How Did I Get Here? My Personal-Finance Origins.

I grew up in suburbia in a family of five. I guess we were middle class or upper middle class, depending on how you define it. My father was a smart guy who analyzed research in ways that I never understood then and probably don’t understand now. My mother stayed at home with the three kids. Through the time I was growing up, my parents never told me anything about our finances. But I’ve pieced it together over the years that our annual income was mostly in the $50,000-70,000 range.

My parents never taught me about personal finance. My dad seemed to care a lot about it though. One of the easiest ways to get into trouble in our house was to be speaking too loudly or otherwise making noise from the hours of 6:00-6:30, when he was trying to watch the financial news. But he never talked about those things with me or my siblings. My parents do seem to have saved enough for retirement—no small feat while raising three kids and helping them through expensive undergrad and grad schools. I think this came from them being pretty good savers—as well as my dad working until past age 70 before finally agreeing to retire. My parents did not appear to have any natural or special gift for investing or making money. My dad liked to pick individual stocks (and still does), and I don’t believe that he ever followed a specific plan or diversification. Like many, he rode the tech boom of the late 1990s up—and all the way down. My parents also made some small real-estate plays many years ago, long before the more recent booms and declines. These were in inexpensive areas of the country, far from major metropolitan areas, where we were living at those times. But none did all that much, even over the course of many years; and my parents did not enjoy being landlords.

Left to my own devices as far as personal finance goes, I went off to college and grad school. Believing far too strongly and naively in the idea that I would soon be making good money, I promptly ran up credit-card debt (on top of heavy student loans). It was not until several years after grad school (and a lot longer than I thought) that I got my credit-card debt under control. Around that time, I started paying more attention to my finances. I became a pretty good saver. But I still didn’t have a clue about investing. I wouldn’t say that I even started getting a clue until after my wife and I had our first child. Then I pretty much buckled down and focused enough to at least come up with a plan.

In thinking about our finances, I’ve often looked back and thought the all-too-common refrain of “If I knew then what I know now…” I’ve also found that I find it extremely important that we teach our kids about money—so that they can have a clue earlier than I did. Still, we’ve done okay. Better than okay.

Neither of us ever started a company that went IPO, won the lottery, or tried a get-rich-quick scheme that actually worked. (My wife does pretty well at charity raffles though, and we’ve walked away with prizes such as signed cookbooks and restaurant gift certificates.) But our net worth passed $1 million while I was still 34. Now that included the appreciation in our home. It was between one and two years later that our net worth went over $1 million, excluding the equity in our home.

On the same principle of “If I knew then…”, I’d like to share what I think I’ve learned—and hope that others will learn from what we seem to have done well and what we seem to have screwed up in reaching whatever success we’ve managed so far. I’ll also be chronicling our going-forward attempts and thinking about trying to reach our current financial goals. For me, that would be financial independence by, say, age 50-55. And sooner would sure be nice.


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