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There were tears in my eyes. And I was begging my mom. “Let’s just leave. The baby, my little brother and you. We can just go. We will figure it out. I can get a job. I’ll help pay the rent. I think the little rooms above the grocery store rent for only $150 a month.” I was 12, and I thought it was a good plan. The man my mom had married years before had changed. Now he drank every day; all night long. The only words he could mutter to us were insults and slurs. Mostly he worked in the garage at night. It was like there was a rain cloud over our home. And I was done.

My mom was more logical than I was passionate. “I’m sorry.” She told me. “We can’t afford to leave. This is just the way it is. With three little kids and a minimum wage job, there is no way we will make it.”

I cried hot tears into my bed that night. That was my FI flashpoint.

12, hurt, scared and angry.

I learned an important lesson about the world.

Money equals choice. Money means freedom.

If I could earn more than I spent, I could buy myself a different life.

And that is just what I set out to do.

Living in poverty feels like all your choices are made for you. The place you work, the hours you work, the food you eat, where you live, who you have to live with, and how you spend your free time. Poverty decides all of it. You feel like a cog in the wheel. Just pushing through the motions. No exit plan. Just keep your head down and keep walking. Don’t make waves. Don’t complain.

There is little hope of our situation getting better, so we just try not to make things worse. We can’t afford for things to go worse. Ends barely meet as it is.

You have to just accept it. Because you are a victim. Of systems and circumstances. All too big to overcome and outside your power to change. Or you can call bullshit and fight it. Inch by inch you take ground.

By my senior year, I was living on my own. Paying my bills. Working full time. And had squirreled away $8,000. I might have been driving an old pieced together geo metro and wearing goodwill clothes, but $8,000 was half a years wages for our family. Just sitting in my savings account. Freedom money.

My life plan won’t be defined by scarcity.

But it also won’t be stolen away by upgrades or excuses.

Have you ever met that girl who will smile a sweet smile, and nod a little nod? She quietly walks away. Then begins the escape plan. Scheming, planning, dreaming and hustling. She is ready to flip tables and take no prisoners. She is biding her time, but just wait. Like a rocket being built in the basement. She is tired of being the tail and never the head. Tired of being trapped, stuck and held back.

Try to get her to sleep in late. Try to get her to trade her freedom for new clothes. Try to convince her to compromise all her escape plans for little comforts. She doesn’t give a damn about the bread and circus’. 

It’s fine if you want to buy the high end granite counter tops. She will be happy for you. She will profess their beauty. Then she will buy the cheapest laminate counters for her own home. Because she has a different plan. That extra money has a different purpose. It’s freedom money. It will be put into a rental house. Or squirreled away in an Roth IRA. She is buying the right to custom choose her life.

Try to stop her.

Make fun of that beater car. Go ahead. Complain to the boss how her ugly car should be parked in the back, where customers can’t see it. She will smile her sweet smile. And nod her little nod. Then she will buy yet another rental property. One step closer. She won’t even point out how that $30k car loan cost you another year of work at this job you hate. No. There is no time to waste her breath.

There is the most important. Then there is everything else.

We don’t trade the most important for everything else. Simple as that.

Our most important: Time for our marriage and kids. Travel and adventure. Living with generosity. Rest and work. And freedom. The freedom to create the life that is the best possible fit for us that year. To have what we need, when we need it. Our bills are paid, food is in the cupboard and the house is warm.

I know what our most important things are. And they always get to come first.

Everything else… is just everything else. Why the hell would I care about having the newest iphone? Or how much data it has? Will I trade my most important for that? So I can have overpriced tech and bragging rights? Please.

It took years, decades really, to learn to be ok with looking poor in order to build wealth. I sometimes still have to fight against that flood of feelings: inadequacy, less than, shame. I could trade away our money and options to appease those feelings. We could take the $50,000 sitting in our checking account and upgrade our 16 year old Honda Civic. The more financial freedom we build, the easier it becomes to resist. Having that choice, made it easier to say “No. That’s never been our most important.” Now when asked about that old, beater Honda, I say with pride, “Oh, that old car? That car has helped make us rich. I could never let her go. She’s a dream maker.”