This first writing project deals with the circumstances, people and events in our past which have led to our present financial habits. I proposed this topic as the first of our group writing project as I had been planning to write something about our background and why we live the way we do.
We are one of those people who have a somewhat complicated history. In our first 25 years, we had lived in 3 different countries and called approximately 20 different places “home.” After several hours of attempting to put it all in prose, we have finally given up and decided to put our family financial history and relevant events in timeline format (and with authentic pictures), for your sake and ours.
A note before we begin: The time periods used to head each section are names of actual time periods from history; however, they are not all in correct historical order, but rather arranged to fit eras of our lives.
- 1978 July – Oakland, CA
Mother, an art student from Taiwan, marries a young engineer and flight instructor from Japan whom she feels sorry for because he is poor and alone.
- 1979 March – San Francisco, CA
- 1980 November – San Francisco, CA
Father cannot find decent work and receives gifts of money and private airplane (in hopes of stimulating flight instruction business) from our maternal grandmother.
- 1981-1987 – Tokyo, Japan
Father moves family to Japan for better work opportunities. Father becomes a workaholic and makes a lot of money, buys himself computers and other gadgets but won’t give Mother money for food or clothes. Mother relies on grandparents for help and begins giving English lessons to neighborhood children after learning Japanese.
- 1987-1988 – Taiwan
Father tells mother to leave and take us with her. Mother files for divorce and we are sent to live with various relatives in Taiwan while Mother works to build up a successful multi-level marketing business in Japan and Taiwan.
The Middle Ages
- 1988 July – Kauai, Hawaii
Mother marries a spendthrift, workaphobe, and tax evader among other things disguised as a romantic gentleman in a ninja suit.
- 1988-1994 – Several locations on Oahu, Hawaii
Mother continues to work at multi-level marketing business, Forever Living Products, bringing in as much as $10,000 per month for several years. Stepfather also helps by dressing up in business suits; however, the level and efficacy of his participation is questionable.
For the first we few years, we enjoy an idyllic childhood living in nice houses, one with a swimming pool, with a menagerie of pet cats, dogs, guinea pigs, rabbits, mice, fish and birds. As we get older, our mother begins to share her worries about our stepfather’s shopaholicism. He goes through one expensive phase after another – chess (during which he buys several costly chess sets and strategy books), golf, motorcycles, guitar, etc. She is also constantly worrying about his tax debt and his refusal to do anything to remedy the situation.
- 1991 – 2000 – Family Business
Staring around age 12 and 10, Madoline and I become partially responsible for helping to manage the family business, as Mother and Stepfather become the area General Managers and run the warehouse for product inventory. Our duties include helping customers (called distributors) with product purchases, explaining the various purposes of the products, taking orders, retrieving and carrying products to customers’ cars, monthly inventories, compiling and mailing monthly sales summaries to the main office. We continue to help out in this business till around part-way through college, at times running the business solely in Stepfather’s place in later years.
- 1994 December – Hawaii Kai, Hawaii
Mother is diagnosed with stage 4 cancer with 6 months to live. She begins preparing a will, appoints Stepfather legal guardian, names a trustee to set up our trust funds for the life insurance policy left for our future and education – $100,000 each for our education, $500,000 for the purchase of a permanent residence. Knowing Stepfather’s spendthrift nature, she allots $100,000 for his personal use. One month prior to Mother’s passing, the trustee of Mother’s estate is changed to Stepfather.
The following take place in several more locations on Oahu, Hawaii each successively less expensive than the previous.
- 1995 October
Mother passes away, Stepfather collects the life insurance and begins spending money immediately. He purchases a new car – on credit so as to retain the cash for investing – and ignores calls from lawyer to set up trust funds.
- 1995 November
Stepfather meets a man called “Grandpa” who has the investment opportunity of a lifetime; give him $250,000 and he will receive $6 Million in 2 months. Stepfather gives “Grandpa” $250,000 – without our consent, of course.
- 1995 November – Early 1996
In anticipation of millionairehood, Stepfather spends money as if already a millionaire – takes a party of 10 to the Superbowl (including airfare, hotel and $1,000 tickets), takes entire family of which he is the oldest of nine to Phantom of the Opera, hosts a presidential campaign in Hawaii, etc.
The Great Depression
- 1996 Spring
“Grandpa” proves by all appearances to be a fraud, though Stepfather continues to hope and chant “Our ship will come in.” All $800,000 is gone, new car is repossessed despite Stepfather’s efforts to hide it a ten-minute walk from house. IRS comes calling for back taxes dating to the 1970′s. All that is left is a modest residual income which would be sufficient for us all to live on if he didn’t spend next month’s check before it arrived.
- 1996 Summer
Stepfather pushes for me to go to college one year early. When I do not want to do so, he resorts to asking for charity from a classmate’s affluent father. (We are unaware of this until after graduation.)
- 1996 -1997
Stepfather begins to use the word “frugal” in family discussions, a concept he manages to abide to in theory; in practice, he continues to purchase computers, surfboards, and miscellaneous useless things which are somehow supposed to make him rich.
The Age of Enlightenment
- 1997 May
I graduate high school and win the Sterling Scholarship for Foreign Language and receive a check for $4,000. Because Stepfather needs money, I endorse the check to him.
- 1997-2002 – Higher Education
Madoline drops out of high school 2 years early, and does one year of independent study by correspondence in order to save Stepfather $16,000 in tuition, and enrolls in college one year early. We graduate college (with honors :D) with the aid of scholarships and the residual income left by our mother. Even though the income is enough to support our very modestly priced education, getting the money from Stepfather to pay our class fees and insurance is like pulling teeth.
- 2001-2002 – My First Job
I enter the work force after graduating, my first job being a contract 9-month receptionist/secretary for our college’s admissions office. I earn $9.00 an hour and work 30 hours a week. It’s a great first job where I discover I have an affinity for administrative work and enjoy counting how much I make every minute as I work (15 cents per minutes ).
The Great Schism
- 2002 June
At the time of Madoline’s graduation, we sever ties with Stepfather due to a number of irreconcilable differences. When Madoline graduates and my contract ends, we get full-time jobs together. By sharing a house and all our expenses, we are able to put away about $1,000 a month. After a year at this job, we decide to leave Hawaii and try our luck in California.
- 2002 July – 2003 January
We hire an attorney to help us deal with Stepfather and manage to transfer Mother’s residual income to us. By this time, the business has dwindled and the income is reduced to about 10% of what it was when our mother was alive and developing the business.
- 2003 February – Tokyo, Japan
Biological Father now decides he wants daughters again after almost 20 years because he finds himself $80,000 in credit card debt from eating out and buying expensive presents for his girlfriends, and suddenly realizes family is important. Unfortunately for him (and for us), we have long ago stopped considering him as our family. Also, he asks us to help pay his debts which does not sit well with us.
The Age of Discovery
- 2003 May – Our First Apartment
We decide to try living in the Bay Area, where we had been born. Because we will use up almost all our savings on the move, we look for the most inexpensive place we could find. We find a tiny place on Craigslist – and by tiny I mean 240 sq. ft. – an apartment behind a couple’s garage that will let us arrange the rental over email and let us bring all our pets for $650 a month. (Right: Approx. 1/3 of our First Apartment)
We pack up our things (3,000 lbs. worth of furniture including our piano which we have had since childhood and couldn’t part with, books and mementos of childhood and our mother) and pets – our 4-year old dog, 16-year old cat, and 22 mice. The apartment is so small that we barely had room left after moving all of our things in.
- 2003 May – Our First Car
After a couple of scary and extremely uncomfortable experiences walking in our new neighborhood to run errands, we decide we need to buy a car asap. Knowing almost nothing about car shopping and credit, we get tricked into a 24% APR.
- 2003 June – Our First Real Frugal Experience
Having used up all our savings on the move and down payment on the car, and our monthly check having been delayed, we have $100 in the bank. One night we dig through all of our things, pockets and purses for spare change to buy groceries. Even after our check arrives, we go about setting up our apartment as inexpensively as possible because the amount of the income is unpredictable and unreliable. We begin to find creative alternatives for thing we need.
- 2003 Summer & Fall – Our Second Apartment
As we are still trying to figure out what we want to do, we temporarily apply for and get jobs as sandwich makers at Togo’s Eatery. After a month, the owners of Togo’s offer us managerial positions at a new upscale pizza shop they are opening in Fremont. The apartment turns out to be in violation of several California building codes, and gets extremely hot, with temperatures above 100 degrees on the hottest days. As we are about to start our new jobs in Fremont, we upgrade to a 400 sq. ft. studio apartment.
As limited space continues to be an issue, we go to Lowe’s and bring home a carload of lumber and build ourselves a freestanding 8′ x 6′ loft over our beds with for our computer, cushions and other diminutive furniture. This loft is disassembled for a future move, and later recycled into cabinets, this computer desk (with hand-carved feet shaped like horse hooves), a shipping supply cabinet and beds for our dog.
- 2003 September – Our First U-Haul
To save money, we rent a 10′ U-Haul for our short distance move from Hayward to Fremont. It’s my first time driving a truck, which is quite scary, but when it’s all done, we can’t help but feel just a little bit proud that we’ve done it all ourselves (except for the piano).
- 2004 March – Our First Credit Cards
Ever since the car loan fiasco, we have been trying to learn about credit. A regular customer of our pizza shop who works for Bank of America advises us to apply for a credit card. We apply for and get our first credit cards and begin building credit histories. Biological Father wants us to add him as an additional user. We say “no.”
- 2004 Tax Time – Our First Time Filing Self-Employment Tax
Our first tax season is a disaster. I have no idea about where to start and what forms I need to fill out for the income from our mother’s business. I spend days reading the IRS website and countless forms and instructions. I finally figure it all out and mail out our return on April 15th.
- 2004 June – Our First Loan Paid Off
We have been saving up to pay off our car loan early (23 months ahead of schedule).
The Dark Ages
- April 2004 – Los Angeles
Our 16-year old cat is diagnosed with kidney disease in November 2003. He becomes seriously ill in February 2004 and needs constant and costly care. As our pizza shop job does not pay very well due to business problems, we decide to move to Los Angeles for more employment opportunities.
- April 2004 – Our Second U-Haul (Actually Budget Rent-a-Truck)
Again, to save money, we rent a 15′ Budget Rent-a-Truck for the move from Fremont to Van Nuys. This time the experience has gotten old, and the time constraints to return the truck in 3 days is more than a little stressful. We load the truck and hire a Bay Area piano mover to put the piano in the truck on Day 1, make the 8-hour drive and check into the apartment on Day 2, unload the truck and hire a Los Angeles piano mover to unload the piano on Day 3, and return the truck before 9:00AM on Day 4. We swear then and there as we rub our sore backs that this is the last time we ever U-Haul it.
- 2004 Summer – 2005 Summer – The Lost Year
Having lost our dog to an accident and our cat to kidney disease in early 2004, we suddenly find ourselves a little aimless. Where we used to be content to stay at home and read or watch DVDs, we now find ourselves restless. For a few months, we wander one shopping mall after another as soon as we get off work (a depressing sales job working for a bald man who shouts a lot), buy more clothes than we need, and are reluctant to go home to an empty apartment.
Then we decide to quit our jobs and enroll in some arts classes at the local community college, and re-settle into our frugal habits. We become so frugal that we literally don’t do anything or go anywhere except to the library and to the grocery store. We stop going out except to walk the malls for exercise and window shopping.
The Industrial Revolution
- 2005 July – Starting a Business
One day, while shopping for a Star Trek Enterprise model for my cousin, I discovered eBay and got an idea for a custom clothing and costuming business.
- 2005 October – House Hunting
Madoline’s designs are an instant hit and we begin to receive many requests for custom designs. Our one-bedroom apartment (638 sq. ft.) is completely covered in fabric, patterns, sewing and photographic supplies that we barely have room to walk. We decide it is time to expand our work and living space, and after all the moving around, that it’s time to buy a house and settle somewhere permanently.
- 2005 November – Homeowners
We find a charming 3-bedroom house with a nice yard in California City. We make an offer and escrow closes November 22, 2005. To celebrate being homeowners, we go to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (matinee), which to this day remains one of my favorites.
The Modern Era
We are still in the process of settling in our home; with our frugal and DIY mentality, it takes longer to get things done. So far we have replaced all the carpet in our house with our own homemade flooring made from plywood that we sawed into floorboards, built a wall-length and -height shelf for our books and fabrics, and fixed up second hand furniture.
We try to save money wherever we can and build up our savings. Having been privy to our stepfather and our biological father’s mistakes and our mother’s constant stress over finances, we are paranoid about spending and debt.
If you are interested in finding out more about us, please visit the More About Us page.
* * *
About the PF Bloggers Group Writing Project
The Personal Finance Bloggers Network currently consists of 8 active personal finance and frugal living blogs. The Group Writing Project is a monthly project wherein each blog will write a post on a pre-determined topic and publish it on the same day of each month. Be sure to visit the PF Bloggers Group Writing Project page for the others!