Did you notice the tense I used? I used “is” not “was” because my journey is ever evolving and I am not “there” yet. I do not know where or what “there” is and that is ok. Life has taught me it is perfectly acceptable not to have all the answers. Honestly, it’s not even realistic. I cannot say where it will end but I can tell you how it started.
My mother instilled in me throughout my childhood the difference between a “want” and a “need”. Like a typical child I wanted EVERYTHING! It didn’t matter if I already had one or two, I want this one. My mother defined a “need” as something that was essential. Some “needs” were toiletries, food, housing, utilities, clothing, school supplies, shoes, etc. Examples of things I wanted were new toys, journals, purses, manicures, and pedicures.
When I would ask my mother for something, she would ask me, “is it a want or a need?” My mother always covered my needs and most times she covered my wants. I learned early on I would have to find ways to finance the things I wanted. Completing chores around the home for an allowance was not an option because Homie, my mom, didn’t play that! My mom had the Julius mindset from Everybody hates Chris. She allowed me to live in her house, she allowed me to eat her food, etc.
My great-aunt lived around the corner. Every week she would invite me to walk to our neighborhood stores. She would give me money to buy things I wanted. Somehow, I never spent that money but still came back with something whether it be a purse, jewelry, or journal.
I used to wake up early some Saturday mornings to work with my grandpa. My grandpa was an engineer for Chicago Public Schools and a maintenance man for a landlord. Work always included breakfast, working for a few hours, going shopping, and getting paid. Work ranged from plowing snow on cold winter days, tiling floors, to snaking bathtubs.
I worked two part-time jobs while in high school. One was a program through my high school. The other was a client of my father. It was a running joke in my family I always had money.
I worked part-time my sophomore through senior year in college. I wasted 10 refund checks! TEN! I try not to think about the missed investment opportunities like Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple from 2009 through 2013. I worked every summer while in college. Although I had the ability to get money I could never hold onto it and was incredibly irresponsible with it.
Eventually that turned into a dependency on money. I didn’t learn I was dependent on money until it was too late. I had what I would describe as a wilderness experience when I made a decision to go to law school over eleven hours away from my hometown. I was isolated from everyone I knew and I was miserable. I knew after mid-terms my first semester law school was not for me. There was a time I didn’t have the money to pay my light bill, I had to borrow money for groceries, and had no savings.
My refund checks had run out because I withdrew my second semester and I was making less than $9/hr working retail part-time. When I finally secured a full-time job with a State agency over ten hours away I had about $300 saved. I packed everything that could fit in my car and gave everything else away. Instead of using the money I saved to pay for gas I maxed out my retail credit card to buy gas cards the day before my trip. Upon leaving and driving down the road something beneath my hood snapped and I was barely able to steer my car. When I finally pulled over, I looked under the hood and saw my alternator belt was off. One tow truck, repair shop, and invoice for a new alternator and power steering belt later and I had less than $4 to my name. I cried some real tears that day.
I prayed so hard the day I left. My route to my destination included three toll roads, they were $3 each. It was a Whitney Houston moment, “I have nothing, nothing, NOTHING…”. Little did I realize I had everything because God was with me. The toll booth people gave me three pretty little papers instructing me to pay at least $10 for each paper by X amount of days. I couldn’t afford another thing to go wrong. Guess who managed to get pulled over and get a ticket.
Eventually, I started my job with the State. More money did not equate to me becoming more fiscally responsible. I had the same problems. I could hold onto money for a certain amount of time then poof, it was gone. One of the problems was trying to save money without having a budget. It wasn’t until I discovered Dream Catchers: Live Richer in 2016 that I developed a financial foundation.
Present day, I ask myself the same question my mom asked growing up before I make purchases. Is it a want or a need? My favorite part of shopping is putting things in my virtual shopping cart and closing the browser. Oftentimes, I walk out of stores empty handed because all of my needs are met.