Right out of college I had to find a job, quick, to support my wife, and we found out that she was also pregnant after a year of marriage also! So, I took the first job I could find and decided that I would hold on to that job while looking for a better job. I would be a free agent always looking for the best deal out there, and trying to get a career going. I worked a Lowe’s Home Improvement in the lumber department for my first job out of college for $16 an hour and substitute taught on my off days, while I looked for a full-time teaching job. This was a busy time working six to seven days a week, and looking for better work. But, it built character and I learned a lot about “adulting” quickly.
While at Lowe’s I met a list of characters who either got fired for stupidity, where going
to be Lowe’s “lifers,” or who just interested me because they were rough construction types. One guy I worked with was a really nice guy, and he taught me a lot about how certain people think and view the world. This guy was about 5 years older than me with a wife, who worked at Walmart across town, and they had two kids. They brought home together about $30,000 a year for their family. At the time my wife stopped working as a school secretary and we where living on my $1800 a month from Lowe’s and another $1000 a month from substitute teaching. We had our bills so low that we lived under $2000 a month and we lived a pretty good life hustling between the two jobs. We had a $650 a month 1 bedroom apartment, about $150 in utilities, $300 groceries, plus some insurances and a $150 car payment. Our new baby was rather cheap in the beginning and she was the first grandchild on both sides of the family, so we just got everything given to us from relatives! We saved money every month, went on camping vacations to Colorado, New Mexico, Arkansas, Las Vegas (not camping), and Austin to see college friends, and life was good living so cheaply.
So, back to the guy I worked with. He saw my life and saw my time off for weekend trips and he wondered how did I did this? So, as we walked around the store, drove fork lifts, and loaded trucks, we talked finances. I was curious how he wasn’t making it, and he was curious how I was making it. Over the next few weeks I realized that this man had lots of vices. It started with his lack of an education and his laziness to try to improve this even in a trade school or anything. He smoked a pack of cigarettes a day and so did his wife. He drank cases of beer every week and enjoyed some recreational marijuana with his wife after the kids had gone to bed. He spent his time off in a drunken stupor watching T.V. and surfing the internet for porn. He did things that I just didn’t take part of and his lifestyle was the opposite of what I was doing. I am very health conscious and have never smoked, tried drugs, or drank alcohol. In my free time I was reading, playing on the floor with my new baby, and planning my future for my family. I was studying real estate, for a future home purchase, retirement accounts, whether I should take the stock options that Lowe’s provided, and always using my time productively to better my situation.
I figured that this guys spent $500-$800 a month or more on his bad health habits, and he lost out on opportunities in his free time because his free time was wasted. His marriage was strained from alcoholism and money stress, and it was a bad example for his children also. I calmly explained to him on a smoke break, off of Lowe’s property, that he has to get these vices under control. He is smoking and drinking away at least $6000 a year! When he heard that number he was a little shocked and he thought how much he could use $6000 extra a year. He could get his kids the new clothes they needed, take a trip, invest the money, or he could save up for a down payment for a house. In his eyes I could tell he wanted to quit these habits, but I could tell he wasn’t strong enough to quit and he didn’t want it bad enough. He didn’t want it bad enough seemed to be the story of his life and his largest vice of all. He was resistant to change even when he knew the consequences. This was a lost cause and confused me how a grown man would act this way, know the consequences, and still not attempt a better life.
That was 15 years ago that I had that conversation. He was eventually fired after I had left because he just stopped showing up to work. But, I still think about how his life could have been better, his children’s life could have been better if he didn’t start down that road in his childhood. He started smoking because his Dad smoked and he would steal his Dad’s cigarettes at age 12. He started drinking because his Dad kept alcohol in the house for him to start stealing in middle school. He was taught that on days off and the holidays a man gets drunk and lays around all day by his examples at home. Now, as an adult he became what was modeled for him. He talked how he had resentment for his father because he was there, but was never really there. He grew up poor living pay check to pay check, and now he is teaching his children the same lessons he learned as a child, even though he knows better he doesn’t want to be better.
If he saved $6000 a year, for the last 15 years, at 8% return it would be over $175,000 in an account for him. His health would have been better, his energy would have made him a better more productive worker, and he would have made more money by his improved work ethic. His free time would have been better spent doing side hustles, or researching opportunities to better his life. He would have shown his children a better way to live than how he grew up. Those vices stole a lot from this man. They stole his childhood, relationships, jobs, opportunities, and so much more.
So, today I still wonder what happened to him after 15 years. I wonder if he ever did change his life after our talks. I wonder how his, now, adult age children are doing. I wonder if he is even alive. I wonder if his example benefitted people around him besides me. I still have never smoked anything, done drugs, tried alcohol, and I still don’t have cable TV. I want to show my kids, and those who know me, the opportunities out there by being a good example and staying clear of the many vices that are out there.
I do want to say that this man was just one of many I worked with, and he was the only one of this caliber I saw. Most worked hard at Lowe’s, had big dreams, and very few had vices hindering their opportunities. I also want to point out that we are not all perfect including me with vices. We can always find ways to improve and we should always check in on ourselves to see if new vices have popped up. I can do better with my patience, with too much traveling, or just give up on my problem with sugar. I am aware of these things and I am making myself better by being aware of my struggles in these areas. I am also controlling them better and making sure I am good example to my children with my cell phone use. Never using a cell phone while driving, eating, or when I am just bored. I want my children to be present in life and part of that is getting off the screens and looking around in life. I model book reading at home over video games, Netflix, and social media. If I feel that social media use is getting too high I will take a day or two off and do things with the family.
So, learn from those around you who have vices, learn about your own vices, and you will notice that your finances will improve over time as you conquer your vices.