Money Stories: Moving Beyond a Life of Things

This week’s #MyMoneyStory comes from Jessica of It’s an incredibly powerful story about the painful process of coming to terms with the lies we’ve been told are true…and the sense of happiness and peace that follows.


I’m the first born of four to an immigrant mother and a Canadian born father. We lived in a decent sized home in the suburbs where my three siblings and I had our own bedrooms and it never felt crammed or small.

I think our neighbourhood would be considered upper-middle class, however, it didn’t seem like we were upper-middle class.

Our home was pretty empty. We had one couch in the living room, there was no furniture in our great room or the office, we had a dinning room table we never used, and our basement was unfinished.

We rarely brought friends over and if we did we would stay in our rooms. But it was fun having lots of siblings. We got along most of the time, probably because we all had our own space and a mutual understanding of our strange parents.

My dad worked at a factory his entire life. He is a very smart man, but he couldn’t finish university because he ran out of money. He, too, grew up with three other siblings but in a much smaller home. When General Motors came, it opened up a lot of employment opportunities and he got a job right away. It offered a decent pay and really great benefits, so he never left.

My mom moved to Canada to marry my dad in 1987. She was 26 and she never finished high school. She also had a large family, ten siblings in total! They worked hard in factories to try and support the family while living in Hong Kong, so I think when she found my dad she dreamed of a better life for herself in Canada.

She got a job soon after she moved here but it didn’t last because the factory shut down. She was unemployed for a while and finally got a job at my dad’s work, but was laid off soon after. She’s worked on and off most of her life and so she has never had job security.

I think because both my parents grew up poor they never felt financially secure.

It’s what motivated them to work hard and provide for us so we could live in a good neighbourhood with good schools. Amazingly, they paid for all of our university educations. I can’t thank them enough for that.

My mom always told us as long as we worked hard in school and got a good education we would get good jobs and be happy. She was pretty much right; we did all get good jobs after university, but I wouldn’t necessarily say I was happy. Happiness is not found in what your job is or how much you make.

Although we were extremely privileged to have school paid for, we never felt privileged growing up. If we wanted something my mom would tell us, “No, I don’t have any money”. I would worry we would have to sell our house because she always said we had no money. It scared me. We rarely got gifts.

I remember my brother didn’t even have underwear to wear because my mom said she couldn’t afford it.

But here’s the thing, we were not poor.

My parents pretty much maxed out their retirement savings and our education savings every year (in Canada we have what’s called a Registered Education Savings Plan that parents can contribute tax free until it is used for the child’s education), they always paid off their credit card, we had cable with all the channels and packages, and we were really well off if you looked at their bank statements.

My dad takes care of all the finances and he’s really good at saving. While mom just acted as a bank security guard, she never looked at their statements or paid the bills, but she guarded money. She assumed we never had money because she never had a steady job, no matter how much my dad told her she didn’t need to worry.

So I basically grew up tricked into thinking we were poor. How weird is that? Did that stop me from wanting things? Nope. My friends always had the nicest clothes, they went on family vacations, they had nicely furnished homes, and they always had the best gifts at Christmas.

It was hard to appreciate what we had when everyone around me had so much.

One day in elementary school, a girl asked me if my parents were poor because of the way I dressed. I was so embarrassed! I told myself at that young age as soon as I could start making money I would buy myself nice clothes and nice things and never feel ashamed again. I couldn’t understand why my parents wouldn’t buy things with their money. They never told me how they managed their money except for telling us that we had none.

Motivated to start working so young, I’ve been employed since I was 12. I had a paper route, then I was a hostess, a gymnastics teacher (I’m not a gymnast, I volunteered there and then somehow got a job), a hostess at three other restaurants, a deli clerk, a gift shop cashier, a cashier at a big box store, worked in more retail, was a server, a brand ambassador, and now I am a Fund Accountant. I would often work  three jobs at once.

I’ve been working for 16 years…but I have nothing to show for it because I spent every dollar and more.

I got a credit card as soon as I turned 18 and maxed it out shopping. Then I got another credit card and did the exact same thing again. I constantly had two maxed out cards all throughout university while my parents paid for my education. It makes me really upset when I think about it. I just never felt like I had enough. It felt like my credit card limits were limiting my ability to have more stuff. I tried to raise it multiple times to go shopping, of course without success (thankfully).

I became an accountant that sucks at money.

I can’t blame my parents for not teaching me how to be smart with money. They honestly did their best at raising four kids with a somewhat unsteady income and saving their money. I wish I could go back to my younger self and tell her not to be obsessive with THINGS! There’s so much more to this life than stuff. Listen to your intuition and follow your heart.

Do not look for acceptance from the outside, look for it from within and accept yourself because you are enough.

You are not defined by what you own. You do not need validation from other people. Trust yourself and everything else in life will be just fine. If I only knew that I would become addicted to shopping and trapped by my debt. But I’m glad I know what I know now. I am glad that I am able to learn from my mistakes and now I can see a clearer, healthier financial future for myself. I take it day by day and live more presently by working on my goals one step at a time.

I had all this stuff that other people I looked up to had, that was supposed to make me happy, but I wasn’t. I had an education, I had a great job, I had nice clothes and a condo furnished with nice things. But why wasn’t I happy? Why did I owe so much money? Am I unhappy because of my spending?

Something had to change. I searched for ways to reduce my debt and increase savings which lead me to a community of personal finance bloggers.

Reading other peoples’ financial journeys was so inspiring. I learned about financial independence and financial freedom. I started my own money journal and learned a lot about myself. I learned what truly made me happy by looking from within. What makes me happy are great relationships with friends and family, spending time with loved ones, feeling compassion, love, and good health. These are things that money can’t buy.

My debt tied me down and my stuff was just adding stress to my life. I was setting myself up to be in debt forever, to have to work my entire life because I have to pay creditors, to not be able to spend as much time with people I love, and the uncertainty of what would happen if I lost my job was disturbing.

I was also upset that I was unable to buy a home or start my own family because I wasn’t financially secure.

So I started tracking my spending and created a budget for myself.

I started saving an emergency fund so I didn’t have to rely on my credit cards.

I cut out shopping completely, and I started investing more for retirement.

They were small steps, but they mattered.

I have come a long way since starting this journey to financial freedom and I only started a few months ago (!) I’m so thrilled that I have set myself up for the future and chose to stop living with the debt I created in the past.

I now chose to live in the present, while looking forward to the future and not letting the past tie me down.

I think a lot of people would be happier if they learned to not seek validation from the outside and found acceptance from within. I hope we can all learn from my money mistakes and if you take anything from this, start by finding what really makes you happy and then trust your intuition to guide you there.


Do you find happiness in things?

6 thoughts on “Money Stories: Moving Beyond a Life of Things

  1. NZ Muse says:

    Another child of immigrants! We never got gifts and lived super frugally. It sucked as a kid. But my parents worked so hard, they built a home when we moved here and paid in cash (prices were a lot lower then…) They were able to choose to work part time as a result. These days as they approach retirement I observe that they seem to finally be letting go and loosening the purse strings a bit more enjoying what they’ve worked for. Not sure if their exact financial situation but it seems healthy and they’ve always been savvy and so frugal I’m not worried about them. Very grateful as I know many people face having to support their ageing parents.


    1. The Finance Spa says:

      I’m very grateful my parents are healthy and can now live a life they can enjoy as well. They spend a lot more now that 3/4 kids have moved out — renovations, vacations — and I’m really happy for them. It was hard to grow up with parents who always said no, but it makes a lot of sense to me now that I’m working and realizing the major responsibility that comes with making money! Thank you for sharing your comment 🙂


  2. Nicoleandmaggie says:

    Also first gen on one side. This was us growing up except that my mom always made sure we had underwear(!). She had the steady employment, not my dad. They put us through college and I felt like all that crazy frugality was worth it.


    1. The Finance Spa says:

      I’m so happy that I can relate to all the first gens here! The crazy frugality was totally worth it in the end. It took me a while to notice but I’m incredibly grateful. I don’t think I will ever match up to how hard working and frugal my mother is, mostly because I will make sure my future children will have underwear!! But she is very hard working and I admire her for that.
      Thank you so much for reading my story and sharing your thoughts, Nicole!


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