Overcoming A Financially Disastrous Background

Another financial story that really intrigued me recently was this one, from a person who wishes to remain anonymous (so we’ll call him/her Anonymous):

My parents are immigrants/refugees from Vietnam. When they arrived here in Australia, they both took jobs and lived an extremely frugal lifestyle, sending all savings to my mother’s side of the family, who still remained in Vietnam. Before butchers realised that some people actually eat stuff other people may discard, they sold these “scraps” for an extremely low cost. So, they lived on broths and stews made from stuff like chicken feet. (I would say instant ramen was more expensive at the time.)

This was in the 1980’s. My sister was born in the early 80’s, my brother, late 80’s.

In 1990, I was born, and my mother’s side of the family immigrated to here shortly before my birth. Upon my brother’s birth and mine, my mother left work to take care of us.

Throughout my younger life, this is pretty much all the detail I knew about my family’s time before my birth, chicken feet and all.

Before my enlightenment on finance, I didn’t think about it much, but for most of my life you could say that I was spoilt. It was done for my benefit, so I could get a good education. Both of my parents didn’t get very far in school.

We still only have one source of income, and that’s my father. My sister moved out, and my brother and I do not have jobs, as well as my mother.

We always had and we still get a fair amount of stuff. Several computers, game consoles, many games and DVDs, 5 or 6 TVs, 3 surround sound systems and several DVD players, double beds.. it just goes on. and it’s been going for probably over 12 years. All on credit cards. We took out another home loan to paint the house. (I objected to this, due to money, and this house containing a few unique properties..).

My dad repairs extra cars on the weekend for some extra cash, which is spent on food. After living a poor childhood and super-frugal life in a new country full of opportunity, who can blame him?

My mother’s side of the family are basically idiots. After they immigrated here, they never helped us, and they still occasionally ask for money. (we always refuse.) They’re not exactly good at finance either. They took out a home loan and threw the money around. We clearly sponsored the wrong side of the family to move over.

I’m about to finish/fail Year 12, and hit with depression. I’m currently not trying to find a job, nor am I interested. I have tons of dreams I wish to fufill, but it all conflicts with the financial situation, so I sit here confused and lost, going nowhere. I’m quite sensitive to discouragement, so I have discarded a fair number of pursuits.

Next year, this should all ease up a little, when my mother takes up a job and if my sister moves back in. But where does that leave me? How do I save everyone?

You could say most of my family is stubborn, and I am as well, in some areas. I don’t want to live an empty life, and have an empty job. But there is a great amount of weight, pushing me down. I feel helpless.

I need encouragement, and people to support this weight. But being hit with depression, I don’t try very much.

So, here’s the summary. Anonymous is a high school student in a family of immigrants with very poor personal finance choices. Anonymous is trying to figure out what he/she can do to make everything better, but is still in school (and apparently having some difficulty there).

Here’s my advice to Anonymous.

First of all, if your family is not dedicated to finding a better financial track, nothing you can do will really help. They’re deep in credit card debt, buying things like surround sound systems and video games. They’ve been doing this for twelve years, which sounds like it’s become a normal part of life. Until the leaders of the household themselves make a conscious decision that something needs to change, nothing is going to change. Additional money will likely be spent on frivolous things, or spent on credit card debt to free up space for more frivolous spending.

That brings on the next point: do what you can to put yourself in a position to really help later on. This means buckling down, finishing school with the best grades you possibly can, and going to college, even if it means incurring debt. Right now is the time in your life where you are putting foundation stones in place for what you’ll accomplish in life – every minute you spend doing that is a worthwhile minute.

What about the need for encouragement and motivation? Seek to surround yourself with positive things – and eliminate the negative influences from your life. Look at your life and find the pieces that weigh you down and make you feel worse, then minimize those. Also look for things that make you feel stronger and better and maximize those. Don’t look at the immediate, either – focus on the things that, when you reflect on them later, make you feel stronger as a person.

One more tip of advice (something you’ll learn naturally as time goes on): people make mistakes and bad choices. It’s part of life. You will always do better if you look at the positives in people and let the negatives slide a bit. One of the brightest people I know has a big self-confidence problem and a pretty big spending problem – but you know what I see? A genius. I know she makes some bad moves, but I try every time I see her to help her see how brilliant she is.

Those things will lay a foundation for success. After you’ve got them down, then start worrying about the dollars. The first thing is to simply spend less than you make. Do that every time and you will succeed in the long run. Everything else financially really follows from that.

Good luck! You’re young and have the world laid out in front of you – don’t be afraid to take it.

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