This is a guest post my mother, who recently retired at 62. In December 2020 she reached a $1,000,000 net worth for the first time. My mom has been the single biggest financial influencer in my life, from teaching me about the importance of investing and real estate, to the value of working hard. She inspires me still today, so I asked her to share her life story with the readership of DINKingAroundFinance.
One Million Dollars
When Dr. Evil demanded one million dollars for a ransom in the movie Austin Powers, people laughed at him. It was no longer a lot of money. And this movie was released in the 90s! However, he was from the 60’s, which so too am I. Growing up I remember when famous people hit a million-dollar net worth it was a huge deal. Only big movie stars or business tycoons hit that high of a mark. Kind of like a billion dollars today.
Knowing this doesn’t change the fact that to me, a 63-year-old single woman who has been divorced three times and worked 14-hour days nearly all my life, it is a REALLY big deal! I never thought I would achieve this milestone, especially with all my sidesteps along the way.
Working Hard from the Very Beginning
I started working at 14, babysitting every day in the summer while all my friends were at the beach. I wasn’t a “brainy” kid like my older sister. My father always used to remind me… “don’t lose your looks cause they are all you have got.” I was the “cute” one of our bunch, so he hoped I would marry someone who could take care of me since he didn’t think I was able to take care of myself. I believe this is where I got the drive to start taking care of myself as soon as I could and never stopped — to prove I was worth something.
I spent my senior year getting out of school at noon so I could work On-The-Job-Training in an office from 12:00-5:00pm. I also worked at a clothing store during night and weekends, where I excelled and was promoted to assistant manager within two weeks. I guess I had more smarts than my dad thought! I got a job as a legal secretary right after graduating from high school.
Two weeks after turning 18 I got married, for the first time. Throughout this marriage I continuing to work nights and weekends, in addition to my regular job, to pay the rent while my husband went to college. We were so broke I occasionally had to literally dig around in pockets to get enough change to ride the bus to work. For nearly three years I had paid for his college, 2 cars, and an apartment full of furniture and pets. Then our marriage fell apart after ex-husband #1 wanted to change his major and start over in college. I gave him half of the little we had and started over. I was not quite 21 years old.
Raising a Family
Next up, I worked at an advertising agency where I started as an assistant and within two years was a Vice President. It was here I met my second husband. This time I chose a man 10 years older believing he would be more stable and would take care of me, instead of the other way around.
Our home filled up quickly after getting married, first from having his two kids from a previous marriage move in with us, followed by having two children of our own. Ex-husband #2 and I eventually started our own graphics arts business. At first, I served a secretary, but when personal computers were announced, I quickly brought us into the 21st century by teaching myself all the necessary software to help keep our business growing. Of course, this took tons of time and effort, along with raising two teenagers and two babies. But, again, this is what I do.
The business thrived throughout our marriage, but ex-husband #2 spent the money as fast as we could make it. Ex-husband #2 suffered from serious depression and spent years not participating much as a family member, and when he did, he had many anger issues to overcome. After twenty challenging years, I decided again, it was time to move on. His kids were grown, and ours were teenagers. I needed to take hold of my life and start again fighting for my own survival.
So here I was, a woman of 40, who hadn’t “worked” for 15 years as far as corporate companies were concerned. I once again had to prove myself due to those who didn’t value my self-training and years of working outside of a traditional W2 role. I had no income at first, and all my resources were spent either during marriage #2 or on the lawyers that followed. I had to live off credit cards, paying for a house, two teenage boys, cars, insurance, all without a dime to my name. It was very scary. It took months to finally get child support, so we cut back on everything we could, and I got on with the task of getting a job. My first job provided me a very low-income, with very little responsibility. Within 6 months I got a new job, better pay, and more responsibility. Within 6 years I had a great job, where I was again a Vice President. In less than 10 years I started my own business and was making a six-figure income.
During these years I remarried for the third time, which was good, but once again, I was the clear bread winner. For years my business went gang-busters, generating six-figure incomes. We bought a vacation townhome in the South West and soon after, one to use as a rental property. Life was good. Had nothing changed, I would have hit $1 million years ago, but nothing lasts forever. Eventually, shifts in media consumption from print to digital resulted in my largest two clients terminating their contracts. I had to lay everyone off and started to look for work again. During our marriage, ex-husband #3 lost his 18-year-old son unexpectedly which, of course was difficult and ultimately turned into my third divorce. Again, I lost half of everything I had worked so hard for, and again, I had no stable source of income.
At this point I was 55 years old but feeling like I was starting all over again at 21. Alone. Kids gone. Husband gone. A small amount of cash to live on until I figured out where to go from here. Ex-husband #3 kept most of our cash assets in the divorce, so I received our primary home in the Midwest and two properties in the South West. While this sounds great, we had bought most of these homes at the top of the market, so they were very underwater at the time due to the Great Recession. I knew I had to keep them for many years to ever see a profit on them. This was a huge priority for me – a lot of money was tied up in those houses. But I had faith it was a good investment if I could ride it through.
Eventually I found a contract job with a company who previously employed me full-time. Originally this contract only provided enough hours and money to cover my bills. But after a few years, I was making enough to begin to save and pay off some debt. I freelanced on the side for additional funds.
With only myself to pay for I found I could accumulate money pretty fast! I was the one who decided what to buy or not, and being a saver at heart, my net worth started to grow. My efforts to save were aided by the stock and housing market finally going up. Eventually I sold all the houses I fought so hard to hang on to through those years, making a strong profit. Ex-husband #3 and I eventually moved back in together and we are very happy, but we never remarried, so my finances stand on their own two feet to this day.
I am now 63, retired, and have achieved the Million Dollar Mark! I am living debt-free for the first time in my life. I’m actually somebody! Get me an umbrella for my drink! (This is a Steve Martin movie reference – “The Jerk”, for all you millennials out there … )
To me, reaching this milestone is a reward for working very, very hard and showing people I wasn’t just a pretty face, but an intelligent, hard-working woman who could accomplish whatever she set her mind to. I had become one of the people I had admired when I was a little girl – a real life millionaire. Me. And, I had done it totally on my own. My way. And no matter what happens in the future, no one can take that away from me.