My Family Once Had $2000 for the Year. Here’s What Had to Change for me to Make $2000 in a Week.
Rags to riches stories are truly the lifeblood of the American dream.
Any time someone succeeds in pulling themselves up from the ravages of poverty, to a live that they love, it’s deeply inspiring. But the reality is that this kind of story usually takes 20 years of hard work, incredible luck, and nothing going wrong.
It’s those last two things that are often left out of these stories.
They’re usually replaced with things like passion, drive, and faith (either in oneself or in a higher power.) This is not to say that these things aren’t necessary or important.
But the narrative that following your passion and having faith are all that you need to live a good life is (at best) misleading, and at worst, an excuse used to justify policies that eradicate social safety nets (and contribute to the idea that anyone who doesn’t succeed in America is just lazy.)
I know because I’ve lived it.
My family once had $2858 of income for an entire year. I remember that year because it was fucking awful. We‘d moved back to a small town in Kansas to care for my grandmother when she got lung cancer. She passed quickly, and it was devastating.
But despite that year (2001) being clearly the worst, emotionally and financially, we rarely fared well. My mom posted a long, impassioned post about welfare in 2014. She included her lifetime earnings to showcase what “hard work” really gets you in America.
I started at 1991 because that’s when I was born, but believe me when I say she didn’t have some trust fund saved up before then.
While we’ve always had help to keep us from starving or ending up on the street (you’ll notice a few specific examples noted in the timeline), things were constantly a struggle.
That’s why, in the course of my own rags to riches story, a lot had to change.
While it’s hard to account for everything (seriously, SO MUCH luck was involved here), I’ve categorized the three main changes that made the biggest impact.
We’ll start with…
1) My Marital Status
Some of you are going to stop reading right here, and that’s understandable.
If I were to have read this article even a few years ago, I would have thought “oh, so her spouse just GIVES her $2k a week. CLICKBAIT!”, then angrily applied to some Indeed jobs I’d never hear back from.
But now that I’m where I am in life, I feel I have to acknowledge how marrying someone of means impacts my story.
Surprisingly, it doesn’t help in the way you might expect!
Our finances don’t currently overlap much, and while I’m not going to try and pretend like “I don’t get help” (kiiind of a hard claim when I don’t pay rent), the most significant benefit of our situation for me is STABILITY.
Managing your life and finances when you’re at or below the poverty line is a never-ending parade of compromises and chaos.
It’s stressful and exhausting in a way that keeps you from ever improving your situation, because you have to work (and worry) constantly just to make ends meet.
Without marrying into a stable situation, I never would’ve had the freedom to change the other things holding me back in life.
2) My Job Situation
I started working when I was 12, cleaning house for my mom’s boss and babysitting on occassion. I got my first official job at Arby’s when I was 14, and worked various jobs in retail and labs throughout high school.
I graduated and headed off to college in 2009, courtesy of a running scholarship for cross country and track. This proved to be a short-lived opportunity, so I found work at more labs, and a few different campus libraries throughout my time in higher education.
When I finally finished my bachelor’s degree in physical science, I was excited to pursue a career in my field!
After all, I’d already worked in labs (and even had some manufacturing and engineering experience), so I figured getting a similar job would be a piece of cake.
The few jobs that existed that were even remotely similar to my background involved 12 hour rotating shifts and no holidays, ever.
Naturally, I was like “sign me up!”…only to get elbowed out by applicants with over a decade of experience with the exact equipment being used.
I’m sure you’re laughing at my naivety at this point, which is admittedly hilarious.
Like many other millenials, I found myself with an effectively worthless degree, so it was back to retail.
I spent a few mind-numbing months at an in-RadioShack Sprint store, hocking phones while passing the downtime chatting with the homeless guy from the corner who’d come in for some shade and wondering if the irate dude who said he’d shoot the place up was gonna come back soon or if I should start closing up for the night.
Despite a base-pay plus commission earning structure, this job wasn’t exactly the “work hard and you’ll be rewarded” situation I’d hoped for (and had been told it would be.)
It was around this time I was following a lot of online entrepreneurs, and was starting to realized that my job options were essentially boiling down to either dying a slow and boring death in retail, abandoning my new spouse to move anywhere I could get hired, OR figuring out how to make money on the internet.
I went for the last one, and after a few false starts and a temporary position back in customer service, I started pulling in enough money as a copywriter on UpWork to cover my (admittedly limited) bills.
I quit my day job and went all in on copywriting. I took an online course about freelancing, and after a while, was doing well enough to get featured as a case study!
Working for myself, especially as a writer, was never really a career path I’d previously considered.
But when I was faced with a lack of other options, it forced me to explore opportunities I wouldn’t have pursued otherwise.
Self-employment includes a myriad of challenges, but the most dominant one at the moment is shifting…
3) My Beliefs About Time and Money
Growing up poor sets you up with a ton of limiting beliefs about money, and basically no framework for time other than “when does my shift begin and end” and “why the hell am I clopening this entire week?”
When you’re living at the bottom of America’s class system, mindsets like “I need to systematize my money” and “I need to make sure I’m getting a good offer” are worthless because you often need every dime, like, immediately.
Patience might get you more money in the long run, but your bills are due NOW.
You develop some shitty invisible scripts about spending, like “well, the money’s gonna be gone anyways, so I might as well spend it on something I like” and “I’m already in debt, what’s one more charge on the card?”
Because the thing about trying to save when you’re poor is that, even when you *do* manage to save up a few hundred dollars, it always gets wiped out by some emergency: medical bills, a car repair, and other unexpected expenses.
So you start to think of your time as worthless and your money as perishable.
This makes it almost impossible to get ahead, and even if your situation changes, it can be hard to overcome these mindsets and set yourself up for success.
But being aware of these things is the first step towards changing them. The second step is constantly reminding yourself that, yes, things CAN be changed.
This isn’t about the whole “change your mindset and reality will bend to fit!” that self-improvement gurus love to promote.
Yes, mindsets are important. But the most effective mindset to have when trying to move up in the world is NOT “I’ll manifest the life I want by BELIEVING hard enough.”
It’s “I’ll work my ass off and constantly be seeking out opportunities to have that hard work pay off.”
I know that might sound a little bit too much like the other personal development mantra of “HUSTLE!!!”, but my intended message is something of a happy medium:
Be aware of your current situation, and try to find inflection points in life.
You’re probably wondering “what the hell does that mean?”
It basically means try to find the events or points in time where you can change your life for the better.
My inflection points are, more or less, the things I listed above. I’m grateful for each of these occurrences, and for my ability to use change to my advantage.
I hope after reading my story, you’ll have the opportunity and presence of mind to do the same.
With the willingness to make time to work on things you enjoy and a heaping helping of luck, you’ll get to where you’re going — even if you only realize what your inflection points were in hindsight ☆