To know where you’re going you have to know where you’ve come from.
I’m sure that’s a quote attributed to some famous person that may or may not have actually said such a thing. I believe that to write a blog with personal finance as one of the main topics it’s beneficial to start with a bit of a background since that background forms the person we become and many of our traits and beliefs later in life. While I don’t think that all of my money beliefs and practices are directly attributed to my upbringing there are certainly strong ties to the person I am today.
I spent my formative years between the mid-80s through the mid-90s in Southwestern Pennsylvania. If you’re up on your history in that part of the US, you know that the Pittsburgh area was known for coal and steel.
My childhood happened during a significant transition time in that area of the country. I remember as a young child passing by one of the still functioning steel mills where my grandfather worked. My town was located about 20 miles outside the big city and, like all of the other towns around it, was located on one of the three rivers that flow into and out of Pittsburgh. It was your every day, ordinary small town in America. It wasn’t an affluent town by any means. It was blue collar just like the people, but it was alive, active, and family friendly. We had a couple department stores near us including Montgomery Ward and Hills, we’d go and eat pizza at one of the local pizza places after a soccer game, and I remember getting excited about going to the movie rental store where we would rent VHS tapes that would come in plain brown cases with the name written on the outside of the case (Be Kind, Rewind).
Side note: In the last 20+ years since I moved away from my hometown the area has yet to fully recover from the job losses that occurred when the mines and mills closed. The stores closed, the restaurants closed, housing prices plummeted, and many towns have been hit hard by drug addiction. Even with all of that there are still plenty of resilient people that continue to live there and work to improve the area. Recently there has been some revival thanks to a natural gas mining boom, but many of the towns have a long way to go. It makes me appreciate just how lucky I was to have grown up in that area when I did.
I am lucky. I have two wonderful parents that have sacrificed for me since the day I was born to make sure that I had every advantage they could give me in life. Both my mom and dad worked full time in addition to raising my sister and me. They spent 40+ years as educators in public and private schools and have hundreds, if not thousands, of adults who benefited from the education they received from my parents.
My parents provided us with a modest single family home in a safe, family friendly neighborhood. We did not live an extravagant life by any means, but I realize now that compared to the millions of people that struggle living paycheck-to-paycheck that we were fortunate. My parents valued education over everything else and ensured that whether it was elementary school, middle school, high school, or college that we had the opportunity to learn, achieve, and succeed.
My parents never really talked to me about money or finances (at least not from what I remember) and I didn’t know enough to ask. I do remember, though, watching my dad pay bills and balance the checkbook every Saturday at the kitchen table. I don’t know this for sure but something tells me they made sure that they never bounced a check.
My family is also where I likely acquired my travel bug. From as early as I can remember, my parents made it a priority to take the family on a vacation each year. We visited destinations that were driveable (yes, even Orlando was considered driving distance to Pittsburgh) since flying was cost prohibitive. I have some of my fondest memories with my family from those vacations and it’s part of the reason I want to make sure I give my kids the same types of experiences as they grow up.
How did my hometown and my family impact the person I am today? Well if you ask me:
- Work Ethic – I have always had a strong work ethic that I attribute in part to growing up in the area I did and having parents that showed me what can come from working hard. Whether it was in school, during summer jobs on construction crews in high school, or the jobs I’ve held after college I have always pushed myself to work hard and never give up
- Frugal Nature – I admit it. I am frugal. I do not like spending money on typical consumer items. I don’t need or want the latest clothes, the latest electronics, the latest cars. OK, I kinda want the latest electronics sometimes, but I definitely do not need them. However, I am not cheap. I will purchase a pair of $150 dress shoes that will last me a couple years over 3 pairs of $50 dress shoes that look like $50 dress shoes and will breakdown in a few months. When I buy things I look for quality, which leads to a virtuous cycle of needing to buy less
- Prioritize Experiences – If there is one topic where my wife and I agree it is that we want to prioritize experiences for ourselves and our kids. Whether that is a weekend trip to Baltimore to check out the Inner Harbor and National Aquarium or a week long trip to Europe we specifically budget to travel. If there is one area where I let my frugal guard down a bit it is travel
- “Retire” Early – My parents are enjoying their retirement after almost 90 years of combined work between the two of them. Their hard work put me on a path where I’ve been able to save at a rate that, if all goes well, will allow me to exit the corporate world earlier than “normal”. I doubt I’ll ever be able to just sit around the house (my wife tells me I can’t even sit on the couch and watch an hour long show and she’s right), but I would love to get to the point where I can focus more on things that I enjoy and can produce (like this blog) while still prioritizing experiences with my family
As I dive into topics related to personal finance on this blog hopefully this background will give you some context into how I formed my belief system, my saving system, my budgeting system, and more.