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What Was Your Lowest Point Financially?

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What was your lowest point financially?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.

The following two tabs change content below.
Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. He spent 16 years working in computer design and enjoyed the technical work immensely. However, he hated the corporate BS. He left his engineering career behind to become a stay-at-home dad/blogger at 38. At Retire by 40, Joe focuses on financial independence, early retirement, investing, saving, and passive income.

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.
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{ 79 comments… add one }
  • Crystal May 17, 2018, 12:27 am

    I’m similar in that my adult life has been financially charmed. Graduated from college at age 22 with $8000 of debt owed to my parents (which they forgave after two payments). My husband and I married a week after graduation and my cubicle job plus his part time minimum wage job was enough for the following year to cover our 550 sq ft apartment and other bills while he took alternative certification courses and became a teacher. Within 2 years, we were buying our first house (now our rental home).

    Other than my adult life, I’m guessing the hardest financial time was when my my mom had just left my biological dad when I was a baby. We were poor poor…food stamps, etc. But I don’t remember any of that and even when we were just generally poor, I was never hungry. My mom married my step-dad when I was 6 years old and he was a civil engineer, so life was charmed after that too.

    • retirebyforty May 17, 2018, 9:16 am

      $8,000 personal debt isn’t too bad at all. Your parents were great!

  • Mr. Tako May 17, 2018, 12:37 am

    Great story Joe! That restaurant was a good break for your family! I’m really glad it worked-out OK.

    I haven’t led a charmed life financially. My low point was when I was fresh out of college and my new employer went bankrupt after a couple of months. I had $50k in debt, no job, no income, and a couple thousand in the bank.

    I lived in a small town and there were few job prospects. I lived in the cheapest apartment in town (it was terrible) and there were no other employers that needed my skill set.

    It was a very difficult time, and to be honest it still freaks me out today. I came very close to living on the street, and probably would have become homeless if it wasn’t for help of others.

    It was a very humbling moment in time that shaped who I am today.

    • retirebyforty May 17, 2018, 9:21 am

      The restaurant was a huge break, for sure.
      Whoa, that’s a tough break for your first job. What kind of help did you get?
      You moved to a bigger city, from what I understand.
      Those tough times build character. I didn’t like it when we went through them, but they helped me become financially responsible.

      • Mr. Tako May 17, 2018, 10:47 am

        Some friends brought me food, and another one helped me get an interview where they worked.

        I had to borrow about $3,000 too, just to pay rent and keep the electricity on.

  • Accidental FIRE May 17, 2018, 1:51 am

    Although I was hit by bats quite a few times, they were all neighborhood-fights and those types of things, not robberies (because growing up in Baltimore, that just happens…).

    My low isn’t too dramatic but was probably after the tech crash in 2000. I had just started investing a few years earlier and didn’t have too much in the market then, but it was a lot of money to me. And I saw it cut in half or more. It took a lot of faith t a young age to hold, but I did.

    • retirebyforty May 17, 2018, 9:26 am

      That sounds like a tough neighborhood.
      I didn’t do so well with the dot com either, but I still had a good job.
      We lost more than half too, but in retrospect, it was peanut.

  • Chris Urbaniak @ deliberatechange.ca May 17, 2018, 2:48 am

    Thanks for sharing, Joe.

    It’s impressive how some people can really push through the lows and make a real go of it. Congrats to your folks for having the foresight to save bit by bit, otherwise that restaurant would have just been a dream and never reality. I’ve never lived in poverty or had massive debt, so I’m pretty fortunate in that regard. Even our mortgage was fairly small due to a large downpayment. I’m thankful for that every time I think about it.

    • retirebyforty May 17, 2018, 9:29 am

      My mom was always frugal so saving wasn’t difficult for her to save. The real problem back then was low income.
      Luckily my dad was making good money right before he got hurt.
      I haven’t thought about this in years.
      $5,000 is actually a lot of cash. It seems most people can’t come up with that kind of money, according to the news.

      • Joe May 18, 2018, 6:49 am

        $5000 was a lot in those days.
        An annual wage for a minimum wage job was around $5000.
        A single family home in SF was around $35000.

  • Half Life Theory May 17, 2018, 3:57 am

    Great story, luckily i never did struggle as a kid financially. We were very fortunate to have parents who were very financially stable.

    My low didn’t come until after i graduated with 2 degrees, no job and no job prospects. I was married soon after, with my daughter on the way, what can i say, even being broke couldn’t way me away from getting married.

    That first year of marriage, with no job, a new born baby, and minimal help from my parents was truly the most difficult. It’s amazing how much progress we’ve mad in the last 5-6 years. I credit a lot of that to the FI community.

    Here is the full story i wrote about if you want to check it out;
    https://halflifetheory.com/dead-broke-deadbeat-my-starting-point/

    • retirebyforty May 17, 2018, 9:29 am

      That sounds like a tough situation. I can’t imagine a baby with no job. I’ll drop by to read your post. Thanks.

  • Tom @ Dividends Diversify May 17, 2018, 4:10 am

    Interesting story Joe. Mine is very similar to yours. Lean years growing up. But after college, it was just a slow grind to financial independence. Tom

  • Ms. Frugal Asian Finance May 17, 2018, 4:50 am

    Thank you for sharing such an inspiring and heartfelt experience with us, Joe!

    As I was reading your story, I was picturing it in my head. It must have been a difficult time for your family. I’m so glad it has a happy ending. Now I see why you are so great at cooking 🙂

    My lowest financial and emotional point was right before I came to America for college. My dad was unemployed, and my mom’s job didn’t pay much. They fought almost everyday. Sometimes it just got so bad I wanted to leave the house but had nowhere to go. My sister and I had to witness it all. We still talk about it sometimes but also don’t want to think about it.

    Things are much better now. I think I might hit another rock bottom in the future. But the past shows me that it all will pass.

    • retirebyforty May 17, 2018, 9:40 am

      Thanks! The real problem was healthcare. Everything was fine until somebody got hurt. That healthcare problem got so much worse since the 80s. It’s a difficult problem.
      Yeap, I learn to cook in that little restaurant. 🙂
      I know how you feel about those lows. We rarely talk about these things. I want to write it down so my son will know about it. His life is way too easy.

      • Ms. Frugal Asian Finance May 17, 2018, 7:27 pm

        Aww thank you, Joe!

        That was one big reason why I wrote the story about how I had our son while in grad school. I want to look back and have him read it one day to see how far we’ve gone. Mr. FAF said life is tough, but it’s beautiful when we can overcome challenges 🙂

      • Julie @oursabbaticallife May 18, 2018, 6:48 am

        Yes, I definitely agree that healthcare is a huge problem. It doesn’t seem fair that people have to win the healthy gene lottery at birth and then also hope not to have any sort of accidents–or bats–thrown our way in order to be able to survive, financially and otherwise.

  • [email protected] May 17, 2018, 4:58 am

    I’m sorry you had to live through that Joe. It’s incredibly impressive how you grew up in a minimum wage family and were able to be successful enough to Retire by 40!

    I’m curious why your parents could not get professional jobs here. They were clearly qualified to do more than deliver pizzas.

    • retirebyforty May 17, 2018, 9:43 am

      I think those tough situations built a reserve of resiliency in me. They weren’t pleasant to go through, but I turned out okay.
      Credentials from Thailand didn’t mean much here in the 80s. My mom also had a hard time with the language. My dad adapted much better.
      He had several businesses in Thailand. He just needed to build some cash reserve here so he could start a business.

      • Jay May 19, 2018, 1:59 pm

        Unfortunately, I think credentials from other countries more often than not don’t go far here for immigrants.

        My wife’s parents also were professors, but in Ecuador. When they immigrated here though, they couldn’t find jobs of that caliber. They’ve worked in bakeries, as a parking attendant, and selling cookware. They toughed it out because they believe there are better opportunities here for their children.

        I’m glad they did too because otherwise, I wouldn’t have met my better half.

  • Sandy T May 17, 2018, 5:16 am

    My lowest point was during my first job after college. I was stupid, and didn’t ask for more money (always ask for more money) when I first started. I was living very modestly, and it was essentially worse than when I was putting myself through college. I was a newly diagnosed type 1 diabetic, and I didn’t do well on daily shots, so I wanted to upgrade to an insulin pump. Being that I was living paycheck to paycheck with the poor paying engineering job, I didn’t have the down payment for the pump (Diabetes is expensive!). My grandmother heard about my struggles and offered to pay the down payment, which was a huge deal for me. She did, and I knew I needed a better job if I couldn’t even pay my medical bills as an engineer. So I got a new better paying job, and haven’t looked back since.

    • retirebyforty May 17, 2018, 12:13 pm

      That’s pretty crazy. Engineers usually make pretty good income right out of college. That employer probably can’t keep any good worker.
      Good job getting out and making a better life for yourself.

  • Sharil May 17, 2018, 5:25 am

    Hi Joe,
    Quite new to this blogging thing but here I am. My lowest point financially and emotionally was my 2nd year of university when I lost the 2 people who brought me up, my grandfather and his youngest son my uncle. I was studying overseas and the rest of the family sold everything and shared the proceeds. I ended up doing 2 full time jobs with studying part time for two years so I could complete my stu dies. I did not get much sleep but I came out with a degree and no student debt.
    Also when my investing days started into property and 10 years later I learnt about FIRE and now I am committed like you to retire by 40.
    Thanks

    • retirebyforty May 17, 2018, 12:13 pm

      Wow, that was a struggle. But now you know you’ll get through anything. Nice job.

  • Adam May 17, 2018, 6:48 am

    ‘Charmed life’ indeed. Dad made good money working for the government and mom spent it on hobbies and collecting random crap; they paid for my brother and me to attend state university and we never didn’t own a house, but neither were there ever six-figure account balances or cars with A/C and power windows. Worst I’ve had personally is when I financed a used Hyundai upon college graduation and then had to borrow $2k from parents a couple months later when the transmission died.

    My folks taught me a few things: stable employment is essential, drive your car until it is neither safe nor reliable, and — through mom’s example — DON’T buy stuff if you’re just going to put it into storage and never use it. Better the money goes into index funds.

    • retirebyforty May 17, 2018, 12:14 pm

      Stable employment is very essential when you’re starting out. You have to build a solid foundation. Thanks for sharing.

  • Doc G May 17, 2018, 6:51 am

    Like you, I have no personal financial rock bottom. For my family, though, my dad died when I was eight. My mother had been a housewife, but as luck would have it, was just finishing her MBA. Her internship hired her right away, and we were safe.

    • retirebyforty May 17, 2018, 12:15 pm

      Your mom did a great job. It must have been very difficult to lose your dad at such a young age.

  • Michael May 17, 2018, 7:02 am

    For my wife and me, our low point came in the form of $6 cheese dip. Our story first ran in Student Loan Hero, but was picked up by Business Insider just yesterday. The full link is below. It’s never too late to make changes and start down the path of financial freedom.

    http://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-pay-off-big-debt-2018-5

  • Xrayvsn May 17, 2018, 7:15 am

    It is funny but this is a very timely post. I just recently started a blog and have a series that is about to finished called, “I made every financial mistake in the book”. I just finished the divorce one (which I thought was the lowest point at the time but alas, there was still more to follow (that last post will be on my blog next Tues). I actually added up all the financial hits to my net worth (I will reveal it in the final post) but it was truly staggering.
    As a physician especially we are known for having poor financial literacy and large income (a deadly combination and therefore we as a group are often preyed about by supposed “financial helpers”).

    I made most of my mistakes before these financial blogs became prevalent. I wish they were out when I started medical school otherwise I could have retired probably 5 yrs ago (I’m 47 now but still on path to retire early (shooting for 53-55 range).

    Anyway I’ve been an avid reader of this blog (I actually have it listed as a blog to read on my Continuing Financial Education section).
    Thanks for all you do.
    Xrayvsn

    • retirebyforty May 17, 2018, 12:23 pm

      Yikes. Your story is pretty crazy. I’ll check next week to see the end of the story. Hopefully, you’re doing better now.
      Best wishes.

      • Xrayvsn May 18, 2018, 10:16 am

        Thank you. Yes 7 years removed from my lowest point I have done a complete 180. It’s amazing how quick the turnaround can be if you put your mind to it.

  • BusyMom May 17, 2018, 7:16 am

    As a kid, my parents went through phases. In general, we were well off, but there were times when they could barely make ends meet. They owned the home, so it was not too bad!

    Our lowest point was when we moved to the US. All the money we made in India was tied up in real estate, and we couldn’t bring it here. We moved here, had no credit history, and had to buy two cars to get to work. The interest rates on car loans are crazy when you have no credit history. We maxed out our zero interest credit cards to pay down our loans (put every expense on the card, and didnt pay. Paid every cent towards the cars, higher interest rate one first.) We both had good jobs, we broke even in less than a year.

    • retirebyforty May 17, 2018, 12:24 pm

      Immigrating to a new country is hard. At least you both had good income so it wasn’t that difficult to recover. Great job.

  • Mike H. May 17, 2018, 7:35 am

    I can think of 2 times.

    1) I was 23, unemployed, and didn’t have enough money in the bank to cover my next student loan payment.

    2) A couple years ago I had to use up my emergency fund. My consulting gig had ended and my paycheck didn’t cover my monthly expenses, so I was already moving backwards. I think my bank account got down to $50.

    Both of these situations were solved by family support, luck, or both.

    • retirebyforty May 17, 2018, 12:25 pm

      Thanks for sharing. Life is much better with some support. It’s hard to do everything alone.

  • Wealthy Doc May 17, 2018, 7:49 am

    We were very poor when I was a kid. Most of my friends were poor too though so it wasn’t that bad.
    My lowest point was probably near the end of residency. I was deep in student loan debt and credit card debt. Minimal income and no free time. Terrible credit due to overdue bills. I used a Credit Card Counseling Service to try to get my financial house in order.

  • Lazy Man and Money May 17, 2018, 7:56 am

    My lowest point was soon after college. The dot com bust made it difficult to find any jobs and I was scraping by on unemployment. That’s one of the big reasons I started my website. I didn’t want to ever be like that again.

  • Joe May 17, 2018, 8:29 am

    My financial low occurred during my childhood years also. We just immigrated to the US and none of us spoke any English. My mom was diagnosed with cancer a year later. That same year, my dad passed away. They were both working minimum wage jobs at the time: my father worked in a warehouse and my mother as a bank clerk. They were university professors in their home country, but were faced with the language barrier when they moved here.

    After a difficult battle with cancer, my mom passed a few years after my dad. We kids were all under age and depended on social security and food stamps to get by. I also started working (illegally?) at age 11.

    After my childhood years, everything came easy to me financially. I worked through all of my high school and university years, part-time during the school year and full-time during the summers. I was accepted to MIT but turned it down due to cost. I supported myself through the university years with scholarships, and working 4 different jobs at the library, cafeteria, engineering store during the school year, and tourist shops in the summer, and finally an engineering internship after my junior year. I managed to graduate university with no loans and a $5,000 bank account.

    I early retired in my late 30s a decade ago. Then the financial crisis happened, but that’s another story… 😀

    • retirebyforty May 17, 2018, 12:30 pm

      My dad lost his parents when he was 5. He had a tough life and had to fight tooth and nail for everything.
      He never look back, complain, or regret anything. That’s a hard childhood similar to yours.
      You can get through anything after that.
      Best wishes.

      • Joe May 17, 2018, 9:48 pm

        Your dad is amazing, he succeeded in bringing over his whole family and providing his children with great opportunities.
        The experience did make the rest of my life easy in comparison.
        I think of myself as exceptionally lucky. Lucky to have grown up in the US, lucky to have a social welfare system that supported and invested in me, lucky to not have gotten sidetracked by drugs or crime despite falling in with the wrong crowds at times, and lucky to have the mental and physical ability to bootstrap.

  • Cindy Brick May 17, 2018, 8:55 am

    Joe, thanks for your honesty and clarity. It’s refreshing!

    I worked through high school in order to attend college. That was a given — my folks are/were farmers, with little in the bank, though they did pay off their place when I was in high school. They also generously paid my tuition leftovers. (I worked through college, as well.)
    Husband and I met while I was in grad school. He had the G.I. bill and loans — we paid the latter off, bit by bit, after he graduated. The best gift we ever got from both our sets of parents was their attitude toward frugality. We knew how to look for the best deals, and how to make a modest amount of money stretch. (Something, I might add, we’ve tried hard to pass on to our daughters. That, and the value of a good reputation.)

    Two rock-bottom periods come to mind:

    *We (Husband) invested $7500 in a company whose program he’d heard on the radio. Supposedly they were buying up airwave licenses, and we would make big bucks. They actually wanted $25,000, but we didn’t have it in savings. (Thank God.) I had a strong impulse to stop the check while it was still enroute to the company, but held off, thinking that I didn’t understand, should trust Husband’s judgment, etc etc.
    We got a very professional-looking package in the mail…and haven’t heard a word from them since. Money: gone.
    Fortunately, we didn’t need it. But I have thought about what that $7500 could have done for us, in the decades since.

    The worst rock-bottom period, however, came when Husband (who is a mechanical engineer by training) tired of the endless hours, and had a nervous breakdown. He would sleep or pace all day, then wake me up late at night. We would walk back and forth in front of the house, until he calmed down. (I wouldn’t go far, because our children were young and sleeping.) Then he would go to bed…and I would go to work. This went on for months.
    Finally, our savings were gone. I could not put in enough hours to keep us afloat. I told him he HAD to find a job, however modest. He became a school bus driver — for the next decade. Our income was 25% of what it had been, but he was much happier. Eventually my business picked up, he got a job doing IT work for the school transportation department, and our income increased. But for many years, it was $20,000 — or less. (We live in one of the most expensive areas of Colorado, by the way.)
    I can still remember the helpless feeling of pacing in front of the house, fearing that he would never recover — and knowing that I had to work, and somehow keep life going. Fortunately, by God’s grace, and REALLY working the frugal angle, we came out okay.

    • retirebyforty May 17, 2018, 8:09 pm

      Thank you for sharing. I’m glad to hear that your husband is doing better now.
      Stress can really mess you up. It’s better to make less money and be healthy.
      Best wishes.

  • Young FIRE Knight May 17, 2018, 10:20 am

    Wow what a story, thanks for sharing that Joe. It just goes to show you never really know where or what situation people come from from and how they persevere through.

    I’ve been extremely fortunate my whole life and can’t really even identify a rock bottom per se. My family has never been wanting as my parents had two stable jobs and were smart with their money, and I’ve had a stable job since graduating college as well. I hope the monthlong period between college graduation and starting my first job where I had basically no money (and had to decline going on a backpacking trip to Europe with friends because of it) is the lowest I’ll ever get.

  • Mr. Green May 17, 2018, 10:57 am

    I had $0 multiple times in my 20s because I kept quitting my crappy jobs and then blowing my savings. Vicious cycle. Started saving again in 2009. Made a lot of money in the stock market in 2016-2018. Trying to accomplish frugal FIRE now…lol.

    Early life was not great. I come from a poor single immigrant mother, no siblings. Bounced around to different households with a different set of people every time. Grew up with friends who sold drugs. I almost did but didn’t.

    Thanks for the story, Joe.

    • retirebyforty May 17, 2018, 8:11 pm

      Thanks for sharing. It’s good that you’re heading in the right direction now.
      Frugal FIRE is great. It’ll free you up to do they things you really want. Keep at it!

  • Helen May 17, 2018, 11:14 am

    Joe, thanks a lot for sharing the touching story. Your parents did a great job in supporting and paying you 3 kids the college expenses. Running a family restaurant is very tough, long hours, endless work, and a lot of risks for sure.

    I grew up poor. At that time, every family in that village in China was struggling financially. We were the poorer, but not the poorest. Once starting the college in Beijing, I became the poorest kid in the class. Luckily, the college education helped us to get rid of poverty quickly once we graduated. Quite a jump and blessing.

    • retirebyforty May 17, 2018, 8:13 pm

      Thanks! A family restaurant is a ton of work. My parents rarely had a day off. I think they close for Christmas and Thanksgiving. That’s about it.
      College education is a huge advantage. That’s why I want to make sure our son gets through college without a big loan. Thanks for sharing.

  • Steve May 17, 2018, 11:44 am

    I too had my lowest point right after college. I’ve been pretty fortunate to not struggle as much as other people. So glad your parents stayed in the country and were able to build a comfortable life for your family.

  • Lily | The Frugal Gene May 17, 2018, 12:15 pm

    Old school Asians always has some money stuffed somewhere. My mom gave us $10k for getting married and although by books they’re poor, that $10k and being debt free actually puts them very much in the upper 50% of Americans already except they had a much harder crawl up. My mom is visiting for 2 weeks so this story really resonates the similarities immigrant parents have to go through.

    (And it explains all the amazing food pics on your Twitter!)

    • retirebyforty May 17, 2018, 8:14 pm

      Wow, that’s a big gift from your mom. Enjoy the visit! I hope you guys get along okay.
      I don’t get along with my dad that much. A few days is good, but longer than that and we’ll drive each other crazy.

  • FullTimeFinance May 17, 2018, 12:48 pm

    Sounds like quite the experience.

    Honestly I had two of them in rapid succession. The first when I went to college. My parents divorced shortly thereafter and it came out they both lived paycheck to paycheck. During the separation period their credit was ruined. So keeping college loans became touch and go as no one would loan to my parents.

    Fast forward I graduated college to unemployed. Car loan and student loans I stayed unemployed for seven months. In that time I had only three interviews (dot com crash). First I bombed, second I nailed but they turned me down, and third flew me to Texas for an interview. There were months between them. The week after flight to Texas the second one called me back and offered me the job. I later learned first choice failed the drug screen. The rest is history.

    • retirebyforty May 17, 2018, 8:15 pm

      Divorce is tough. Glad to hear you got through college somehow.
      Nice job with the interview too. Sometime it just works out.

  • Physician on FIRE May 17, 2018, 1:30 pm

    Fascinating story, Joe.

    I love the can-do spirit so many immigrants possess. I learned from The Millionaire Next Door how first-generation immigrants often become successful business owners. It’s sink or swim, and your parents overcame the odds.

    Was the jerk who took a bat to your father prosecuted? That’s a horrendous story. Obviously, the police know where the guy lives.

    Best,
    -PoF

    • retirebyforty May 17, 2018, 8:17 pm

      I’m not sure what happened to the guy. I think the store called the police, but I don’t know the whole story.
      Yeah, it’s sink or swim for immigrants. Most of them came from tough situations so they know how to save. You can save even on minimum wage here in the US. At least back in the 80s. Now it’s tougher because housing cost is higher.

  • Late Bloomers Money May 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

    Joe, that’s very inspiring. I have many low points. But the lowest point of my life would be after I started to make some money. I was spending money to keep with the Joneses and not realized it was making me broke again.

    • retirebyforty May 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

      Yeah, that’s a difficult trap to avoid. Everyone around us is spending a lot of money. It feels like you need to keep up. But you can go your own way too. Thanks for sharing.

  • Andy May 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

    After college I had $15,000 in school loan debt in the year 2000. I got a job a few months later only paying the minimum on the CC and racking up credit card debt. I had a $15,000 school loan and $5,000 CC debt. I was stupid with money. In 2002 I bought a new car with a $400 a month loan payment. In 2003 my wife and I bought a home with no down payment. We had to get a second mortgage for the down payment. By this time we had two school loans, two mortgages, CC debt and two car payments totaling almost $180,000. By 2009 we paid everything off except the main mortgage. It took 6 years. In 2014 we paid off the main mortgage and became completely debt free. Now in 2018 we have $500k in investments and the house is worth 200k. It’s amazing how quickly your networth can skyrocket once you become debt free and start saving 50% of your income. I’ll never return to that debt hell again.

    • retirebyforty May 17, 2018, 8:19 pm

      Wow, that is a lot of debt. Good thing you were able to pay it off. I think a lot of people get stuck in that cycle and never get out. Great job so far.

  • Jeannie May 17, 2018, 9:14 pm

    Like you, I had a pretty charmed life myself. Got recruited in school into a well-paying profession, paid off my student loans in less than a year with some help, then just saved, invested and traveled.
    My lowest moment was my family’s lowest moment, which I had very little recollection of because I was just around 3 yo. I was sick a lot as a toddler and my parents found out I had a congenital heart condition. One that is very common, it could improve on its own or worsen as I age. I had a slightly worse case of it as I understand and I could become more immunocompromised. Nowadays it’s quite easy to fix. But back then for a young small town couple in China, it was a huge deal. The open heart surgery would cost 15k to 20k RMB. To put this into perspective. My parents were engineers who started their careers at 45 RMB per month and at the time of the diagnosis were making just under 1k RMB a month. And the best children’s surgeons were in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai. My parents didn’t have much in savings. Family, friends & coworkers all fundraised. My dad quit his government job to make more money in small business selling pens, small appliances to different regions. Somehow they came with money for the surgery and transportation, and family let us stay with them in Shanghai. After this point, my health improved and both my parents enjoyed quite a phenomenal period of success in their careers until we moved to Canada. Which took us back quite a long way financially, but not as low as the earlier situation.

    • retirebyforty May 18, 2018, 5:51 pm

      Wow, that’s pretty crazy. It’s good to hear that you are doing well now.
      Your parents were amazing. They figured out how to get the money together somehow.

  • GYM May 17, 2018, 10:43 pm

    Oh gosh I’m so sorry to hear that your dad had his arm broken over a pizza!!!!! That’s horrible and so not worth it, and to top it off your dad had no health insurance! Geez 🙁 It could have been much worse I guess- (e.g. if someone had a gun and not a bat!!) glad he’s okay now.

  • Hmmm Okay 🙂 … Finished grad school, hopped on a plane to Asia, basically penniless because of a student loan, married a princess (former royal family … descendant of China), and now a multi-millionaire by my own investments … from the far side of the planet 🙂

    • retirebyforty May 18, 2018, 5:53 pm

      That’s pretty amazing. How did you meet the princess?

  • [email protected] May 18, 2018, 6:41 am

    This a great story, and one that resonates with me–as an immigrant who came to this country when I was 10–as I’m sure it does for many others.

    It’s the kind of inspirational and affirming story that will help with younger generations as well. I teach at a school with mostly first-generation college students (and, yes, many of them children of immigrants), and I know that this kind of story IS the life they are living right now. Students who are working 3 jobs, entire families living in one bedroom apartments…

    Thanks for sharing–and congratulations to your parents (and you too, of course) for persevering to make a success of it all!

  • Tigermom May 18, 2018, 8:49 am

    Lots of tough times, I was a recent graduate, and despite being a professional, in the early years I was on strike twice. I had paid off a 10K student loan, but no reserves. My friend fed me dinner during the long strike and I ate modestly earlier in the day. Family could have helped, but are very strange around money and helping out. At the moment I bring my parents food and help them out as they are older and having memory problems, and have just gone back to work after maternity leave. Due to income disruption I have had a difficult conversation with my family and they do not wish to help so I have drawn some heavy boundaries about what I can and cannot do for the older generation. No easy happy ending for me, and I did learn to take care of myself and stick up for myself on an ongoing basis.

    • retirebyforty May 18, 2018, 5:54 pm

      I’m sorry to hear you’re having problems. It’s hard when family member get older. My mom needs a lot of help these days too. Best wishes.

  • Dan K May 18, 2018, 10:03 am

    My lowest point is when I decided to make a movie and finance it through credit cards and cash advances. I had just gotten married and no children on the way, when I want to pursue my lifelong dream. It was a short film, made it to some film festivals and I even received an encouraging letter from Oliver Stone. But no move to California for us. Instead, I had a mountain of debt and my wife got pregnant. It took years to get out of that and from I job I didn’t care about. When my daughter was born, my priorities changed. Now, 26 years later no more debt for us. Cut all most those credit cards and always pay in full every month.

    • retirebyforty May 18, 2018, 5:55 pm

      Whoa, that’s brave of you. Too bad it didn’t work out. Sounds like you’re doing well now. Nice job!

  • Mei May 18, 2018, 11:53 am

    This story resonates so much. We are also first generation immigrants and my parents were barely surviving on low wage jobs and eventually opened a small take out joint and finally met their American dream by owning a small business. They also paid for three kids college degrees and now we’re all successful (and spending frivolously per my parents) but we are able to return a little bit of investments to us by paying for their vacations etc. cheers the American dream! It can happen! I’m still working hard to achieve our dreams but a health crisis has set back my plans a bit. Stay well insured cuz the number one cost is healthcare!

    • retirebyforty May 18, 2018, 5:57 pm

      Small business is the way to go for immigrant. It’s no good working minimum wage for other people. You never make enough money that way. I hope your health improves.
      Best wishes.

  • Dividend Growth Investor May 18, 2018, 12:57 pm

    Wow, thanks for sharing your story Joe. It must have been very hard for your parents to start a new life in a new country, and having very little in terms of a support network after your aunt moved back to Thailand. But I am glad it all worked out in the end.

    • retirebyforty May 18, 2018, 5:58 pm

      It was hard on my mom, but my dad was used to starting over. I think he enjoyed the challenge.

  • Mohit Goyal May 18, 2018, 2:28 pm

    My viewpoint is slightly different than the one you put forth.

    For many of us, financial-lives revolve around ‘future projected values’ than the ‘present value of savings’. In that sense, my ever-thriving and 150,000-USD-equivalent monthly profit generating business is cut by 70-80% since Feb this year; due to an industry recession.

    Is it bad? Absolutely not! The money I make is still around 2M INR per month (30000 USD a month in Portland – cost of living adjusted) which is not small at all!

    Yet I feel at my financially lowest. Not only because I’ve had a financially “high” life; but also because I sense the trajectory going down in future and maybe the business I am in, has peaked out already. Maybe because my peers are doing better than me. I am only 35, and maybe I end up broke by the time I am 55. Lots of “maybes” create this doubt.

    Anyone else would take 30K US$ per month anywhere in the world and feel like he is in his “financially brightest phase”.

    Ultimately, all these are devil-mind’s play-zones, and the trick is to keep yourself in an illusion.

  • FIRECracker May 19, 2018, 8:04 am

    Wow. That is an amazing story. Your parents are so hard working and resilient. I also love the twist where the reader thinks your parents are middle class (because they paid for your college education) but it turns out you all did it together through working your butts off at the family restaurant. Very inspiring! My mom also worked multiple jobs while I was growing up–dishwater, hotel maid, seamstress. The dishwashing job allowed her to bring home leftover food that the restaurant threw away at the end of the day. That was the “highlight” of that min-wage job. Very grateful for all the resilience that our parents taught us.

    Would you mind if I use your story for the book I’m writing for Penguin Random House? I’m collecting stories about resilience and living through poverty for one of my chapters.

    • retirebyforty May 19, 2018, 9:04 am

      Sure, you can use my story. Good luck on the book!
      Yeah, whenever I go through difficult times, I think back and it’s always easier than what my parents had to go through.
      It’s good to live through a few difficult situations. It’s tough for immigrants to make a new start.

  • Jay May 19, 2018, 2:09 pm

    Thank you for sharing. I know it’s not easy getting personal and opening up sometimes.

    For me, I think one of my lowest points financially was when I was growing up as well. My parents worked hard to keep our family fed, clothed, and sheltered. But sometimes it wasn’t enough. There were times that the lights would go out, or the internet and phone would go off. I remember one time I didn’t have my homework and the teacher asked why in front of the entire class to try and reprimand me, I guess . I let him know i couldn’t complete my homework because I had no lights at home and it was too dark to get anything done. My classmates couldn’t comprehend this and thought I had just came up with a great excuse, but that was my reality.

  • Logan P May 19, 2018, 4:41 pm

    Hi Joe,

    Really inspiring to hear you and your family’s story. Your site was the first financial independence resource I found after college and have been following consistently for 2+ years now. Also such a coincidence that my partner and I currently live in Granada Hills and I commute to work in Thousand Oaks! What a small world 🙂

    After college, my partner and I were without income, had less than $1,500 between both of us, and had little personal financial discipline. Now, 2 years later, we both have advancing careers, have been able to save 50% of our income, and have put away ~80k! Thank you for your continued inspiration and tips to help us on our journey to financial independence!

    – Logan

  • The Teach May 20, 2018, 5:55 am

    I graduated college in the spring of 2007, right before the start of the recession, and my only bite in the job market was a minimum wage office temp job. I didn’t make enough to keep up with my student loans, nor did my temp gig offer health insurance, so I hatched a half baked plan to continue on my parents’ health insurance and defer my loans by signing up for community college classes. When my beater car broke down for good, ending my ability to commute to the temp job and wrecking any chance of getting a full time position out of it (also resulted in failing grades for those college classes since I couldn’t get there either), I went back to the waitressing job I had in high school that was within walking distance of my parents’ home. I originally intended to save up to buy a car, but my parents decided that the best way to inspire me to get a full time job was to put a 3 month time limit on my ability to stay rent free.

    I ended up couch surfing until I connected with a friend that lived in a large city with public transportation who was willing to give me a month to pin down a job. I fortunately did and that time has faded into the dark corners of my memories!

    Definitely the low point: wasn’t really looking up or forward, was just trying to survive with a roof over my head and food on the table. I think I matured a lot, though, and it certainly forced me to understand the difference between needs and wants!

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