Have you ever been in so much financial trouble that you thought – this is rock bottom? Personal finance is not easy and most of us have been through a few tough situations. I think that’s how people discover personal finance blogs. They get in trouble financially and want to turn things around. When you’re rock bottom, there is nowhere to go but up, right? Anyway, I want to share my financial rock bottom with you today. Check it out and share your story in the comment section.
Charmed financial life
Unbelievably, I lived a charmed financial life since I became an adult. My lowest point financially was right when I graduated from college. I had a 15 year-old beater Toyota and about $200. That was it. Fortunately, I did not have any debt. My parents helped out and I was able to finish college without any student loans. That’s a lot better than many new grads today. I feel bad for the young folks that have to start their professional life with debt. That’s why I plan to help our son graduate with as little debt as possible.
After I graduated from college, I drove from Santa Barbara to Portland to begin an engineering career. The paychecks started rolling in and I was on my way to financial independence. My financial journey was relatively smooth because I had good income and I lived modestly. I never spent more than I made and I had a likeminded partner. We worked together to build our wealth from scratch. That’s how I was able to retire at 39 and become a stay at home dad/blogger. Life is awesome now and I don’t have any complaint.
Okay, that is one boring story. Having a charmed financial life is amazing, but it is not an interesting story. You want to hear about some struggles, right? For a better story, I have to dig deeper. Let’s try again.
My Real Rock Bottom
Did you notice the qualification in the previous section? My finance was good since I became an adult. Before that, my family had many difficult moments. This is the one I remember most because I was a teenager by then.
In 1985, my family immigrated to United States from Thailand. I was 12 years old and it was a strange time for our family. In Thailand, my dad was a business owner and my mom was a college professor. When they immigrated here, they worked minimum wage jobs and hustled to make a living. The first year was not too bad because my aunt lived here. She was a nurse and had a nice big house in the San Fernando Valley. My dad rented a room from her and 5 of us slept in that room. I have 2 younger brothers. It really wasn’t bad because we spent a lot of time in the shared space. My aunt also had 3 young kids so they were used to having kids around.
My parent bounced around from one low skilled job to another and never found a steady job. This was fine when they had my aunt, our safety net. However, my uncle decided to move his family back to Thailand in 1986. That meant my parents had to make it on their own.
On our own
They found an affordable apartment near Granada Hills High School and moved in. My dad was a delivery driver for a nearby pizza joint. My mom also worked in the same place. They didn’t make a lot of money, but they lived very frugally. They usually worked late and weren’t home much in the evening. I remember eating a lot of pizza from the restaurant they worked in. That was fringe benefit for the workers. Life was steady for a few years while they tried to save.
One day, my dad went out on a delivery and the customer wouldn’t pay him. My dad refused to give him the pizza and the guy hit him with a bat*. It was literally daylight robbery. The boss gave my dad the rest of the day off and he came home. At first, he thought his arm was sprained. He didn’t want to go to the hospital because he had no health insurance. He asked me to pull on his hand to set it. I tried, but it didn’t work. He was in too much pain. Eventually, he couldn’t stand it and went to get it checked out at the hospital. It turned out that his arm was broken. They checked him in for an overnight stay and performed a surgery to repair his arm.
*If someone wants to rob you, let them take the pizza. It’s not worth it.
He tried to continue working as a driver, but he couldn’t do a good job with one arm in a cast. I’m not quite sure what happened next, but both my parents became unemployed soon after. That was the real financial rock bottom. I remember them being around all day and trying to find jobs. It was very stressful for the whole family for many weeks. Having no income is an impossible situation for poor families.
A new start
One day my mom was searching through the classified ads in the newspaper when she came across a Thai restaurant for sale. It was located in Thousand Oaks, about 45 minutes away. My dad didn’t want to take the long drive out there, but my mom kept pestering him to go check it out. A few days later, they took the trip to Thousand Oaks. My dad walked through the tiny restaurant once and told the owner, we’ll take it. The seller wanted $16,500, but my dad bargained it down to $9,000. We put $5,000 down and paid the rest in 2 installments. The guy had 3 restaurants and he was going through a divorce. He was desperate to cash out fast.
Somehow my parents came up with $5,000. How did they do that? I checked with my dad and he told me they had some cash savings. Before he got hurt, he was working 3 jobs. He put flyers on doors, delivered pizza, and was a gas station attendant. The gas station job was the stand out. He worked the midnight shift at a gas station on Sunset Blvd. near Beverly Hills. He said the tips were great there. Some people gave him a hundred dollar bill to fill up and didn’t come back for the change. Wow! Gasoline was 89 cents/gallon back then. Those were big tips. He didn’t get much sleep in those days.
Anyway, my parents had just enough for the down payment and we moved to Thousand Oaks. They learned how to run a restaurant and the existing chef stayed on. My dad learned to cook and my mom ran the front. The kids helped out in the evenings and weekends. It was a family effort. This hole-in-the-wall restaurant put us through college and set a solid foundation for my future. See, the only way from rock bottom is up.
What was your financial rock bottom?
I don’t know how close my parents were to moving back to Thailand. If they didn’t buy that restaurant, I might not be here now. They had families and other options in Thailand. It would have been much easier for them to fight it out in a more familiar environment. I’m glad they stuck it out in the US, though. It worked out really well for us kids.
Alright, I hope you enjoyed that. Now you might wonder why they immigrated to the US in the first place. Let’s just say that’s another low point and I’ll have to tell you another day. That’s enough reminiscing today. It’s emotionally draining. Anyway, I was too young to know much about family finances when we lived in Thailand.
What about you? What was your rock bottom financially? I bet many of you can beat my story.
For 2018, Joe plans to diversify his passive income by investing in US heartland real estate through RealtyShares. He has 3 rental units in Portland and he believes the local market is getting overpriced.
Joe highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. He logs on to Personal Capital almost daily to check his cash flow and net worth. They have many useful tools that will help every investor analyze their portfolio and plan for retirement.