suburban upbringing

What You Can Learn From My Typical Suburban Upbringing

My parents are not investors.  They were not raised with money.  They were son’s and daughters of European immigrants only a generation before.  Immigrants who came to this country for a better life.  We are talking manufacturing line workers, coal miners and steel workers.  This led me to grow up in a typical suburban upbringing in America.

My parents lived a typical middle class life.  My father an accountant and general manager of a small business and my mother a full-time mom, a nursery school teacher and later worked in a high school.  They did slightly better than their parents a generation before and instilled the same expectation to their children.  We would do better.  Money will bring happiness, they thought.

They had a rich life and still do today.  Not rich in the sense that they have an abundance of luxury.  They surrounded themselves with family and friends.   They are rich with fond memories.  They had countless family gathers, neighborhood BBQ’s and late nights, while us kids were playing hide and seek or ghost in the graveyard.  This was the typical suburban American childhood growing up in the 80’s and 90’s.

I will likely not inherit one cent in my lifetime and that is perfectly fine.

Early on, I understood I needed to be self-made or live a similar, completely rich life-like my parents without an abundance of luxury.  I now know that being self-made still requires a life without an abundance of luxury, at least for the millionaire next door types like myself.  To be self-made, you have to sacrifice now for later.  You sacrifice time now, in exchange for trust and responsibility in the workplace to grow your income in corporate America.   This is ok.  We do not feel deprived in any way, other than time.

Life Lessons from my Suburban Upbringing

Some of my parents tactics and values were not conventional.  Here are some of the money tidbits and lessons learned from growing up in my suburban upbringing.  Some I will repeat with my kids, like hard work and understanding of a dollar earned.  Some not, like money being a taboo subject.  In no order, here are some the things that stand out from my memory.

  • At the age of 10, they made me share a paper route with my older brother.  Yes, I started working at age 10. (The route was in his name as I was too young.)
  • At Christmas time, they insisted I go door to door on the paper route to hand deliver Christmas cards even though I was extremely shy.  I made hundreds of dollars every year doing this and learned to love it.
  • Money was a taboo topic until a medical emergency of one of my parents this year.
  • They lived paycheck to paycheck and still do today.  If a car broke down it would be weeks of fighting and arguing over money.
  • Academics were important, but not as important as after school.  We either had to play sports or work.  I opted to play sports, but worked in the off-season on various odd jobs.
  • Everyone had to go to college and the major required approval.  Liberal Arts was not an option.

What You Can Learn From My Normal Suburban Upbringing

Family Trumps Everything Else

Family (and close friends) is the most important thing.  Focus on family.  Give children your time.   All the money in the world will not buy you the happiness that a strong bond with family can bring.

Work For What You Want

I learned this lesson early on while walking through bitter cold mornings delivering papers.  Somewhere on those endless early morning walks I realized there were better ways to make money.  There are jobs where you aren’t required to use your hands or be outside in the elements.  There were even ways to make money without working.  

Yes, I splurged a lot with my earnings. l bought a new Trek mountain bike and a Sega Genesis.  I loved this part of making money.  I could  buy things whenever I wanted without having to ask someone else to buy it for me.  All of this thanks to the wonderful jobs I did childhood and young adulthood.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Shrimp Peeler – I would stand over an icy bath of shrimp for hours peeling shrimp.  I still hate shrimp over 20 years later.  My hands would turn blue after a few hours.
  • Chicken Packer – I would air seal raw chicken.  Totally disgusting.
  • Snow Shoveler  – My friend and I would make a bundle doing this after heavy storms.
  • Mover – yes, I worked at a moving company and it was the most fun I ever had on the job.
  • Telemarketer – I was the worst telemarketer. I don’t think I had one sale in 2 months before quitting.
  • Systems Administrator – I traveled from small business to small business helping with desktops and local networking.

Find jobs where you can make the most for an hour of your time.

Finding a job was never a problem.  Finding a job that maximized my earnings was always the top of mind, and really still is today.  I think it was part of my upbringing.  Work is work, its great to like what you do, but I never thought I would love work unless it was my own business.  I might as well find a job where I can maximize the money for my time.

The moving company was great for this.  As a summer job with no skills, this job was great.  I made a lot of money, had fun and made some great friendships.  This was probably the hardest I ever worked physically.  The added benefit, I was in the best shape of my life.

Fast forward 20 years, as a consultant in my industry there are some independent consultants who can charge $250 per hour.  Most contracts last a year to eighteen months. The potential to make over $500k a year is real.  I am not there yet, but I know its possible.  Am I ambitious enough to obtain it?  Probably not.  My time is more important to me now.

Money does not directly bring happiness

I started this blog at the start of my families shift in priorities.  A turning point was reached to focus on our young kids.  We juggled with this decision for years.  We told ourselves we would make up for all the missed experiences later in life.  While this maybe true, we were missing out on some fantastic memories while the kids were young.

Our income has floated above the top 1% of earners for years, but it isn’t directly making us happy.  Maybe it’s because we were investing over 60% of our income instead of spending it.   I doubt spending it will make us any happier.  So the money doesn’t increase the happiness level after you reach a certain point of basic necessities.  For us, that is about $75,000 a year if we pay off our mortgage.

Money will bring us options later in life and hopefully translate into happiness for my family.  This might take a couple more years now that I scaled back my hours, but the intention is to live a work optional lifestyle and have more time to explore the world as a family unit.

 What lessons from your childhood transformed how you manage your money or career?


  1. Those are some very nice life lessons!

    My upbringing was pretty different. My parents were Depression-era children so they saved and scrimped a lot. And my Dad invested in the stock market, so they did pretty well in the end.

    They taught me one of my most important life lessons – always live below your means.
    Mr. Freaky Frugal recently posted…How much do you REALLY need to retire?My Profile

    1. Mr. FF,

      Live below means is probably the best piece of advice. My in-laws still live almost like they are in the depression even though they are well off after years of saving a large portion of income. Their frugal ways have started to rub off on me.

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