (which I had worked for and wasn’t at liberty to spend).
  • Later in college, after my grandparents had sold their piece of farm land, while they continued to live with a great depression mentality.  We would years later inherit what would in part become the Olivia Beach Camp Cabins (which will be a whole other story). I asked my paternal grandmother for help with my tuition.  Her response was that if I didn’t have money to pay for school then I should quit
  • My first year of doing my taxes I did a miscalculation, because I didn’t think it was feasible to get that much money back, and was delighted to find a hefty tax return when I got back from a trip to Europe (where I was looking forward to coming back with not much left).  It would turn out that I made more in that summer than I would for some time, since I has been working 60 hours a week at Crater Lake Lodge.
  • In my sophomore year of college I did a semester in Australia, and with the exchange rate as it was, it was a very frugal trip.  I definitely recall only the occasional beer to save money and count my pennies.  At the end of the semester I squeezed my pennies enough to go on a once in a lifetime ten day outback trip with a professor of ours.  It cost $1000 for 10 days ($1k of our pooled funds was spent on gas alone for the 5,000 kilometer trip through the outback).  It was worth every penny and I’m certain I didn’t miss out on anything else that I had to sacrifice for it.  I returned back from that trip with zero money and started saving back up for the next semester.
  • In my junior year of college I did a semester in Ecuador and recall having a $20 bill typically last a week or two.  I would stand in line at the cambios behind traditionally dressed peasant women who would lift up their skirts to reveal rolls of cash and I would diligently cash my $20 each week.  I felt equally good for both of us, happy to be living off of my $20 a week and happy for them to have money coming from their families.
  • At the end of my semester in Ecuador I traveled with a dear friend up to Colombia and then down through Peru and Bolivia.  We did the trip by land and logged 187 hours by bus, including five overnighters in the three week period.  We spent just under $200 for the three week trip.  We stayed in the cheapest places we could find, typically under $3.  I recall arriving tired into La Paz and searching for probably two hours to find a place we could afford.  We found a place with these amazingly comfortable looking beds, but the price was $20/night, so we had to move on.  Looking back part of me wishes I could splurge on myself back then, but back then I was equally proud to have stuck to our tight budget
  • After the semester in Ecuador I returned to Fiji for the summer.  I had fallen madly in love with a hot Fijian guy the summer before and traveled around the world to get my tropical fix.  The romance was short lived but the life lessons have stuck with me.  It was 1998 and I bought my first purchase on the internet, nervously hitting buy on a ticket to Fiji with most of the money I had at that time (I think around $800).  I left to Fiji with $300 in my pocket, for three months.  When I arrived in Fiji we went to purchase food to bring to the outer island of Waya Lailai.  Being my frugal self, I thought I would buy a bit and be on my way.  In the end I spent $100, on a huge bag of sugar, flour, tea, tinned milk, and other staples.  I was a bit nervous to spend that much of my money right off the bat, but figured it would last me through the summer.  In the end the good were pretty much used island style and within a week we were out of almost everything.  Darcy came to visit and we spent another $50 on a huge village party for our 21st Birthday, complete with luau style pig roast and incredible fish.  It was worth it.  When several weeks later the chief called a taboo on fishing, pickings were pretty slim.  We ate nothing but plain boiled kasava (a tasteless tuber) for 11 days straight.  It was my first time really being out there on my own, literally in the middle of the South Pacific, and my safety net was slim.  I managed to make it through, even if a few pounds lighter.
  • By my senior year it felt like I had mastered my finances.   I managed to get in as a Resident Assistant in the dorms, which in comparison to paying out of pocket for living expenses was a huge boon.  I recall being challenged with how expensive things were, not feeling like I could buy a magazine when I could have lived on that for a day.  Fellow students complained about dorm food and I couldn’t help but feel that they were spoiled and didn’t have a clue about how the rest of the world lived.  Needless to say I was pretty happy to have signed up for the Peace Corps and was headed off in the fall to live in Ghana for the next two years.  
  • I felt like I was doing pretty well financially and considered going back to Finland for a long overdue (and ironically still overdue) trip back to visit my host families and friends.  I penciled out the post graduation trip and was about ready to buy the ticket, but decided in the end to save my money.  A friend had planned to join me as well.  When I decided not to go, she decided she would go to Spain for a month instead.  Her parents were fine with her going to Finland with me, but weren’t too excited about her traveling alone to Spain (where she had been before in high school).  In the end they offered to pay my plane ticket and hotels, and I would pay for my living expenses, if I joined her in going to Spain.  This was of course an offer that I couldn’t say no to.  It was my first whiff of traveling on the dime of someone else, and I was hooked.   
  • I was initially going to do an internship in Washington, DC, since as an International Affairs major I always picked myself there (here).  I was all set to do it, but when I penciled out how much it would cost me to do the internship for the summer, I realized I was actually much better off heading back to Oregon and enjoying a summer not working for the first time in my life.  I enjoyed time with family and it was definitely worth it.
During my college years the main things that stand out for me is:

  1. You have to support yourself in this world
  2. Saving money can get you places in the world
  3. Working hard will get you where you want to be

I imagine exploring my current money stories will be most interesting of all, but it does help to reflect on what experiences have influenced my financial perspective.

Cheers,

Miel

~*~*~*~*~*~ Sustainable Family Finances The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Money Stories: Round 3a Darcy’s College Money Stories

First, I have to say that it is taking a commitment to both dredge up and draft all our money stories. There are way more than I ever realize, and reflecting on them I can see how they shaped my money habits and attitudes. We shared our childhood money memories in Round 1 and our coming of age stories in Round 2. Now it’s time to grow up and dig deep into the stories I’ve created in adulthood. 

All together, the stories are loooong, and we don’t expect you to real them all, but that’s not the point. The Lucky Bitch’s process of clearing money blocks is all about getting it all off your chest and then forgiving, especially yourself.

I started off by just writing the stories, and then went back and reflected about how these stories impact my life now.

Here goes Money Stories: Round 3a:

  • As mentioned already, Miel and I were more than ready to move away from the beautiful countryside of Southern Oregon. I was ready to use my graduation cash responsibly, but have some fun doing it.
  • Following in Miel’s footsteps, I was accepted as a Rotary Youth Exchange Student, and packed my bags for a school year in Denmark. Having graduated with honors and holding a ticket to Copenhagen made me feel like I had won the lottery.
  • During my first year abroad, I have several money stories:
    • I vividly remember depositing my traveler’s checks to set up my Den Danske Bank account. The small local branch was on the main street of the small village where I was living, and I could check the balance or get out cash on my way to/from the train station (I went to school in Kalundborg on the west side of the main island, less than a two hour train ride from Copenhagen).
    • Out of necessity I was pretty frugal with my money, but I was also very aware that the experiences could only happen once. So, I made a point of spending on concert tickets instead of clothes, and keenly budgeting my bar tab.
    • The Danes live very comfortably, but not extravagantly. Everything is beautiful and artful, but also very simple. I loved how hyggeligt (cozy) my host family’s homes felt, and now I try to emulate that sense of meaning and personal aesthetic into my our home. Even when I become rich, I know my home will still look very much the same as it does now.
    • My first host family lived the most modestly of my three families, and I was intrigued by the fact that they had a weekly cleaning service. I had never known anyone who had a “maid.” As a working Mom I see the value of paying for a cleaning service, and even though we’ve cut it out of our budget as I start my business, I’m eager to be able to afford this luxury again.
    • I was fascinated by Denmark’s socialized system of government, where literally everyone has a real safety net. I now volunteer through Rotary to deliver Meals on Wheels for home bound elders and prepare/serve homeless men meals at the Bud Clark Commons. I would vote for more taxes if it helped create a safety net that is absent in American society.
    • Danes know how to travel well, and they made it priority. It helps to be given at least five weeks of vacation annually, but it’s also a matter of cultural attitude. Instead of pushing “kids” to apply to college, most parents encourage them to work for a year or so and then travel until the money runs up. Then go to college (which you earn through good grades not a savings fund). My effort to save both money and time off for a few years in order to return to Denmark with my family shows how much I prioritize travel (If it had been up to Hubby, we would have gone camping and remodeled the bathroom instead).
    • I remember when I returned a year later that one of my families had bought a new car. I naturally asked them what was wrong with the old car and they couldn’t understand my question. We thought for a moment that it was a language issue, and then realized that it was cultural one. Where I was raised you would only ever buy a new car if something was wrong with the old one (not to mention that almost no one I knew had ever bought a new car, and anyone who did was deemed foolish for having paid too much). We’ve bought two brand cars, both through Costco’s car sales program deal that was so good at the time that it simply didn’t pencil out to buy a slightly used car instead. But I do remember feeling like I would be judged for buying new.
  • Before returning to the States, I went through the college application process. I had already researched and applied to schools during my senior year, so it was a matter of going through the process again. I was both passionate about pursuing a degree environmental science and to get as from home as possible (I applied to schools in Alaska, Southern California, Florida, and Maine). This time around Miel was already going to a private college, Lewis & Clark (which she’ll talk about in her stories). After a lot of soul searching, I decided that I really wanted to go to College of the Atlantic in Maine. The school was very small and prestigious, admitting less than a hundred students. I had been accepted, and was excited about living and learning in such a beautiful place. Yet, when I called my Mom to share the news she flatly refused, since Miel’s private school tuition had proven to be far too expensive (she’ll share the details). My Mom basically told me that I had no choice but to go to a state college, and since Oregon State University was the only school with an Environmental Science program, this was my default. I was pissed and utterly crushed. It felt like I was being robbed of my potential because my family couldn’t afford college and I couldn’t trust that even student loans would get me a degree. So, I dutifully enrolled at Oregon State for my freshman year, even though it was my last choice. (I had also given up a “full ride” scholarship for a year’s tuition at Umpqua Community College, but I couldn’t bear to live with my parents and drive 45 minutes each way for college). Of all the money stories, this is probably the biggest one to forgive. While I’ve tried not to be resentful of Miel for going to her top choice private college, it was really my parents and grandparents who I felt had let me down by not being willing/able to support my studies.
  • My Freshman year of college had a few money memories:
    • I remember watching a required video before signing the paperwork to take on student loans. While I took on the most debt for graduate school, I finished my education with $66k in college debt, plus interest.
    • Living in the dorm felt like highway robbery, especially the expensive cafeteria. So, when after just a few weeks of living there I was told by a soon-to-be Danish boyfriend that some Fulbright Scholars needed a fourth roommate, I quickly did the math and realized that I could save some real cash (enough to return to Denmark that June). I lived in a converted single car garage with ugly wood paneling, but I had more space and privacy. Plus, I enjoyed living with graduate students from Portugal, Columbia, and Canada.
    • This was my first year of buying groceries and cooking for myself. I rode my bike everywhere and didn’t own a car, so I typically went shopping with my roommates at some cheap grocery store on Sundays. I had never eaten prepackaged foods and was intrigued when my roommates bought Rice-a-roni. I discovered perogies from my Canadian friend. I learned how to eat on a budget and only ate out a couple times a week…as we do as a family now.
    • I had two part-time jobs my freshman year, I worked as a volleyball ref for the co-ed games at night and I worked as a tutor and learning center coordinator for an ESL program. Neither job earned me much money (They were subsidized through the financial aide system so the employer paid just a third of my wage, and the feds matched the rest). I took my responsibilities seriously and always showed up early and put in my full effort. I also felt proud that I managed to find jobs that actually put my skills to use and help me learn more on the job. It felt very satisfying to work through college. Sometimes I felt like I was trying to alleviate the guilt I felt about taking out college loans and was proving that I could get and hold a job. 
    • My freshman year was successful in many ways, but I felt awkward socially. OSU has a big Greek system, and I was/am the farthest from a sorority girl. I did my best to fit it (even ditched my tie-dyes and purple combat boots), but I was still a fish out of water. I was also desperately homesick for Denmark, and still dreamed in Danish. So, when I saw a poster in the library that said I could study in Copenhagen, I was overjoyed. It turned out that it meant that I would have to transfer to the University of Oregon, but I was more than game (especially since they had just started an Environmental Studies program).
    • As I thought about the option of moving to Eugene, I couldn’t help but think about the idea of living with my Father, Wally. I had actually never lived with him, but when we were starting high school he and his partner bought a small trailer to park outside his place so that we could have some private space when visiting. The trailer was tiny and had gotten run down though, so when my Mom found out that a friend was selling a travel trailer that she had lived in during her divorce, I was intrigued by the idea of saving rent money, especially since my year in Copenhagen was going to cost me much more.
  • I moved to Eugene for the remainder of college, enjoying another year in Denmark between. During my time in Eugene I didn’t own a car and road my bike everywhere. I remember people asking me how I could afford to go to Europe each summer and I showed them the math that if they either had once less pint at the pub or didn’t own a car that they could easily afford it. 
  • I remember having this conversation with my Father, Wally, who died with a passport application on his desk. Even on his meager income, he could have still traveled cheaply to Europe if he could have only believed it was possible and then had some discipline to save enough. Alas, he didn’t.
  • Speaking of Wally, I think my biggest money hang up comes from being told that I was “Just like Wally” by my mother. I was the spender, Miel was the saver. I earned what I felt I needed, but I wasn’t overly ambitious about money. After our babysitting gig ended, Miel was the first one to get a summer job. Then when I was preparing to head on exchange, she stockpiled a summer’s worth of cash from working long hours up at Crater Lake. Meanwhile, I got enough odd jobs to get by. I felt labeled even though in truth there was never any real basis for comparison, with either Wally or Miel. I am ready to be my own person and not compare myself to others, for better or worse.
  • Overall I feel like I did a pretty good job at managing my money through college…to support my travel bug. I saved enough in my freshman year to return Denmark for three weeks, then saved enough my sophomore year to travel to Fiji for three weeks (to meet Miel who had fallen madly in love with a hot Fijian on her way back from Australia and fantasized about him for a whole year before returning. I was equally glad that the courtship ended and that I experienced paradise). Then I promptly returned to Denmark for a full school year (so in total, I was in Denmark for six summers in row…not a bad run!) Between trips I remember visiting with our Grandmother, who was by then was a millionaire in net worth, but she had never traveled outside the country. She always wanted to travel to Europe, and we talked about going on a bus tour while I was living there. I remember feeling awkward as I gushed about all the amazing experiences I was having, feeling guilty and wondering what she thought of me. To my surprise, she said “I’ve learned one thing from you…I should have traveled when I was young enough!” By then she was in her mid-80s and not confident enough to leave her comforts of home.
  • And, yes, I realize now that I could have taken out fewer student loans, but I felt like taking out the standard amount and then saving/managing it well allowed me to really experience my college years, plus I really lived for travel in those years.
  • When I returned for my senior year of college, I was excited to return to my job at the UO Outdoor Program. I had met virtually all my friends there, and my identity was wrapped up in my work there (plus I had been promised the coveted position of Environmental Coordinator). It turned out that there was a glitch with my financial aide, and I wasn’t eligible for a work/study job (where the employer only needs to pay a third of your wage). So, for a moment I thought I was out of job. Yet, in my first year at the OP I had worked my ass off as a fundraiser and brought in lots of loot and funds to the program. Even though they could have hired three students for the same price as paying me, they decided to offer me the position anyway. I realized then that you create your own value and you need to show what you’re worth.
  • As college came close to an end, I started to think about what I really wanted to do with my life. I had decided during my freshman year that I wanted to go to graduate school, and set a goal of completing my Master’s before I had kids. I saw that my roommates were smart, but not necessarily any smarter than me, and that all it really took was commitment and a willingness to continue to learn. So, I researched schools, and decided to approach my Grandpa Ellis about helping pay tuition. I knew that he was in a position to afford it, if he chose to help. I remember coming up with a whole script/pitch and putting my whole heart on the line sharing my biggest dreams and desire to make the world a better place. But instead of getting out his checkbook, my Grandpa simply laughed and told me all the reasons why I didn’t need a college education to be successful. It was pretty darn crushing, and I decided to postpone graduate school until I had a few year’s of work experience. 
  • On the other hand, my Grandmother had always told us that we needed to get an education so in case we were to divorce (which is on the rise!) we’d be able to support our family. She felt badly that Grandpa had denied my request, yet, she obviously wasn’t the one who controlled the purse strings.
  • I’m not one to give up on my dreams, and once I decided to postpone further education, I set my sites on landing a job. I remember going to California to visit family for Christmas break, and they all asked me derisively “What are you going to do with an Environmental Studies/International Studies degree?” I bravely told them that I was going to find a non-profit job fighting climate change in Portland. They practically laughed, but by a week after graduation I had landed a job doing just that (after interviewing for two jobs in Seattle and two in Portland). It showed me that crazy dreams can come true, but that you need to know what you want and be bold enough to ask for it. On top of landing the job, I was really proud that I negotiated the same salary as the woman who had left the job who had earned her Master’s already (I argued that since it was already budgeted, there was no reason to pay me less for the same job).
  • I met “Hubby” just before Thanksgiving during my last year of college. Like everyone, our money stories began just after we met. I soon learned that he came from an upper middle class family, but was pretty broke himself. I remember treating him to a really nice Italian dinner for his 30th birthday. He couldn’t afford the $200 for a week long camping trip to Utah for spring break, which included gas and food. I didn’t want to go by myself, and would have felt bad to leave him in rainy Eugene (back then the NW rain got to him). After that he started calling me his Sugar Mama. 
  • I continued to happily bicycle everywhere through college, but in my last year I was offered my older sister’s car for free, so I decided to accept it. I only ended up driving it every few weeks, and after having to replace the muffler, I decided to give it up when I moved to Portland. Plus, Kevin had a car we could share. 

Wow, these money stories really do add up…next we’ll share Miel’s college and early adult stories…then we’ll return to my stories of money and marriage.

What did you experience and learn about money during college?
How did they shape your current money story?

Darcy

~*~*~*~*~*~ 
Sustainable Family Finances 
Growing abundance while living down-to-Earth

Money Stories: Round 2


While it felt good to get Round 1 of our Money Stories off my/our chest, it also felt like we have just begun to scratch the surface of all the stories we’ve experienced/created around money. Our stories continue with both small and big sagas, covering our childhood and adolescent period. (Again color coded: Our shared memories are in blueDarcy’s memories are in purple, and Miel’s are in pink.

  • We moved into the home where our parents still live when we were almost four (after a summer of living in a school bus parked at a friend’s place which we both don’t really remember). It was a four bedroom farm house from the 20s, with a huge shed tacked onto the side that had been a feed store and the main house had been a hardware/homegoods store with the family living upstairs. The only bathroom was a tiny tin roof shed where tree frogs found there way in to the shower each spring. Construction on the house began almost as soon as we moved in and has virtually never ended. Several of the construction projects took years to complete, and was always a subject of money discussions by our parents. There was never enough money to get it done, and there was always something new to be done. At times we grew frustrated by it too, even though it became the norm. In college, when I brought Kevin, my hubby-to-be, I felt really relieved that they had finally torn down the old bathroom (which then took a few years to finish). I realized how embarrassed I had always been when having new friends over to visit, feeling the need to explain that eventually we would remodel the whole house. When Miel visited back from Peace Corps, with her now husband James, she wished that she could say that the bathroom situation was temporary.  At that point the bathtub was actually a plastic kiddie pool with a drain in the bottom and a pcv pipe with shower curtains; this was in place for at least a couple of years.  The deck upstairs had no railing and a plastic tarp over it, even though it had been a work in progress for some time.  Miel very much hoped that James could love her despite where she had come from.
  • Our Mom owned the Food Farm property (the commune we grew up on) together with her first husband. Around age 7, he decided that he wanted to cash out. So, they sold the land. In the process, we were somewhat privy to price negotiation process. We went to Medford and stayed in a hotel overnight before tagging along with our parents to the meeting with the Realtor. They paid out the thousands in big stacks of cash, and our Dad carried the heavy bag out the door. We almost immediately bought a new used car, paid off the mortgage, and were no longer tight on money for several years. Selling the farm showed us how much money could suddenly provide.
  • With the cash, our parents decided to invest in silver. They bought a few big tubs of it. Miel remembers our Dad taking us to see where it was hidden and wanting us to know where it was in case anything ever happened to them (Not sure where it is now…). Our Dad felt that it was important to have a solid tangible investment, not one like stocks that you can’t see and feel.  It was also a lesson in socking away money now, or it will likely be spent otherwise. 
  • We felt like we were middle class, compared to others. We went on vacations, which very few classmates ever did. We stayed in relatively cheap hotels, but our Mom always made sure there was a pool, so it felt luxurious. We never went far, either the coast, Eugene, or Portland once we were in junior high and wanted to see the “big city.” Our longest vacations were two weeks to California to visit family. We went to Disneyland and Reno once, and a couple of times to Magic Mountain. These always felt like BIG trips, since very few of our classmates went on such adventures. I recall learning that dad had won (and lost) enough money in Reno for another day at Disneyland and was devastated that he didn’t stop while he was ahead.  
  • With our Mom working for the school (initially as a Kindergarten teacher, then a teacher’s aide, and eventually a Home Ec teacher), our summer budget was always pretty lean. We always had a budget, with enough for gas, fast food meals at places like Denny’s (which we never ate at except on road trips south), and maybe enough for a movie at the mall or a trip to a water park. It taught us to plan and prioritize our expenses.
  • On one trip to California, our Mom left her purse at Great Grandma’s on the way home. She first realized once we needed to gas up, and were obviously too far away to turn back. She got resourceful and traded a couple of quarts of oil to fill up the tank. Closer to home, we dug through the seats to find lost coins, and scrounged a few more dollars. I think we were given a few bucks from kind strangers. We felt pretty desperate though, being so far from home with no money. We were relieved to finally be home, and get Mom’s purse in the mail, even if it probably only had enough for gas money to get us home. It was embarrassing and a bit scary.
  • Once before we can remember, we were on a California road trip and our parents stopped at a diner. We were around three or four, and being our usual energetic/flirtatious selves and had apparently befriended an older couple sitting near us. We engaged them in conversation before our meal came, but our Dad was devastated when we got back out to the car and found a note that basically said that it was a shame that such smart beautiful girls were born into such a poor family. It crushed and pissed off our Dad, and was certainly an ingrained money story growing up. The moral was always that we had all the love and care we could ever want, even if we weren’t rich.
  • We started going to church in first grade, after we had met several kids and teachers during a free summer bible school. Our parents didn’t go to church, except our Mom would go for Easter and Christmas pageant or if we were had a reading and singing part. Even though he never went to church, our Dad wanted to make sure we came with an offering. So, nearly every Sunday we would go to him and ask for a dollar each for offering. Sometimes we would ask for a ride in the pouring rain, but usually we walked the half mile. Even thought our $1 offering wasn’t much, it taught us that it was important and felt like we were giving a ton (this was the 80s afterall).
  • One Christmas day our father, Wally, was scheduled to pick us up since our parents were heading to Vegas for Grammy’s 50th birthday. We were already kind of bummed to be traveling on a rainy Christmas day, and then we broke down (and this was not the first time we had been left stranded when a beater broke down or had to stop to get water out of ditches for the radiator). We had to wait for a few hours until our Grandpa Ellis was able to come pick us up in a big boat of a car. It was embarrassing and disappointing.
  • Christmas and Birthdays have their own money stories:
    • Aside from the festivities, we always looked forward to our chance to get new clothes and toys. Our parents tried to spoil us, but some years were better than others. For several years there was doll angst. First, we wanted a Barbie, which our Mom was philosophically opposed to. Then we wanted Cabbage Patch dolls, but our Mom gave us other dolls that resembled American Girls but weren’t nearly as expensive. By the time we finally got our Cabbage Patch dolls we were mostly over them, and Miel was disappointed to get one simply out of fairness since she really preferred a Care Bear by then (you can imagine that equality is a big thing for young twins). (The nice thing is that Makenna now plays with the Cabbage Patch dolls!) For birthdays we always felt very special, and our Mom would get us new swimsuits and summer clothes. She would host parties or do something to make us feel loved. We were taught to dream of nice gifts, but that sometimes you’d be disappointed.
    • We remember looking through the Sears catalog and wanting all sorts of things. Miel remembers wanting to buy our Mom some sexy red slippers. Among the pages of stuff, we remember feeling like much of it was beyond our means.
    • Our father Wally was pretty sporadic about gifts. But when he could, he would try to make it special. We remember when he gave us each $10 to spend at a toy store, which was exciting even if it didn’t buy much.  Wally was also famous for getting us gifts he wanted more for himself than for us, particularly eclectic music.  Miel got three 70s CDs that she could care less about for college graduation, being reminded that you can’t always get what you want, but be thankful for what you get. 
    • When we were eight our Mom started a gift exchange in our family, so that we would learn how to be generous and budget our money. Everyone was supposed to spend $20 on the gift. They’d take us to the mall a couple of times and we suddenly realized what things actually cost. The first year I remember really wanting a blanket at the mall where you could watch them weaving it. My Dad bought it for me, even though it was over $50. (It’s covered in humpback whales, and we now have it at the beach cabins). Our family gift exchange taught us how to be thoughtful about gifts and get value for a limited budget.
    • Our maternal grandmother was always very consistent. She’d give us matching clothes for Christmas (which in hindsight were pretty 80’s hideous) and for our birthday, she always gave us the dollar value for the year we were celebrating…she cut of the amount at $25, otherwise we’d be raking in $37 next month is she were still alive!
    • Wally’s parents didn’t seem to realize that gift giving was part of our culture. One year our Grandma went to the mall to buy a whole Christmas tree worth of ornaments (all matching with pink bows and roses that lit up), but there were still no presents. Once we each got a pair of argyle socks for Christmas, but most years we came to visit for dinner and didn’t even get cards for birthdays. The irony was that they were our most well-off relatives.
    • Our Grammy Mackie was always very generous. She would send us tons of clothes, whole wardrobes worth some years. She made us feel very fashionable, even if I don’t know how possible that was during the 80’s and early 90’s.
    • Compared to most of our classmates, we made off really well for the holidays. I remember feeling guilty that our best friend’s parents couldn’t afford to buy any gifts. In high school, we bought her several nice holiday outfits.
  • Clothes were always connected with wealth for us, and our Mom made it a priority to dress us well. Our Mom sewed most of our clothes that didn’t come from grandmas until we were in grade school. Around first grade we started to ask for store bought clothes, and she was quick to give up sewing for us. Sometimes we got hand-me-downs, and didn’t feel grateful but a little embarrassed. Yet, we had fun giving our clothes to a good family friend as hand-me-downs. As soon as we started to earn money, clothes was one of our biggest personal expenses. As adults clothes are medium priority, and we both buy in one fell swoop every so often than on a regular basis, but when we get frustrated by our clothes, it certainly brings up feelings of lack and the belief that we can’t afford the clothes that we truly want.
  • We started to earn money babysitting at age 10 and throughout Jr. High we had a regular babysitting gig taking care of two boys every Friday (we had a four day school week). We took care of them from when they were age two when we started, and we even helped potty train them. We earned about $10-15 per boy for the whole day (often 10-12 hours), and would occasionally get night time gigs for $20-25. While we earned every penny, cleaning houses while kids slept, and we still felt pretty flush and had lot more money than friends whose parents didn’t support them in earning extra cash (since we lived in the country, you couldn’t just get a job as a dishwasher). Our Mom’s teacher schedule meant that she was home when we were available to babysit and with her as our supervisor, parents were happy to drop off their kids. We are still grateful to our Mom.
  • Miel remembers finding out how much another friend’s Mom/parents earned, which was significantly more than ours, but how little they shared with her in comparison. Our parents may not have made much money, but they were still generous.
  • Our Mom also helped us learn about money by letting us earn cash through bi-weekly chores. She divided the house by rooms and gave us a list of tasks, and would rotate each time to make it fair. Then she would hide our earnings in places we needed to clean in order to earn it, like under the toaster. We weren’t always eager to clean the house, but we did appreciate that it was pay day. It taught us to earn our way and contribute to our household. 
  • Later in high school, Wally started paying support consistently (after Darcy wanted to go live with him, and Mom had the valid argument that he wasn’t even paying support). Mom decided to give us the $100 child support, and we began being responsible for paying for sports related expenses and clothes. This taught us that we were growing up and needed to learn how to manage our money.
  • Just before our senior year of high school, we were on a camping trip with friends when someone came up to us as we were playing sand volleyball to tell us that our “house had burned down.” In shock, we drove the two hours home thinking that the possessions we had with us might be all we had. It turned out that the volunteer fire fighters caught the fire early and were able to contain it to our parents bedroom (although the water damage drenched the down stairs, and everything smelled like smoke). Our Mom had been trained and served as a fire fighter when we were younger, and she knew that if you shut the doors that it would contain the fire. When we got home, we walked up the scorched stairwell to find that behind the charred doors that our bedrooms were just as we had left them. The house fire was still pretty devastating though. We camped out in the front yard for a week before heading to California while our Dad stayed back to clean up and assess the situation. Our parents owned the land, but couldn’t afford to rebuild. At one point we went to look at the option of a mobile home, which was frankly beyond our means. Eventually the insurance paid for some of the rebuilding, but we were in full construction mode our whole last year of living at home. We were glad to be able to rebuild, but it still pretty much sucked.  This taught us grief for material possessions is pointless and resiliency and non-attachment is best. By the time we graduated from high school we finally had drywall in our dining room for the first time, but reconstruction took on another life of its own and still took years to finish.
  • Without going into the whole big story, Miel and I were both Rotary International Youth Exchange Students. With working class parents, being introduced to Rotary was pretty eye-opening. I remember us being completely impressed that there were so many Paul Harris Fellows at the District Conference, who had each donated $1k. I remember feeling like that was a HUGE amount of money to give away, because while our Mom was generous in many ways, especially to kids, we don’t know if she ever wrote a check to a charitable cause while we lived at home. This taught us both that you can be generous with your time and energy, but also that it feels great to be able to support causes with cash.
  • The price tag for the full year abroad was $2,700. This included the flight, room/board, and a $100 monthly allowance…now I can see the bargain that it was. Yet, as a teenager, this was a huge lump sum. Our parents literally couldn’t afford to chip in, and so we were told that we needed to raise the money. To their credit, our parents were essential in the process of helping us fund raise (We gave away “free” coffee at an I-5 rest area for donations for a full weekend round the clock. My Mom made crafty bunnies for Easter to raffle off. Among other bids for cash…) This taught us that you have to be resourceful, that your community will support you, and that even big dreams are possible.
  • As Miel was living abroad in Europe for the first time, I took my first solo trip at age 16. When I had blown out my ACL as a freshman, I started making beaded necklaces. I made them for all of my friends, but then kids that I wasn’t very close with started asking me for necklaces too, so I started selling them at $5 a pop (some up to a whole $8). I made my first $100 in orders pretty quickly, and continued my enterprise. I saved the money well, and decided that I wanted to take a train trip to Colorado to see my Soul Sister (really pseudo-step sister). I budgeted a whole $300 for the trip, and ate bagels, cream cheese and fruit the whole way there and back. It taught me that travel is worth the savings/sacrifice. And that going to an all night rave is the best way to sleep through several states on a long train ride.
  • When we graduated from high school, we were seriously surprised that so many family and friends gave us cash. Something very close to a grand, which was the most cash I had ever had. We had already booked a train trip to Vancouver B.C. that our Mom bought for us that left the very next day after graduation (we were MORE than ready to leave home). We had an incredible six days in B.C. visiting friends and then feeling very grown up staying at a cheap hotel in Seattle near the Space Needle). Somehow I/we managed not to blow all the cash. I think the main reason was knowing that I would soon be flying to Denmark on exchange in another month. Thank you family and friends for supporting us in flying the coop!
  • While in Denmark, I was very responsible with my money. Since Miel had been on exchange to Finland already and was so savvy with money, I put a lot of her tips into practice. I didn’t buy any souvenirs, and only spent money on experiences. The few material items that I bought that year were things like new bras in Paris and a tight black top that helped me feel European (unlike the tie-dyes I packed with me!). Managing money made me feel like an adult, and I took to heart that I wanted to have experiences more than things. Travel more than stuff.
We realize that there are a lot of stories here, and that is the whole point of the exercise with Get Rich Lucky Bitch.  To finish off the series we’ll each post on our individual money stories as we’ve moved from college into adulthood.  You’ll likely see how our relationships with money have the same foundation, but have evolved over the years.

Thanks for reading and sharing!

Darcy&Miel
 
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Sustainable Family Finances
Growing abundance while living down-to-Earth

Money Stories: Round 1

 

I’m sooo thankful to have been turned on to Denise Duffield-Thomas a.k.a The Lucky Bitch. My Mama Bliss Coaching School teacher, Ms. Kathy, put it on her list of recommended reads for the course, and I couldn’t be more grateful. The book is both very simple and very profound. I’m only half way through, and I can already feel shifts.


So, one of the core exercises is writing out ALL of your negative money stories in order to clear out your subconscious self-sabotaging money habits. I did something similar a few years ago on paper, but there is something about typing that just helps my voice flow through my fingertips (Hubby loves to call me his “tip-tapper” because I type so loud when I get in a groove).

As a twin, I quickly realized that half of my stories are really “our” stories. It’s partly because we love telling stories, but our list of money stories is getting seriously long. So, we are going to break them down into a series of posts from early childhood, adolescence, early adulthood and married life. Our shared memories are in blue, Darcy’s memories are in purple, and Miel’s are in pink. Hopefully this will help you/us keep our stories straight!

Early Childhood Money Stories & Lessons: 

  • We were born into a wealth of love, but not money. Our parents were the definition of hippies. Our biological father, Wally, was a tree planter and our Mom was already a Mama of three adopted children (ages 15, 14 and 5 when Miel and I were born). Before getting pregnant our Mom had made some money by cooking for the crew of tree planters, and she was/is very crafty. So, she made ends meet creatively, but it was definitively a subsistence lifestyle. She also owned the hippie commune land, so she wasn’t end entirely a vagabond. They were living off the grid with NO utility bills, and had a grocery bill that averaged less than $100 a month. This taught us that you don’t NEED much money to be happy.
  • It’s always felt like a very crazy part of my/our life story, but when our Mom went to the hospital to deliver us, our older teenage adopted sister decided that it was time to fly the coop. She ran away, and quite literally stole all of our Mom’s savings from underneath her mattress. We didn’t hear from her until we were seven. The idea of our Mom being/becoming broke upon our birth has always felt a bit unthinkable. Thankfully, our Mom was gracious enough to forgive her for it, but it’s still a negative family history connected to money. This taught us to forgive too (plus being twins had hardwired us for trusting and forgiving).
  • By the time we were toddlers, our Mom was ready to leave our father when our Dad came into our lives. (I always love how he freely admits that he fell in love with us before he fell for our Mom). He was gifted mechanic, but worked odd jobs until we were about 7 or 8. He got a job at a auto shop in the town nearby. Yet, in high school (after our house caught on fire!), he shattered his ankle falling off a ladder and basically never went back to as a full time mechanic. This taught us that you need to work hard to pay the bills.
  • With our Mom leaving our Father, Wally, when we were so young, some of our first money memories was about child support. As a tree planter, Wally didn’t make much money and what he did earn was very seasonal. Yet, when our Mom made it clear to him that visits would be on her terms, he took her to court to seek regular visitation rights. Along with that privilege came the responsibility of child care. He paid the $100 for a few months, and then our Mom began a ledger to track his back child support. Her favorite saying was “You Can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip.” She had a lot of resentment and was pissed about paying more lawyer’s fees than she ever got back in child support. She was also pissed because Wally’s parents were wealthy, but never offered to help in any way. This taught us that sometimes life isn’t fair and as a woman you need to be able to support yourself.
  • At age four we moved from a cabin off the grid to a house across from the Days Creek School when we are almost four (living briefly in a bus for the summer). We liked to tell people that we lived in “The White House in D.C.” When we moved in our Great Grandma bought our first refrigerator, and gave our parents $100 for groceries, which felt like a lot of money. This made us aware of our lack of money and the kindness of generosity.
  • The house had been a three bedroom farm house on one side with an add-on for a feed store, and a shed bathroom tacked on the back. There was a gas station that had been been shuttered for decades with a shop where our Dad could work on cars. The house was being remodeled for most of our upbringing, which was often a point of frustration for our Mom and us. This taught us that money trumps desire and that you can’t always afford what you want.
  • We didn’t get a phone line until we were almost seven. Shortly after, we got our first used TV as a gift to Dad that Mom found at a bargain. We never had cable, and had a antenna to get ABC, NBC, and PBS. When we didn’t have a TV, I remember watching the news or knowing that their parents watched Cheers and Mash. Later, Mom got into watching Dallas like most housewives of that generation. This taught us that we didn’t have a typical upbringing.
  • Until early grade school our Father lived in a house truck, and even though it was pretty darn fun when we visited, I remember not wanting friends to know he lived such a nomadic lifestyle. I felt relieved when he rented his first place around age 8, and then loved the house he rented from age 9 until he past away three years ago. This taught us that being poor is embarrassing, and you need to keep your poverty a secret.

So, according to the Lucky Bitch, the power isn’t in writing down the story or even sharing it, or even in the lesson (positive or negative) that we learned. But writing down the story and feeling the emotions leads us to being ready to forgive. For each of these stories, we each read them and said, “I forgive you, I accept you, and I love you.

Everyone has money stories…have you released your money blocks?

Darcy and Miel

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Sustainable Family Finances 
Growing abundance while living down-to-Earth

Identical twins approach finances differently

The Ghanaian symbol for twins is q Siamese twin crocodile
and means “Unity in Diversity.”  

“Same, same. But different.”  

This is a saying that is heard often in Ghanaian pigeon English, referring to something being both the same and different at the same time. That would be how I would best describe my twin sister, Darcy, and my experiences and relationships with money.


While we are identical twins, how we manage and deal with money is more often than not pretty different. I guess it speaks to the nature versus nurture question. I think we’d both say it is hard to pinpoint where things went differently, but would both agree on the marked differences.


To understand our differences today it is helpful to look back at our earlier influences around money. We both thought that the penny candy mini-tootsie rolls and Jolly Ranchers at the only store in our small rural town was a smokin’ deal, even if our mom wasn’t thrilled with heaps of candy. But somewhere after that we started to diverge a bit.


Even in high school I would have been pegged as the saver and Darcy as the spender. Me, unwilling to part with money for cool environmental t-shirts or CDs. My sis couldn’t get enough of either. When I did spend money it was definitely saving up and then spending it all at once.


College was definitely a defining periods around money for both of us. I opted for a more expensive liberal arts school, Lewis & Clark College, that I could barely afford. Darcy went to Oregon state schools as well as a year in Denmark. We actually both came out of undergrad with pretty close to the same amount of student loans (thanks to grants and paying tuition through on my side and a year in Denmark on Darcy’s side). However, while we were in school, Darcy got money back from her financial aid package and lived relatively cheaply while I worked two jobs to pay for a more expensive education.


Saving to spend was a trend that I kept on through college, where I worked two jobs throughout and saved during one semester to pay for the next semester of tuition. What I had leftover would go towards travel, saving and saving and saving, and then traveling until I was down to the end of what I had. All to start over again. I definitely recall returning from more than one trip running on E.


While I could go on about our various differences, I think the thing that intrigues me most is that from the outside we look pretty similar. Even if you spent some time around us, the differences would be subtle at best. It reminds me of how our underlying feelings toward money manifest themselves in our day to day approaches towards money, even if we don’t take the time to think back as to how those developed.


We are in the process of reflecting on those experiences, and will be sharing our money stories in a series of posts.


Cheers,


Miel (and Darcy)


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Sustainable Family Finances 
Growing abundance while living down-to-Earth