CHAPTER ONE: Who the Heck Am I and Why Should You Take Advice from Me?
You don’t know me, and that’s a shame. Because if you did, you might well be independently wealthy by now. I could have shown you how to make yourself a fortune, and you could have done so long ago.
Me? How could I have shown you the road to riches and financial independence?
How could I have missed? After all, my wealth building credentials are impeccable. I was kicked out of the house when I was 15, left to my own devices. I could have died from disease or wound up in jail or on drugs. I barely managed to finish high school.
Yet, at the age of 38, I retired well on my way to becoming a multi-millionaire.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me go back.
I was raised in the best of families and the worst of families. My adopted father loved me like crazy when it was convenient, and my mother told me she never wanted to adopt me at all.
Dad and all of my teachers used to tell me that I could do anything I wanted in life, and I believed them. Mom disparaged my independence since she was from one of the last generations of moms who didn’t work. Like most dysfunctional families, it functioned, sort of, for many years. I remember feeling happy enough at the time. I knew nothing else. And then my father found a new pastime.
Her name was Peggy or Katie or Sue – it didn’t really matter – and she was his secretary. When dad’s affair became so blatant that he came home only late Saturday nights and left again early Sunday mornings (allegedly for work), mom’s drinking went totally off the rails. And the walls came tumbling down on the house of lies they had built around themselves. And me.
Rather than face her failing marriage, my mother set out to make me the scapegoat, probably in a desperate attempt to regain the attention of her cheating husband. I’ll never truly understand their motivations, but the bottom line is that I went virtually overnight from being the family favorite, a great student, and all-around good kid, to being Public Enemy Number One – at least in the eyes of my mother. I begged my father to help me. But he was too busy entertaining his 18-year-old girlfriend to be bothered. Besides, risking my mother’s wrath by standing up to her might have caused him to miss out on a little action with his new girl. Heaven forbid.
Things took a sudden turn for the worse when my mother, who had waited until dad was out of town, decided to lock me out of the house. I was 15 at the time, a sophomore in high school, and I couldn’t use my key to open the front door, as the screen door was locked. Perplexed, I rang the doorbell. When she answered, my mother told me to take all my clothes because I wasn’t coming back.
Lucky for me, I have always had a love affair with money. My older brother and I started mowing lawns for our neighbors when I was 9. I also babysat my newborn brother when I was 8 when my parents wanted a night out, and I continued babysitting him and other children until I was 14, which was when I was legally old enough to get a “real” job.
I then went to work at the local library shelving books, and I was soon promoted to head page and book mender. I also tutored other kids in math, algebra, geometry, English, and Spanish. Between my odd jobs and my frugal ways, I had managed to accumulate over $1,500 in a savings account by the time my mother decided to kick me out of the house forever.
As my new reality set in, I found a cheap, slum-like apartment owned by a kindly black lady in a very scary part of town. She happily took my money and didn’t ask for any identification. Good thing since I didn’t have any! I was terrified most of the nights during the few months I lived there. It was great being away from Psycho-Mom, but I was still only a young girl, afraid of bugs and the dark. I had only my clothes to my name. I didn’t even own any towels, so I had to dry off from the shower with my bathrobe each day.
Things didn’t get better anytime soon.
The first time I did laundry on my own, I figured the best way to get my clothes the cleanest was to set the washer on hot, and I thought it would be cheapest to put everything into one big load. I did the same thing with the dryer. After that, all my clothes were sort of grayish-colored and way too tight. Oops!
Another problem that began to show itself was one I’d actually had all my life – I suffered from low blood sugar. I used to faint from it ever since I was a little girl. Of course, I didn’t realize it back then, since I was never actually diagnosed until I was in my early twenties. But when I tried to save money by eating only one meal a day (usually a box of donuts – very nutritious!) my hypoglycemia kicked in and I felt sick. I also gained an extra 35 pounds. It was a neat trick, stuffing my chunky self into my shrunken clothes!
I continued to attend high school, although I never opened a book or did any homework again. I slept through most of my classes since I was always malnourished and exhausted. The long walk to and from school everyday and work every night really wiped me out. I don’t know how I managed to stay in class. Looking back, I should have quit. School didn’t do me any good in the long run. I could have used the time to rest, or to get a part-time job to earn more money. I even considered it once, briefly. But two things stopped me. First, I always loved learning, loved school and loved my teachers. Second, school was the only normal thing I had going in my life.
So I plodded along, following the same pattern, for as long as I could. And then one day, my doting mother went to my school principal’s office and tried to get me expelled, telling him that I didn’t live at her house anymore, and my new address put me out of their district. The administration ignored her, thankfully, since I had always been a favorite of all my teachers.
In time, I found a boyfriend, Jerry, who came from the most wonderful family I’ve ever known. They showed me what real love and affection were and what a happy family is like, and bless them, for they fed me dinner every night while their son and I dated.
Jerry was the son of a good friend of my mother. So, when mom went to their house one day and threatened to have him arrested and put in jail for statutory rape, I was stunned. She didn’t really care whether or not he and I were actually having sex, she just wanted to make sure I didn’t have anyone to care for me. She wanted to destroy me. And she tried her best to do so.
Thankfully, my surrogate family laughed in her face and showed her the door.
But that wasn’t the end of things. The worst thing my mother did to me was to refuse to allow me any contact with my little brother. On my one day off of work each week, I used to walk to his neighborhood where he was outside playing so I could visit him. No one had told him I’d been kicked out. My mother simply said that I was “working late” whenever he asked about me. I guess she got my father and older brother to play along. Once she found out I’d been visiting him, she forbade him to see me or speak to me again. What could he do? He was afraid of being seen with me for fear of being punished.
Finally, my mother had found a way to hit me where I lived. I was devastated, thinking I would never see him again.
I’m not telling you all this so you will feel sorry for me. I don’t ever want that. I’m telling you these things so that you will know that anyone can do what I did. No one bankrolled me, no one granted me any favors, no one loaned me a dime. I did everything on my own, and I made it. And if a kid with my background could, anybody can. And that means you can too!
After graduating high school, I moved to another state. My crazy family was moving hundreds of miles away to start life anew, and I just couldn’t continue living in the same town where they had abused me so. I know family counselors say that running away is never a solution. In my case, it was. I needed to be in a place with no sad memories. I needed to be at peace.
So I moved to a brand new city and found another minimum-wage job working at a fast-food restaurant. As it did throughout most of high school, working in a food establishment guaranteed me a minimum of two semi-healthy meals a day. And I finally had some extra money to buy some groceries. I had roommates, so expenses weren’t too bad, compared to having my own place in high school, but still, my budget was very tight.
But I was beginning to clear my head. I was starting to look at life without the constant destructive behavior of my family around me. Now that I was finally beginning to crawl out of survival mode, I began to wonder – how did I get here? I had always been told that I could do anything in life. So the question that plagued me most was: What happened to my life???
After all, this wasn’t how I was supposed to end up. I was sure of that. But my liberal arts education had prepared me for nothing in the real world. I didn’t know how to do laundry, I didn’t know how to cook, I didn’t know how to clean. I didn’t know how to write a resume or how to dress for a job interview or anything useful. I didn’t even know how to pay my own taxes. I threw the first three years of W-2 forms I ever received in the trash. It wasn’t until I started dating Jerry and saw him filling out his tax returns that I asked his dad why those forms were so important. At first he was amused – and then when he realized I was serious, he taught me what I needed to know. It was a good thing, too, since I received a big tax refund from Uncle Sam that year, around $1,700. It seemed to me like a million!
While I was pondering the mediocrity of my existence, I received a letter in the mail from my birth mother. Remember when I mentioned I’d been adopted? She had managed to track me down when I was 18 and sent me a letter. I was delighted to finally have a mother who said she actually wanted me.
She invited me to come live with her and her family and offered to put me through college. I accepted eagerly, looking forward to a brand new home filled with love and acceptance. I figured college could only help, particularly since I had always enjoyed learning.
Well, as things turned out, I did manage to squeeze one semester in, although I had to pay for it myself through Pell Grants and testing out of classes. But I didn’t get my happy ending. Nope. Instead, I received an emotionally damaged woman who lied to me at every turn.
She claimed she had become pregnant with me while being stabbed and raped by a stranger who left her for dead. I found out 10 years later that it was a complete fabrication. She not only knew who my birth father was, but also she had me baptized and his name placed on the baptismal certificate!
While I lived there, her husband was openly resentful and frequently tried to get me to leave the house. I had a half-brother and a half-sister whom I looked forward to embracing and loving, but my stepfather told them I was only a distant relative and I was forced to live that lie the entire time I was there. That didn’t go over well with me, but I was trapped, even if only temporarily. I had no job, no car, no other place to go. Not that the car mattered all that much. I was 18 and still didn’t know how to drive!
I had about $300 left from my last job, money I had been keeping for emergencies. I suddenly decided that my hostile living environment qualified. So I booked a flight to Dallas, to visit my dad where he had moved with the same girlfriend who had inspired him to abandon his family and responsibilities.
As things turned out, I found my dad’s girlfriend to be a big step up from both my adopted and birth mothers. She was warm and outgoing and friendly. And, seeing as we were only three years apart, we had a lot in common and lots of fun together. She was like the older sister I’d never known.
She got me a job as a temp in her office at an insurance agency. They paid me the exorbitant salary of $750 a month. I felt absolutely rich, since that was nearly double what I had been used to making. They hired me full time, and I called my birth mother and told her to send my remaining clothes to me, because I wasn’t coming back.
I worked at the insurance agency for a year-and-a-half. They had no dress code there, so I could go to work in my jeans and tee shirts and sneakers. Which was perfect! I loved the new friends I made at the office. Life was actually beginning to feel like fun. I had some extra money in my pocket, and a little bit of a social life.
I began my new career as a policy typist and was quickly promoted to insurance underwriter for the high-risk auto department. During that time, I gained my first real experience as a landlord. I found a new boyfriend, and he needed a place to live, since his old roommates had been stealing money from him. I suggested he move into my two-bedroom apartment (I already had one roommate to split the bills). He was agreeable, and we decided he would pay me $100 a month plus his fair share of the utilities.
Then more good news. He said he had a buddy who needed a place to stay, so I told him his friend could sleep on the couch for another $100 a month plus his share of the utilities. Then his buddy announced that he had a friend who needed a place to stay, so he ended up sleeping on the living room floor for yet another $100 a month plus utilities.
Suddenly I found myself living high on the hog—my boyfriend and I shared the master bedroom, so we had our privacy. My new roommates were bringing in more money than the total monthly amount for the rent on the apartment, and the utilities were paid by everyone else. I started joking about renting out the patio, insisting that for a guy looking out over the railing, it featured a half bath!
Before long, I was banking practically my entire paycheck and feeling great. I was well fed, well loved, and saving up money. After where I had begun my life, everything seemed to be going well.
Eventually, though, my boyfriend and I broke up, the roommates moved out, and my happy little insurance agency was bought out by another, larger firm. My new employer established a dress code and expected me to conform. Still being a teenager, my common sense was overridden by my youth, and I didn’t want to spend my hard earned money on clothes that I would never wear except at work. So I did the only logical thing my teenaged brain could think of – I quit! After all, I had some money in the bank, so I could afford to treat myself to a little down time.
By now I was 19 and had finally learned to drive – my former boyfriend had taught me before we’d broken up. I had also acquired my very first car, a 1975 Dodge Duster – a real junker with no a/c, no paint, and slashed seats. But it ran well enough, and it was paid for, so I was happy.
While I was enjoying my unpaid vacation from work, I mentioned to my roommate that it would be nice to get money in the mail each day, instead of going out and working for it. If only I could figure out how to make that happen!
Well, that was the first germ of an idea that would eventually change my life.
Money in the mail, money in the mail, if only I could figure out how to make that happen…
I’d always been a firm believer that, if you can think it, if you can dream it, if you can say it, you can do it.
Of course, it didn’t happen right away, but I hung onto that thought – money in the mail – and I came back to it often. It swam around in my brain constantly – when I went out on a date, when I went dancing, while I ate, and even while I slept. That little thought had grown to become part of me, and my brain learned to watch for opportunities. Always watch for opportunities…
Throughout those early years on my own, from age 15 to 19, I was already learning, already planning, and already preparing for my future.
I learned that you truly only have three real needs in life – food, clothing, and shelter. Everything else is just gravy. I also learned that I’d never earn what I knew I was worth by working for others.
And I also knew that I really loved being a landlord and wanted to do it again someday.
Best of all, I came to realize that POVERTY SUCKS!, and it was time to change my life.
I started my first business when I was 20 years old. Since then, I have owned four more, one of which was renting out real estate again. I started all my businesses from scratch and sold them when they no longer excited me. I officially retired when I was 38. My goal had been to retire by the time I was 40. I beat the game. I made it.
Today, money just magically shows up in my mailbox. I don’t ever have to go out and earn it again. Money in the mail – I finally figured out how to make it happen.
I also figured out something else – I am well qualified to give you advice. And the time for doing so has never been better.
So the only question I have is this:
Are you ready to become a self-made millionaire?
More information about Aimee’s Book “Poverty Sucks! How to Become a Self-Made Millionaire”: http://www.AimeeElizabeth.net