The most important thing in life from the perspective of a poor kid

When I was in the fourth grade, my teacher asked us to write up a quick paragraph and draw a picture of what we felt was the most important thing in the world. Most of the students wrote and drew their families, while I wrote and drew money. I told my teacher that the most important thing in the world is money. Before going to recesses she calls me over to have a quick chat. She told me that I was wrong, money is not the most important thing in the world, it was family. I later told me uncle that I had gotten in trouble for saying money was the most important thing in the world, his reply was

“She says that because that (insert bad word in Spanish ) already has money. Let her trade places with me and we’ll see what she says then.”

As a small child, the importance of money was always a huge thing. It wasn’t instilled to me by my mother, but more by my uncles. They both had really good intentions and didn’t want me to go through all of the struggles they were enduring. If you would have asked me at 4 years old what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have told you a lawyer, because they make a lot of money and drive Lamborghinis. It was a common theme throughout my family: if you have money, you are successful.

Interestingly enough, having money didn’t equate with buying material possessions. It meant that you were able to provide a comfortable living for your family, and you were not stressed about the bills. Unfortunately that was never my situation growing up, we struggled every single day. The only day of the year where we didn’t feel that was when my mom received her tax return. We felt “rich” on that day. After buying me and my siblings a toy, she would buy some more things that we needed, we would all go out to eat at least 2 times, then usually the money would disappear on bills. The cycle would continue for as long as I lived with my mom.

The Lesson/Reflection

I know now that money is not the most important thing in the world. The moment my daughter or wife get sick, I will spend whatever I have to in order to make sure they get better ASAP. I will even go into debt to ensure their well being, I just don’t care in those moments. I’m sure that is not the best financial practice but at the end of the day what is the point of having money if you’re alone? There should be a balance of making money, and being with loved ones.

My financial education came from hardworking, well intentioned, poor people. I know everything they would teach me was to mold me into a provider. As much as I work to provide more for my family than grew up with, it is insanely difficult to break away from the “poor person” state of mind. What that means is that I prefer to save money over almost anything else. I prefer to stay indoors and do nothing if it means we save more money. Lastly, I will wear the same clothes week after week if it is still a functional piece of clothing.

I’m fortunate to now be in a place where I am constantly increasing my opportunities year after year. If I could offer one piece of advice to someone that is working hard to change their circumstances in life, it would be to stay focused on the work. Once you get there don’t try to make up for the past by buying all of the things that you wanted but could never get — that will just put you back into the hole. Embrace that you’re in a better place by providing yourself and your family with opportunities to excel in life. Additionally, if you could help bring someone else up, do it. Share your knowledge, hardships, and successes with others. It helps people who feel like they’re in the dirt to see the clouds. Material possessions are nice, but almost always keep you in a vicious cycle. Focus on the process, and the results will come eventually.

Mario Mendez

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