Updated on 08.26.14

Remembering A Painful Childhood Experience

Trent Hamm

And Trying To Apply What It Means

I was recently working on a self-evaluation exercise in which I was asked to consider memories from my childhood that had to do with money. These memories would then be used as a reflection on which to see my own personal finance biases today – and thus the connection would enable me to strengthen my personal finance skills. Most of my memories revolve around poverty, but one memory came up, one that was so powerful that as I was retelling it, it caused me to actually begin to cry.

I’m sharing this story with you now, because it is a very clear example of how events from childhood can affect our actions in adulthood.

I was raised in pretty intense poverty. My family often didn’t have enough money to make ends meet, though there was always food on the table. We lived in a small house that needed a lot of maintenance work. In short, things were often tough.

At one end of my parents’ property, there was an old abandoned train line, and just off of that was an old box car. We used it for storage and would paint it on occasion; the children would often use it as a play room. It was just barely out of direct line of sight from the house. It was old and rusty and not in the best shape, but few things remind me of “home” more than the sight of it.

One year, when I was about nine or ten, I decided I wanted to save up for something fabulously expensive. I don’t recall exactly what it was that I wanted so badly; in fact, I’m fairly sure that what I was saving for changed over time. What was important, though, is that I didn’t have an allowance of any sort. I asked my parents if they had any ideas on how I could save up the $300 that I wanted to save up; their only suggestion was to save aluminum cans and sell them. They estimated I would need more than a thousand pounds of cans to do this.

So that’s just what I did. I started collecting all of the cans that we used at home and, when I saw how slowly they were building up, I came up with arrangements with our neighbors to collect their cans as well once a week. I would go to their house and empty their can bins for them; in return, they had less trash to deal with. Virtually all of them were glad to do it.

With a small amount of money I received for my birthday, I purchased a manual aluminum can crusher because the local buyer would pay $0.02 more per pound for crushed cans versus uncrushed ones. I diligently crushed all of the cans I would collect and fill up giant plastic bags with them (another expense that I covered using my birthday money). I began to save the accumulating bags of cans in the box car.

Every day, I would crush all of the uncrushed cans on our property, and every week, I would go on my “can collecting route,” getting cans from neighbors and crushing them. This went on for more than a year as the boxcar slowly began to fill with bags of cans.

One summer day, my father came home from work and announced that the price of aluminum was “sky high” – the local buyer was paying more than $0.50 per pound. We did the math and even with a low estimate of the can weight, we were getting numbers in the range of $400. It was time to sell them, and we decided to do it that Saturday.

At that point, I flew into a fury of can collection madness. I walked along roadsides collecting cans, I checked the neighbors’ bins every day, and I made sure every single can was crushed.

Around this time, one of my cousins stopped by to say hello to my father. I had a generally pleasant relationship with him, but he was about twenty five and I was ten, so it was just cordial. He asked me what I was up to and I told him that I was crushing cans and I was about to sell them because the price was high. While he was there, I carried a big bag of cans out to the box car and he peeked inside and saw all of the cans.

If you’re not getting a bit of a sick feeling in your stomach reading this, you should be.

Saturday morning dawns, and I’m bouncing off the walls, ready to go to the metal salesman and sell my cans. I was planning on buying a really, really nice baseball glove, four games for my Nintendo, and putting the remainder into my savings account for a car or for college. All of my work for an entire year was about to finally pay off. To put this in perspective, I was estimating about $400 to $450 worth of cans here and to that point in my life I had never actually seen a hundred dollar bill. I was going to cash the check and actually receive a couple of these and hold them in my hand.

My father woke up and estimated that it would take five pickup truck loads to haul all of the cans to the dealer, so we got started immediately. I ran to the box car while he backed the truck up to it to unload the cans. I tossed open the door, looked inside…

And there was not an aluminum can to be found.

My father and I both stood there in what amounted to shock. When the finality of what had happened finally began to click with me, I just walked back to the house, went up to my bedroom, closed the door, and sat on the bed alone for a while. My father didn’t come up to see how I was doing, but when my mother came home from the grocery store, I could hear him in a rage downstairs, sounding as though he was literally ready to kill the person who could do such a thing to a child.

It wasn’t long before the culprit was exposed. That afternoon, my father got an interesting call from an old friend of his: my cousin, the one who had seen my cans just a few days before, showed up out of the blue at the friend’s house with $300 in cash and bought a used motorcycle that the fellow was trying to sell. In the end, though, it didn’t really make any difference; my cousin actually admitted to taking the cans, but said he would deny it to the police and there was no “proof.”

In short, I lost a year’s worth of work and more money than I could even imagine because of the thievery of someone in my own family. That individual was so full of cowardice that he stole a year’s worth of work from a child to buy himself a toy.

Looking back at my behavior since then, it’s clear to me how much this event impacted my thinking about personal finance. My biggest fear is a lack of safety. I often don’t feel safe with anything that I own. I am particularly paranoid about my own life insurance and my desire to have a very large emergency fund. And I often spend frivolously because I feel a sense of safety knowing that I actually can spend money and buy things. These actions seem contradictory, but they all have the same root cause: I yearn for the safety and security that was violated when I was just a little kid.

The second thing I learned is that this event caused me to not trust anyone, particularly when it comes to money. Because of this one act by an individual who wanted a motorcycle to play around with, I grew up with an inability to trust anyone with money. I started to keep any money I had in very well hidden spots and I wouldn’t trust anyone with it. For the longest time, I was even afraid to put money into bank accounts because I knew that when you put something valuable in a place, even if you think it’s safe, it’s not really safe. It’s still a challenge for me to make deposits into savings accounts or money market accounts, even to this day.

I had shut this memory out of my mind for many years, not wanting to remember that day I opened up the box car doors and saw that all of my aluminum cans are gone. Remembering it now has made me stronger.

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  1. mabolam says:

    great story. Is this for real?

  2. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Sadly, it is entirely true.

  3. Ryan M says:

    When I saw the title I immediately started thinking I would be able to relate. It is sickening and sad and well it seems you did somehow get something good out of the experience.

    I had a similar experience but I was saving money from mowing lawns. I was in high school and kept my money in a red pepsi wallet in my room. It got to the amount of 300+ dollars.

    One day a “friend” came over and I was not home and my mom sent him up to my room to look for me. When I went up later I could not find that wallet. That “friend” and I had our troubles before and this is what ended our friendship permenantly.

    I later got into a “fight” with him and well lets just say that that led to some trouble.

    I can happily say now that I am a aspiring frugal person and although I have a good amount of money for being a college student I have learned from it and I save money as much as I can to the shagrin of my friends who like to spend theirs.

  4. Amy says:

    Oh my gosh! This just broke my heart. I just can’t imagine someone doing that to a child and how that must have impacted you.

    I long for safety too, but could not compare it to your situation. Someone in my family, whom I love dearly, made repeatedly bad financial moves that impacted our family greatly. We lived hand to mouth for most of my childhood. The thing bothered me more than anything was the blame that was placed on us instead of admitting bad financial moves. If you said you wanted something, they would take things away from you as punishment for being “greedy.”

    Fortunately, witnessing such bad financial moves made a positive thing in my life as I am overly careful with my money. The downfall for me is giving because I am always worried we won’t have enough.

    Amazing how much things like this change us as adults.

  5. Back when I was a young teenager, I too thought pop & beer cans would be my financial stipend in the recess months when school was out for summer. In the Town Barns where they parked the snowplows, sand-dumpers and other winter equipment (these ‘barns’ were open-faced sheds along a little-used public dirt road, often walked by students between the school and stores in town), I noticed hundreds upon hundreds of empty cans, just languishing away in the tall grass that grew in there. Walkers-by drinking a soda (and presumably, beer was drunk there later at night by those wishing to conceal their activity) would often leave their litter in the vacuous open-face sheds.
    Thinking that I could recycle all of these at a local wrecking yard which often took the copper wire & copper piping I scavenged from dumps and discarded trash, I took to gathering these cans in trash bags and bringing them home on my bike, -a 6-mile trip each way. For weeks I did this, almost daily, -I had several unused sections of my father’s cow barn waist deep in cans (unbeknownst to him, of course)! It wasn’t until I started really examining the cans that I realized that about 80 or 90% of them weren’t ‘all aluminum’… you see, -back in the early-to-mid 70s, most soda & beer cans were STEEL-sided with aluminum tops. -Not really worth the bother to recycle, apparently. I couldn’t sell them at the yard, -they didn’t want them. They’d take the aluminum cans though. I think I had maybe $10.oo worth of these, in the end.
    I just lost interest in the project as working in the hayfields was more reliable, getting that ‘hourly’ wage, and slowly over the years all those abandoned steel cans in dad’s cow barn rusted into nothingness… I visit there occasionally, the old barn is slowly falling down, parts of the tin roof have blown away allowing rain & snow to gain entry and further rot the timbers. The back end of the barn is starting to collapse in on itself. -It’s not really safe to be inside parts of that old barn anymore. And yet, it is as if that old barn remembers me when I do take a quick walk through there, -all the rabbits my brother and I raised in there. The chickens I housed there, all the years we stored hay for our horses. I keep several dozen pigeons & doves in there for years. -That old barn stayed strong for us then. It is our having grown up and moved away and no longer needing that barn that killed it, and yet, that venerable old barn is not bitter. It holds no grudge. It is as if it is content that I visit it once every few years that matters, even if for just a few minutes.
    Only a few dozen barely-identifiable ‘tin cans’ and a few old children’s sleds, -outgrown gifts from Christmases long, long ago, -remain in those unused back rooms today, marking the funerary place where several thousand cans had been secreted away over three decades ago by a young boy with hopes of earning some mad wealth through recycling aluminum cans by the pound…

  6. Deirdre Kiernan says:

    Hi Trent
    Thanks for writing about this. It made me look back. My father died young, and my mother did her best for my little sister and I, but one childhood moment brought me to harsh realization. It happened at some church related Halloween thing for children. I was 6 and my sister was 2, and we were standing in line holding hands. When it came our turn to receive little paper bags of candy, one of the ladies handing it out turned to her co hander, and said, “At least they’re clean!” I didn’t know what condescension was then, but I knew suddenly that these women felt they were being charitable to poor children. I was insulted, and horrified by their bright artificial smiles. My baby sister reached for her candy, and I let her have it, but I just looked away and hurried her off.
    I am 53 now, and that has stayed with me all this time. It has made me careful of money, and determined to never have to rely on anyone or anything for my living. By the way, it also instilled the life long habit of speaking to all children respectfully.

  7. Quinton says:

    My first reaction was that I hope that you have beaten the cousin with a baseball bat now that you are an adult!!

    But, that wouldn’t be right either ;)

    Hmm.. this brings back a memory of money to me, but it was my BIG mouth that got it stolen.

    I had bragged to neighborhood kids that I had over $50 in my bank. Then of course I had to show where it was stored at. The next morning, our locked storage shed was broken into.

    My bank was gone!

    Needless to say, my bragging about money days were over! (They still are!)

    Now if I can just keep my foot out of my mouth for other things! :)

  8. Nadine says:

    I give my children 5 dollars a week as allowance most weeks. Because they are not living the impoverished childhood I had, they really don’t respect money. Reading all these replies to your touching narrative reminds me of the advice I give my own children. They are to hide all their moneys in an out-of-sight location. Very often their less-afluent cousins and friends visit and want what my kids have be it cowboy boots or some toy. When my daughter was only 5, a neighbor girl of 7 conned her out of her paper money. When we have birthday parties or company, I make sure all kids’ money is placed in a safe place because sadly the presence of money or valuables promotes stealing. As far as I know though, my kids do not need to beware of the greed of adults!

  9. Daisy says:

    That makes me want to cry too.

    I guess the world just isn’t fair, but God’s been really good to you since then. You did learn a lot, after all.

    Besides, what goes around comes around.

  10. mark says:

    Thanks for sharing your intimate feelings and memories with all of us. I can relate.

  11. Carol says:


    That just breaks my heart. I wonder if this awful cousin of yours has ever regretted what he did. I cannot imagine anything more demoralizing to have to go through.
    On the upside though, I am one of your readers who is eagerly awaiting the birth of your next child and all the wonderful stories that will come from raising her and your son.

  12. Katy Raymond says:

    It’s no wonder so many of us grown-ups have “issues”! This is an awful story, truly.

    My father was a compulsive gambler. My mother had three little tin A&P Eight O’Clock Coffee banks lined up on the dresser I shared with my two little sisters. There, she’d literally save nickels and dimes to buy us our shoes. I’ll NEVER forget the day we were to go shoe shopping. She went to get the money and he’d taken it. My bunions hurt just thinking about it!

    I recently found identical banks at at antique shop. Three of them, two red ones and a yellow one, just like at home. I purchased them, so I’d always remember not to violate a child’s–or a spouse’s–trust.

  13. tanya says:

    I had a friend steal from me right in front of me, sort of. I had just had a huge birthday party and had received a few hundred dollars in gives. While my friend was over i was putting the money away. i walked out of the room for a moment and came back. After she left i went to check the money for some reason and it was gone. My mother knew that this girl must have taken it but it took me awhile to accept that a friend would steal from me. She denied it but there was no other explanation.

  14. MWBrown says:

    The title of this story caught my attention immediately, and after reading it I realized that the point of this story definately hits home for me. My father lost his well paying high profile job when I was young (later I learned he was fired, a whole different story) and looking back I can recount the difficult changes to our life style. My father came from a well off family and was “born with a silver spoon”, then at age 35ish he was all of the sudden unable to provide for his family or make ends meet. He was also inflexible to change is lifestyle in any way. Now that I am adult I look back and realize the effect on him as a person/father/man must have been significant. I can recall stories of saving quarters for something special and my brother stealing my savings, hurtful broken promises my father made to “meet me half way” if I saved half the money for a bike I wanted (he never came through with his part of the money), and receiving the frantic call from my mother while in college that I did not have health insurance and to go sign up through the college immediately (with as much panic as can be exressed via email). I, along with you, lost trust in family with finances, and beyond, due to the unfortunate events of my childhood. I am extremely proud to report that my husband and I have a dept free life (without him I would be in a different financial place) and we happily live within our means despite being outcast by my family. However, I find great hope in the fact that any one of us can change these patterns for our own families and am happy to see so many previous comments saying as much! Glad to have your blog to read and lead me every day — THANK YOU!

  15. daydreamr says:

    The bank is certainly the best place to keep money. My check book was stolen by someone who I still talk to. I got my money back and she went to the state prison for a time. The cops matched her hadnwriting to the writing on the checks and arrested her while we were driving somewhere. That taught her a HUGE lesson. The key is not to lose hope. When someone knocks you down you have to get back up and keep going. It makes you stronger because you learn from the experiences. Losing, say, $300 is better than a few grand. It’s best not to trust people, even your own family. It’s human nature to be jealous of others and people would rather take from others that work hard than to work for it themselves. A really good place to stash things away is a safety deposit box. They are fairly cheap and you can keep a lot of stuff in them. It’s especially good for documents, check books, cash, jewelry and anything else that can easily walk off.

  16. Fee says:

    A devastating story. That it was a selfish cousin who did that to you and wiped out a year’s worth of effort is heartbreaking.

    It sounds like I am in much worse shape than many of the postings I’ve started reading here, so maybe I don’t belong here. But, anyway, I am taking steps to snap out of the stupor I’ve been in about my finances. Negligent doesn’t cover it.

    I’ve thought about my childhood and money and wondered if there are clues there as to why I am the way I am.

    I think the reality of my parents’ finances (not so good when his business failed) didn’t match HOW we were living (in, to me, a nice enough house, 2 cars, food and clothes … compared to that of others it was a Leave It to Beaver setting, which looks pretty nice and comfortable. So I didn’t “get” that they were really strapped. I remember thinking that things couldn’t be so bad, ’cause if they were, we’d be living in a smaller home and wouldn’t have much of anything at all.

    I am not blaming my parents at all. I’m just reflecting.

    As of the past few days, when I did an almost completed inventory of all my debts, I have been super-alert and super-serious and super-scared shitless. I’m finally getting how every penny has to be pinched and nothing is too small–all savings will have a cumulative effect toward wiping out the debt and, more importantly, toward changing my attitude and making me live more consciously.

    I am literally watching how much I eat, to make the food last. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, I realize, but it is. Because I like food.

    Thanks for letting me get thhis off my chest.

  17. Barb says:

    My bank as a child was an empty jellyjar tucked into a kitchen cabinet and used by my mom as her emergency fund;it was her way of “saving face” with the milkman, paperboy, ad insurance saleman who came weekly to collect premiums. She refused to let anyone know how really desperate she was to make ends meet, so she would “borrow” my carefully saved pennies and dimes as needed.
    Funny how childhood poverty has defined each of her adult children’s economic savvy and manner of handling money. One is frugal to the point of stupidity, one makes disastrous choioces in the stock market, relying solely on his own advice, the third is a spending and shopping addict, with a house filled stuff, buying because “it was a bargin”; finally, me, who has saved her “pennies and dimes” and is still helping out others who can’t seem to manage to make ends meet.

  18. Fee says:

    Barb, I meet so many people like you–people who have struggled while grown up and yet, as adults, they are very responsible with money, even during lean times, and can also lend a helping hand. I am filled with awe and admiration, as well as shame and self-hatred whenever someone tells me such a story. It happened recently. I didn’t know what to say in return, so I nodded approval and sat mute while she told me how able she was with money as compared with her siblings, who are lousy with money. What could I say? It seemed self-pitying to admit to the person that I am one of their financial inferiors, and I was embarrassed to do so. So I sat mute. I’ve screwed up with my money, and the daunting task of digging out of the hole scares me–not because of the sacrifices, but because the hole is so deep and my income so low, I just don’t know how to make it happen. I am trying lately, in addition of course to not spending (that’s a given!), to wrack my brain constantly for ways to earn additional income. In fact I am so freaked out that I feel that every minute spent not figuring out how to get more income is a waste of valuable time.

    I have not read this entire blog, by a long shot, but have read a lot of the author’s postings and have found it very informative. The comments section makes me feel worse about myself than I already do, though. It sounds like everyone has done a fabulous job of staying on the straight and narrow. This was not the blog for me to post to, so I will move on.

    Just a head’s up to all of you who have been so great with money. When you find yourself encountering someone like me who has screwed up, and you find that he or she is sitting in silence after you tell your story of how well you have managed things, don’t be offended. Just understand that we don’t know what to say. And we are feeling like pure shit for not being responsible the way you have.

  19. Susan says:

    Your account of a devastating experience resonates profoundly with me. I can see some of myself in your insecurity with money and recognize it may have something to do with history. Thank you for sharing and I’m sure, helping so many.

  20. cheryl says:

    OOh this brings back very painful memories for my husband. Every year, when he was given money on his birthday,Christmas, or even when he had just saved it,his mother would take it away from him and say that the family needed it. It turned out that she was an alcoholic and took his money to buy her booze. Fast forward many years..his Dad sends LARGE amounts to everyone for their birthdays–except my husband.I have many reasons to save my(our)money so we will not have to be dependent on anyone. My brother and I had to pay room and board beginning our freshman year in high school.We both had jobs beginning at age 12. We were responsible for clothing ourselves too.Both my brother and I had many difficulties in our lives. We are overly responsible. We take care of other peoples responsibilities when others are unable to take care of their own financial issues. No MORE!!!!We are all very frugal,sometimes to our detriment.BUT,we are finally debt free and can do for ourselves without guilt!

  21. Deb says:

    Trent –

    Just found your blog and am getting around to reading the archives. Your aluminum can story broke my heart.

    My husband and I are in a financial fiasco right now (our own business-related mess) and I found your blog looking for inspiration.

    I was raised by a chronically ill, single, alcoholic mother. I remember one Christmas when a huge box was dropped off at our apartment. My little sister and I were so excited to see what was inside – canned goods, clothes, a few toys and a little bit of candy! We were thrilled. As I grew older, I realized the box was filled with things donated for the less fortunate – us.

    When I was 11, I began to babysit for families to make my own money. I had to pay for most things that I “wanted” myself. There was no money at home. My relatives used to give my sister and I money at birthday time and, one year I received one hundred dollars. I had never seen so much money in my life. I, in passing, mentioned it at school lunch one day. And the girl sitting across from me at the table said “good – now maybe you’ll buy some decent clothes!”.

    I haven’t looked at money the same way again. And you’re right. It’s all about feeling safe. Right now, I don’t, but I have the tools and knowledge to dig out of our current mess. My mother died not having any of this knowledge.

  22. Justin says:

    The same thing happen to me but i was younger. I was about 6 or 7 but i always had a knack for selling well my mom worked for Krogers and they were remodeling the store and they were going to throw away all the candy in the checkout isles so i asked my mom if i could have it. Well they gave it to me plus all the soda i had about 10 economy garbage bags full of candy and pop but i wasn’t much of a candy kid so i seperated it all into jars and then sold it for half of what all the little stores around us did needless to say i made a very good profit especially being so young well my parents would allow kids from the neighborhood to come over cause we lived in Detroit so my parents felt bad even though we didn’t have any money they still made all welcome and found ways to make your day fulfilled even when you didn’t have money to do anything. Well one of the kids came into my room and grabbed my little banks i had full of change and dollars from my candy sales and said that my dad wanted to see them so i didn’t think twice about it well later i asked my dad if i could have them back and he had no idea what i was talking about. So as you did i learned a valuable message about Trust and Money.

  23. Daniel says:

    I had a similar experience, with a classmate that I was helping with his homework. He got $50 from my “piggy bank” while I was bringing him a glass of watter. Next day he came to school with new football equipment, and of course he denied having anything to do with my missing money. But I’ve got even: from then on, he had to pay me to help him with his homework. In the end, I’ve got more money from him, the “legal” way. And on top of that, he paid me to sharpen my teaching skills.

  24. Zulu says:

    That’s a powerful story Trent, and very well-written. It’s amazing how things like that stay with you long after the fact.

    Whatever happened to your cousin?

  25. sunny flowery says:

    My tears welled for young Trent.

    I’m really grateful for your blog entries, your writings impacted my life greatly. I haven’t left a message before, so thought I’ll thank you here.

    Thanks, Trent.

  26. Ginger says:

    This reminds me of how it feels when your own child(ren)steal from you to buy drugs. . .gut wrenching. To do it to a child is even worse. I am sure that also happened in our home. . .stealing from the other children for drug money. Maybe not actual cash at times, but cd’s or things that could be sold down the street. Be glad that you aren’t that kind of person with that type of mentality and remember, what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.

  27. cathy says:

    Thanks Trent
    Every once in a while I read the archives. I get some valuable info from your entries. My family is struggling again, but little by little, I think I’m getting back on track. I have found myself borrowing from my kids’ piggy banks when I need gas money or something like that. But–I always leave an IOU and pay it back eventually. Hopefully, they won’t mind that.

  28. GlennH says:

    The love of money and the things it buys does horrible things to people. The great lesson here is not trying to make a big killing in the marketplace, but that the habit of making and saving a tiny amount on a regular basis adds up over time. Had you dutifully taken your cans to the recycler every week, placed the money in a passbook account and watched it grow, that would have been a safe and effective way to start small and accumulate wealth. Regular saving and investment combined with guarding against loss is critical, especially a loss from your own friends and family members.

  29. anonymous says:

    Things like this happened to me constantly during my childhood, except that the “thief” was my mother.

  30. Cheryl says:

    It’s interesting to me that in this article, you say there was always food on the table, but in your bio it says there was often not enough money to put food on the table.
    I don’t think you quite know the definition of “intense poverty”. Living paycheck to paycheck sucks, but it is not “intense poverty”.
    Your sob story is inconsistent.

  31. steve says:

    Thanks you for generously sharing your story. I could feel deeply the hurt you must have felt, and it seems clear that this experience, rather than being “just about money”, was a traumatic wounding of your childhood trust-of-others and innocence, which of course you could not process or contain at that age, certainly not without adult help and understanding. Really, this story has brought up also many other examples of this kind of traumatic childhood betrayal of trust from a lot of the people who have commented, and I can think of a few in my own childhood (although not nearly so deeply painful). I believe that these kinds of forgotten formative experiences have much to do with many negative beliefs people have about their relationship to money and other people. For example, having the deep belief/fear that, as one reader wrote, “people will cheat you, you can’t trust anyone, even your own family”.

    God Bless and Healing to All!

  32. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “It’s interesting to me that in this article, you say there was always food on the table, but in your bio it says there was often not enough money to put food on the table.
    I don’t think you quite know the definition of “intense poverty”. Living paycheck to paycheck sucks, but it is not “intense poverty”.
    Your sob story is inconsistent.”

    That’s because we hunted, fished, and grew vegetables for most of our food.

  33. HappyGirl2000 says:

    @30 from Cheryl: Nice comment from someone who brags about using illegal methods of getting income on her blog.

  34. anonymous says:

    In my childhood, dad was in and out of work, so we alternated between enough money and pinching pennies until they screamed. Through my teen years, my parents were in particular financial trouble cause my dad sued his employers over letting him go, which effectively blackballed him from working for any company in the area. From about age 12 my older brother and I had given up much of a christmas in order that the smaller children would have a nicer one. As we got old enough to hold jobs, we took care of many of our own clothing and school expenses, and also contributed to the family purse when needed. OUr parents said just caring for our own expenses was enough, didn’t ask for a set amount, but we both knew that the power bill was sometimes hard to pay, or more groceries were needed.

    I got into college on a partial scholarship, and saved money all summer to pay the rest of my expenses. I moved it into a checking account so I could have access to it on campus, and my mom was the co-signer on the account cause I was only 17. As co-signer she had an ATM card, which I did give to her because you never know, there might be an emergency and that way she could put money into the account.

    So, off I went to the other end of the state. Living off my checking account until my reimbursement came through. Between books and fees, I had no money for the campus dining card, but planned to get it as soon as the reimbursement came in, and then I’d have a couple hundred to get me through until Christmas. Well, the reimbursement came, I put it in the bank, and went to the dining hall to write a check for the card.

    You know where this is going. By the time the check reached my bank at the other end of the state, my mom had taken the money out. Yes, it was for a necessary expense, but now I had no money for food, for. the. whole. semester.

    Financial aid found me a part time job on campus, I earned just about enough to feed myself. I could not buy a campus dining card though, because although the financial aid added up to enough to do so, I was only receiving a tiny amount of it as pay each week. The job was in a campus daycare, I loved the days when my shift coincided wtih snack time: a tiny cup of milk and a few saltines—and every drop and crumb I could manage to eat while clearing the childrens table and the teacher not looking!

    Sometimes, I’d even say my lack of grocery money
    led to my pregnency late in the semester. The guy kept inviting me to dinner, I kept saying yes, I became his girlfriend, and I became pregnant. He wasn’t the sort of guy I ever would have dated, I didn’t intend to date at all, I knew from my upbringing I wanted a degree the income it could get me. But a full dinner instead of a can of soup always sounded good and after a few weeks of that, well, you are a couple. But only sometimes do I go so far as to think of it this way. It may have been a contributing factor, but being too shy to go to student health and ask for the pill, or to insist he find his way to a drugstore and ask the pharmacist for condoms (for in those days, they weren’t on display) were both way bigger factors!

    Still in all, losing that $400 changed everything about being at college and getting away from the household I grew up in. The household reached out and grabbed me back.

  35. Margot says:

    My friend just pointed me to you today and I look forward to catching up and doing more about my flailing financial security. However I was sidetracked by comments #30 and #33 (Oh SNAP HappyGirl) and checked out Cheryl’s site and it seems she has shut it down because of… wait for it… so many negative comments from nasty people. Yes #9, what goes around comes around. Good punctuation to this story. Also, it may not have seemed special to be hunting, fishing and growing vegetables in order to eat, but as a city girl I’m envious of you. In a good way :)

  36. Jan says:

    Everyone has a story is what I have been told. It seems worst to me when it happens to a child. My story begins when I was 15 I had managed to save $10K from babysitting and odd jobs, lots of hard work. I met a boy he found out I had this money but did not lead on about it. We were married when I turned 19 he got my money put in his name and after that I never saw a penny of any money I made. I will be 50 soon. I use my lesson to try to teach other young girls. Keep your cash! I have 190K worth of debt from that marriage and zero dollars and zero cents and no way to earn any real money and my health is failing.

  37. Lisa says:

    I believe in the saying “what goes around, comes around”. I have had the experience of seeing that happen to someone who wronged me. However, by the time it happened I had given it to God and let go of being angry – just felt pity for that person.

    What happened to that cousin? Has he perhaps gotten back some of what he gave out?

  38. Chris says:

    This is a heartbreaking story…makes me want to beat the ever loving shit out of your cousin. That is horribly upsetting that someone would do that to a kid, let alone a kid in their own family.

  39. Heather says:

    Last year my dad was dying and that led me to reconnect to my much younger step-sister (26 yearls old). I invited her to stay with us and during that time my husband payed my daughter $100 that she had earned. He did it publicaly as a way to honor her for her hard work.

    She ran to her room and brought down her little tin piggy bank and put it in with her other money that she’d saved since baby-hood. Birthday, Christmas and chore money. She’s twelve, so it added up and was about $150.

    When my “sister” left so did the money. My daughter was devestated. It never occured to us that we would have to be secretive in front of a relative.

  40. Jaden says:

    Makes me want to cry. Or punch him. One of the two. Or both. Maybe cry WHILE punching him??!

    I’m glad you were able to finally pull some lessons out of it… Although honestly, I just wish it had never happened to you in the first place.

  41. Chillyrodent says:

    What a low-life loser that cousin was. This story should end and today I have a successful blog and financial security, and my cousin still steals cans for a living. That’s how it SHOULD end.

  42. Damester says:

    A painful story Trent. It’s amazing that your father didn’t go after the cousin. I know someone in my family would have, given those circumstances. Especially as he did admit it.

    There are many ways to get “justice.” I’m not so enlightened as to believe in waiting for karma. Because the fact is, it doesn’t usually offset the damage (can you say Bernie Madoff?)done by thieves and crooks.

    I think there are times when people have to be made to pay for what they do. Where the regular judicial system fails to fix things.

    One way or the other.

    Sadly, too many people are still far too trusting with friends and family. One can’t live life seeing everyone as a potential thief, but you do have to be aware that human nature is such that all kinds of people will steal what they can. We see this in business all the time, where ideas, reputations, promotions and such are “stolen” by unscrupulous types whose primary focus is getting what they want.

    What’s often very interesting is that the people who take something don’t need it or could afford it on their own. The stereotype in society and business (where having bad credit often means you can’t even get a job!)is that poor people are the thieves or potential thieves, the ones you gotta “watch out for”.

    Where I grew up, there were lots of rich kids. You know who shoplifted? The rich kids. Who had huge allowances and could have afforded anything.

    We “poor” kids would never dream of stealing anything. From anyone, let alone friends or family. (No matter how much I wanted something it simply never occurred to me to steal it. I guess that Catholic School education and those years with the nuns had some good ruboff!)

  43. Mel says:

    This reminds me of my own theft story. I was in a movie when I was 7 years old, and was paid quite well for it. The money went straight into my bank account (along with $5 a week through school banking – a BRILLIANT initiative, but another story).

    I had 2 ‘friends’ in the same street and at about age 10, we all got cashflow cards. Without thinking, we shared our pin numbers. I was never very careful with my card, and would go for months without knowing where it was or thinking about it. A long time later, I went to the bank with my mother to withdraw for my first big trip on my own, to visit my grandfather. The account was empty. (And the bank teller accused me of taking it without telling my mum – luckily she had more trust in me than that). Looking at the statements, it seems that one of my ‘friends’ had given herself a $20 weekly allowance over about a year and a half – about $1700, gone.

    That experience definitely made me a lot more aware of trusting people with my money – whether access to it or lending/giving it, and most importantly it taught me a lesson I desperately needed: to know where my card/money/wallet is! I have lost a wallet a few times since, but usually in very out-of-the-ordinary circumstances.

  44. This is a very painful story and one that I can relate to. Years ago when I was a kid, a friend of ours decided to store his bike in our back yard. We lived in a Town home so our back yard was really just a fenced in area the size of a desk. The bike was stolen. It was the late 70’s and I had a habit of saving. I had money in a coffee can that I was foolish enough to tell my friend about. He wanted the money because he said it was my fault that his bike was stolen. Fortunately my mother intervened and I kept my money, but the feeling of people wanting what I have never quite went away. Personal finance and personal development literature is replete with the following advice: be careful whom you confide your goals and dreams in and because litigation is one of the top 3 ways Americans list as a way to get ahead (winning the lotto is still number 1) put a legal fortress around your assets. But worry and fear is no way to live so do what you can to protect yourself and move on.

  45. B.T. says:

    What a terrible thing to have happened to you! I had a similar experience when I returned from college one year, and asked to access the money I’d saved from the part-time and summer work I did in high school. My mother explained to me that she’d emptied the account, without telling me, to cover my college expenses. It really wouldn’t have been a problem if she’d asked in advance. Later, she and my father took jewelry from my grandfather. When he gave it to me as a wedding present — not knowing it was stolen — they had to confess. It’s important to know who you can trust.

  46. BT says:

    What a terrible story! I can’t believe someone would steal from a child like that! It reminds me of the time I returned home from college to find that my mother had raided my custodial savings account, which held all the savings from my part-time jobs during high school and full-time summer jobs. Later, my parents took jewelry from my grandfather and gave it to an auction house. When he told them he wanted to give it to me as a wedding present, they didn’t admit the crime, but asked If I’d prefer the jewelry or proceeds from the sale thereof. If I’d said I wanted the money, no one would have found out. It’s important to know who you can trust. Unfortunately, family is often in a position to steal — they know where everything is *kept*.

  47. Aaron says:

    I’ve heard that thermite will burn through an engine block in about 20 seconds. It would have been a shame if someone made some and ruined your cousin’s motorcycle.

    Seriously — where is your cousin at now? My schadenfreude desperately wants to hear that his indiscretions have left him in massive debt or something. Did he invest in Madoff’s ponzi scheme or buy Enron stock or anything?

  48. Terry says:

    I hope your dad whooped his ass. I would have if someone in my family did this to one of my daughters. I would not be able to help myself. Why is it family thinks they are entitled to what others in the family have?

  49. Esther Ziol says:

    I’d just bet that cousin ended up in jail, or at least had a bad life. Just my wishful thinking?

  50. Tiffany says:

    I read your story and it reminds me of my hardship now. My mother gave me to my grandparents to adopt when I was six. having a young mother who ave birth to me at 17 was hard on her, but now since she gave me up to go have fun, I’ve realized she acts like a child. She said she would take my car to a good mechanic, it was my first car and a girl had stolen my keys when I was asleep and went for a joy ride and had sex in the back of my car. Well anyways my mother took it to the mechanic and took it out without me knowing. Which he is illegal since the car was completely in my name and she was no longer my legal mother. She totalled it and I didn’t have coverage to fix it so now nearly 2 years later I am still without a car. I’m nearly 20 and I can’t even get into school. My adopted daddy recently passed away and I had money saved, and was going to give my grandma $800 to help pay for the funeral and rent. It was safely hidden in key locked room, well my mother broke in while her bf pretended to have a seizure, she stole it. She also had stolen checks and forged them. I pressed charges on the car and my bank account but the cops here could careless because she was once my mother, even though legally not anymore. So now I am $8,520 in the hole, that I have to pay back, and THEN I can start saving for school and a new car. She’s ruined my credit, she ran off with my bf’s rental car and ruined hi credit because he didn’t have the money to pay for it, and because she took the keys he was liable. She’ ruined my life and my trust. Now she calls me and still asks for help. I will never get my money nor my life back and it’s a struggle every day. I can’t even afford food some days.

  51. Amanda says:

    Just found this in the time machine. Adult or child, no one deserves to go through that. I’m sorry that happened to you.

  52. Karen says:

    Whoa — all I’ve got to say is your cousin needs his a** kicked. What a lowlife turd!

  53. kristine says:

    I had a similar experience, but with my kids. Their dad (my ex) broke their toy ATM saving machines, and stole all their money from them. Even stopped by one day at my house to try and “borrow” the dollar bills from his son’s 5 year old birthday cards. They are now teens, and their dad tries to borrow money from them all the time. (They get an allowance from me, and have birthday money). We opened saving accounts for the kids that now require my signature and a password that only I know (not even the kids) to take their money out. This way, I know their dad will not bully them into withdrawing for him. My kids have become self- defensive spendthrifts- spending their money as they get it so their dad can’t “borrow” it. Their dad is excited that my daughter will likely go to MIT, so she will make enough to “start paying him back for all he has done for her.” So very sad. All the relatives know now to give them things, or giftcards… never cash. My job is to teach them how to say no to a bully that is also the fun dad they love.

  54. deRuiter says:

    Sad story! Think of the lessons learned! Keep your mouth shut if you have some money and want to hang onto it. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Use an insured savings account. if every time you collected a truck load, you and Dad had taken the cans to the scrapper, and put the money in a savings account, you could not possibly have lost more than 1/5 of the money by blabbing to the relative. Lock up your valuables. That’s three important lessons which are to be learned from this story.

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