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(Photo by Al Emmert)
This week we have: Bryan from Bucks and Cents!
And here is his contribution to MikedUp Blog’s Wins and Losses Series. Take it away, Bryan!
When I decided to sign up to write this post, I thought this would be a breeze
I thought I would sit down one afternoon have an iced tea and whip up a little snippet about getting cute dogs or maybe buying my first house and drop a couple links.
After I spent a full FIVE DAYS gathering my thoughts together on the topic, I realized that this post was going to take a lot more time, dedication, and thought.
Where you are at in your life will define what the happiest and best moments in your life are…and also the worst ones.
The two best moments of my life
Probably would be going to college (as the first one in my family to do so) and graduating with a Master of Public Administration. The other best moment would be when I received my first job offer to work in the Governor’s State Budget Office.
To me, both of these feats were a big deal because of where I had come from and my childhood.
Growing up in the City of Detroit was not the easiest place to be a kid
I grew up in an area that was an old polish neighborhood back in the 50’s. In the 90’s however, it was not.
I can remember as a kid we had two cars stolen from our driveway. One of the cars the police recovered, however, it had been burned badly. The back end of the car had melted. Money was tight, so my stepdad rebuilt what was left of the car with his brother who was a mechanic. I remember going around to junkyards looking for parts with them.
The car was never the same though. On a sunny day, you could still smell that post-fire smell that was somewhere lurking in the car upholstery. To this day, when I smell smoke, it sometimes puts a thought in my mind of that Cutlass Supreme and riding around in it as a kid.
I also have other memories from my childhood
One of waiting for my mom to get home and handing her the paycheck that would come in the mail from her job. She would literally get the check and drive straight to the bank to cash it so we would have money to get by.
My parents left that neighborhood, right before the housing crash. There were a lot of people who did not make it out before the crash. The value of houses plummeted, for example going from $70,000 for an 800-900 sqft bungalow to $5,000 at the lowest point.
So, what ended up happening was a lot of the people just left. One day you have a neighborhood, and then within a year, everyone just leaves and walks away. They leave their houses and you don’t ever see them again. No for sale signs, no moving trucks, they just leave and the neighborhood becomes instantly abandoned overnight.
With a bunch of vacant homes now around, squatters came in
Fast forward a decade later, a lot of the houses have been burned down or became crime scenes. I recently saw on my local news that a body was recovered in the basement of a now-abandoned house. I used to walk by this house all the time as it was only 10 houses from my childhood home.
It is a primitive surreal experience to live in an area of land that you can remember was once a thriving neighborhood with kids running around and grandparents visiting… And then several decades or a half a century later, it reverts back to the wildlife land it once was with tall native grasses growing with a few houses here and there mixed in. It is like time has gone backward, but not really.
Once I left there and went away to college, I never went back
Eighteen years later, I have only been back a handful of times because the crime there is so bad. It is not a place you want to visit or drive a nice car in. However, I did drive my kids by only once to see what my childhood home was like and so that they can appreciate everything that they have now.
I used that experience to help reinforce to them the need to save money at an early age. I wrote about that experience and raising my kids to be money savvy in a recent post.
I learned that my personal experiences about where and how I spent my childhood were a big driving factor and motivator for me to succeed. Those that personally know me today would not think that I grew up in an environment like this, but I did. I am grateful for it because of all the lessons I learned about working hard, getting good grades, going to college, and achieving something.
Two of the worst moments of my life
These would be living beyond my means and actually trying to determine what makes me happy in life.
After I started my career, I bought a house. I ended up marrying and moving into a better neighborhood, but I still kept my first house. Determined to give my kids a better childhood than what I had, I bought one of the nicest houses in one of the nicest suburbs in Metro Detroit.
The ironic part of all of this was that I was actually featured in a local newspaper about saving money and saving for retirement
So for me to spend a little bit of money to try and ensure that my kids would grow up in an area better than where my childhood was spent did not really go along with my savings goals.
For the next decade, I had a lot of challenges and financial struggles thrown at me. Michigan was basically in a decade-long recession. Housing prices lost half their value here and I now had 2 I was trying to cover expenses on. I had kids with medical conditions, a spouse who had medical conditions, and I was carrying all of the financial responsibility. You can read more about My Journey to Financial Freedom here.
I had one son who had routine febrile seizures for several years and another son who had a condition called cyclic vomiting syndrome where if he started to vomit, he was not able to stop unless treated at a hospital with IV fluids. Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome is virtually UNHEARD of, even by some doctors.
Some medical experts claim it is a migraine-variant, others say it’s a gastrointestinal issue, and some think mitochondrial DNA plays a role… But no one really knows what is the cause. There is no cure but it made normal routines like traveling or taking vacations more challenging because of the lurking question of what to do if a CVS episode occurs? Is there a hospital close by? Are their roads under construction? What about if we are on a plane?
I lived in this financial stress of working multiple jobs to cover all of these medical and household bills which took a significant toll on my health
I slept 5 hours a night at most. Whenever I would get a little bit ahead, I would fall even further behind financially. My mind, mentally, got used to this cyclic family dynamic routine where there was no escape. I never saw friends and I never went anywhere.
At the time, I couldn’t really see all that was going on because I was emersed in this ritual of household bills, medical bills, going to doctor appointments for all three members of the family, and juggling multiple jobs to try and pay for all of it.
While some of the issues were out of my control, there were a lot of factors that I DID have control over. And sadly, those choices were what contributed to me living beyond my means.
I was so focused on this lifestyle, keeping up with the Jones’, living beyond my means and paying for everything, that I never had time to enjoy life for the last decade and a half
I had an 800sqft patio and in 8 years, I only sat out on it a handful of times to watch the sunset or to see my kids play in the yard.
I struggled with deep, personal questions such as “what makes me happy” which ultimately led to one of the worst moments of my life… Because I really did not know the answer. I realized I went through half of my life and I had no clue what I truly enjoyed in life.
I finally reached a point that I did not want to live this way anymore and I made significant changes
I sold my $300,000 house and moved to a condo that was about 10% the cost of my former house (yes: $33,000). I eliminated a ton of bills and expenses such as house upkeep and maintenance. That alone saved me hundreds of dollars a month. Weed and Feed isn’t cheap.
I created new household budgets to track and manage my updated expenses. Once I completed that task, I had an overall reduction of my expenses in the amount of $3,000 per month!
Since I had not been contributing to my retirement at all during this time, I decided I wanted to start saving for retirement again
I created Bucks and Cents www.bucksandcents.com as a way for me to track and document my retirement savings in the hopes of motivating others to save for retirement. On average I am now contributing over $2,000 a month into my retirement accounts. If you’d like to track my progress or pick up a few tips for yourself, I’d love it if you’d check out my site!
Life Lessons Learned
There are many lessons you can pull from my personal story.
Some include: “Working hard and staying out of trouble is eventually rewarded with success”.
Another would be: “Do whatever you have to do so your kids grow up in a better environment than you did”.
The most important lesson I learned from all of this was because I was so focused on giving my kids what I didn’t have, I gave up who I really was as a person
I was not able to enjoy the little moments in life. I claimed self-sacrifice in the name of my kids as my top priority.
Today, I am still trying to figure out what “true happiness” is
It’s not the instant gratification of a big house with a deep green manicured lawn. This much I do know. Now that I don’t have the financial stresses of daily living and I found a way to free myself financially, I am taking more time for myself.
While it is important to save money and be financially secure in your life, it’s not everything in life.
It does not equal a complete life. Having money and being wealthy may be a form of success, but it does not measure happiness. There is a medium somewhere that is different for each of us. And ultimately, we need to decide for ourselves exactly what true happiness is in addition to what constitutes a complete life.
One of the most important lessons in life is to set your goals in life based on what you value. Then, by following through toward those unique goals, you’ll truly be able to have a complete life.
And that is the lesson I am now teaching my kids.
I love the real and honest posts our guests have been contributing to this series, and Bryan is no exception. Have you dealt with similar situations? And if so, what have you done to get through or handle them better? And advice you have for Bryan? Let us know in the comments so we can continue moving forward together!
Thanks for reading!