Building a Life After Growing Up Poor
Many have asked when I started investing my money, and the answer is 2. How would a 2 year old know how to save money? I wish I could tell you how, but for some reason my photographic memory is ridiculously powerful. I still remember the details of our house that burned down, to the big ugly furnace that gave me nightmares as an infant, to the time I ran into my mom’s bed afraid of being chased by monsters, to the location of our dinner table.
Saving Red Envelopes
When I was 2 years old, I received red envelopes from family during birthdays, Christmas, Chinese New Year, etc. I remember how excited I was to receive $1 from my grandfather. I told myself I would save every red envelope because it meant so much to me that someone would give that as a gift.
Instead of spending that money on new clothes and cool toys, I saved my red envelopes for rainy days. The reason is because when our house burned down, I learned how quickly everything can just disappear. Our whole life savings went down the drain, and we were homeless. I remember coming home, and seeing firemen, policemen, and neighbors surrounding our house. I didn’t understand what was happening at the time, but I remember my mom running out of the car, screaming, and crying in terror because everything in our house burned down.
The only items the firemen were able to recover was a box of my childhood books and photo albums, with burnt edges, smelling like burnt plastic and wood. Every time it rains, and people burn firewood in their fireplaces, the memories come rushing back merely from the smell of burnt wood and fresh rain water.
Growing Up Homeless
After our house burned down, we stayed temporarily at my aunt’s house, my mom’s friend’s house, and living in our brown van. I still recall staying at a cheap motel with a coin operated bed, drinking powdered strawberry milk, eating instant noodles, and walking with my mom to pick up boxed foods and living off food stamps. It was a rough time in our lives, but my mom held it together for us. We went from having successful businesses: a live band and a limousine business, to absolutely nothing overnight when our house burned down. My mom tried hard to do whatever she could to survive, including cleaning carpets and taking on side gigs. I remember her coming home crying because she was treated terribly by clients, employers, and coworkers. It took a deep toll on her mental health.
Red Envelopes for Rainy Days
While everyone around me spent their red envelopes, I was the one saving them. I never felt I needed anything, so I didn’t see a point in buying anything. Anytime my mom was short on rent, I knew because she wouldn’t eat anything. I would sneak $100 in her drawers, and when she laid down on her bed, I would go through her drawers, and pretend to find money.
My mom doesn’t like handouts, so this was the only way to get her to receive anything. You can just see the relief on her face every time I “found” money.
I remember looking forward to Christmas because my mom saved all year for a $100 shopping spree for us. We went to K Mart and I would buy one barbie doll, new shoes, a new school uniform, and jello parfaits. I learned at a young age that we didn’t need to have everything, as long as we had one another.
After losing everything, we applied for housing assistance. Growing up under Section 8 housing, and living under slumlord conditions was not ideal, but it was better than being homeless. Many landlords didn’t care about their tenants, which is why I’m so passionate about Fair Housing and Equal Opportunities and landlords being held accountable for providing safe living environments.
I grew up living in a house with mold growing in the walls, no electricity at times, with no heat or air condition, rats creeping our kitchen and garage floors because they found their way over from our neighbor’s houses, and my family was sick all the time. When we raised the concern to our landlord, he ignored us. Unfortunately, we didn’t have many options, so we learned to deal with it.
The Path to Freedom
As soon as I graduated college, I was able to get a job in the Insurance and Financial industry. I was the #1 producer, but I slowly lost the drive once I started servicing client portfolios. What started as helping people with their finances, turned into tricking people into moving their money so that the financial companies can make a percentage off their clients money, even when it wasn’t in their client’s best interest. I refused to do anything that was unethical and chose to go against my superiors. If you read my story, the work environment made it easy for me to resign.
Leaving Section 8 Housing
Things happen for a reason, and the money I made from my job allowed me to move my family out of Section 8 housing. For the first time in our lives, we were free from yearly home inspections, a slumlord who tried to squeeze more money out of us, threatening to not renew our lease and letting someone else move in unless we could come up with more money. It was difficult watching my mom fall apart, starving herself, to ensure we had enough money to keep a roof over our heads.
I remember the first time I told my mom that I found us a new house and that we’re moving out. She was angry at me because she didn’t understand why I would want her to leave Section 8 housing. She was afraid of being homeless again, and I completely understood why she was upset. We lived in that house for over 12 years, and there I was, asking her to pack up her things and leave. She asked where I got the money, and I told her to not worry about it. I worked multiple jobs and struggled through college, doing my best not to fall apart while saving every penny I had to ensure I could give my family a better life.
Closing Out Investments, Buying a House, and Opening a Business
I invested half my money, saved a quarter of it, and the other quarter went into housing and expenses. Four years later, I closed out my investments from many penny stocks, Apple, Shopify, and Tesla to put a down payment on a house at the age of 29, accomplishing my goal of owning a house by age 30.
I moved my mom and brother into that house, while I continued working in the Bay Area, living in a van, saving money to keep a roof over their heads, and driving back every few days to prep food and run errands for them.
One year after, I left the Bay Area to care for my mom after her cancer diagnosis, and opened up my business shortly after. I never planned on owning a business, but I told myself if I ever did, I would want to own one by age 40; I did it by age 30 in fear that my mom might pass away before then.
Giving My Family The Life They Deserve
That little girl who wanted to give her mom a future did just that. My mom no longer has to eat instant noodles and canned food. She doesn’t have to worry about people hurting or manipulating her. She has great doctors and a better healthcare system that allows her health to improve. She gets excited when she buys steak, shrimp, lobster, and everything that she never could before. She gets to buy as many plants as her heart desires since she has a whole acre to plant on. She also has a beautiful german shepherd dog that works round the clock to protect her from strangers and makes her go outside to get her exercise.
That teenage girl who promised to give her brother a new life after being attacked throughout middle school and high school was able to fulfill her promise, My brother doesn’t have to worry about being bullied, or thrown into trash cans. He doesn’t have to worry about being over prescribed different medications that don’t help. He has a diabetic specialist, therapist, psychiatrist, primary care physician, ophthalmologist, and pharmacy team working to provide him with the best care possible. He is surrounded by other individuals who have different levels of autism, with supervisors who care about him. He is enrolled in a work program that allows him to feel like he is a contributing member of society, which makes him feel better as a person. Recently he received a pay raise and he’s excited to make $14/hour.
You Can Rebuild Too
I wanted to share my story because I know there are many people out there who are currently in this situation. I’m hoping those who found my story are those searching for a way out of their circumstance. It may feel like a complete nightmare right now, and you may feel trapped, but know that there’s always a way out. It will take hard work, perseverance, and a positive mindset to get you there. I’m writing because I’m finally out of my situation, and now I can share my story with a clear mind, without getting overly emotional every time I think about everything that’s happened to me.