From Homeless to Homeowner – How I Did It.

by Neal Frankle, CFP ®

top-blog-postI am a Certified Financial Planner (R) and a Registered Investment Advisor.  I will explain in a few minutes more about what these credentials mean.  For the moment, let me share my experience growing up with you because it had a tremendous impacted on how I do what I do.

My mother died when I was 15 and my father was killed in an airplane crash two years later.

 homeless

I must add that my father worked very hard, but he was a speculator.

He invested all he had (and even money we didn’t have) in crazy land deals that didn’t work out. Not the best investments to say the least. As a result, he lost it all. We were evicted from a very expensive home, and we subsequently moved into a small dingy apartment. He couldn’t even consider buying a condo; we were that broke. Whereas I grew up in a middle-income family, we became a low-income family overnight. I often used the money I earned as a teenager to pay bills to keep the lights on and water running.

After my father’s accident, my siblings and I bounced around to different people’s homes. I was homeless in the sense that I really didn’t have a home to call my own. I never slept under a highway overpass because I was very lucky. Just the same, it was a very weird feeling not to have a place to call home.

Ultimately, I went to college, got a degree in accounting, started my career in financial planning and have been working in the investment world ever since. I now have a dream family, wonderful business and beautiful home. I’m not rich…but I feel complete and financially secure. That’s wealth if you ask me.

I consider myself exceptionally blessed for a variety of reasons. I’d like to explain the core forces that helped me survive and thrive.

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1. I used the resources that were available to me.

I contacted Social Security and the Veteran’s Administration when my folks died. (My dad applied for Social Security spousal benefits but didn’t qualify.) I learned that I could qualify for benefits from both agencies if I went to college. They told me that the payments would last until I reached age 22. Once I learned that, I came to the following three conclusions:

a. I better go to college.

b. I better finish college by age 22.

c. I better learn something that would help me get a job as soon as I graduated.

Looking back, I didn’t use all the resources available. I didn’t even know about financial aid at the time. I probably could have qualified, but I didn’t apply for it.

I inherited a little money, invested it and received interest on the bonds I bought at the suggestion of a stockbroker. I figured that together with the Social Security and VA benefits, I’d have enough. It totaled around $220 a month. (I’m amazed that I remember that figure after all this time, and I’m also amazed that $220 was enough to live on and pay for college in those days. I guess that just shows how old I really am!)

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2. I was very lucky.

First, I was lucky because I grew up in a middle-class environment. No gangs or violence. I went to decent schools with decent kids. Lots of other people grow up in far worse conditions. My father “encouraged” me to work since I was 13 years old and find work on the weekend. I knew how to work and I knew the value of money. I grew up with the understanding that I should and could take care of myself and that nobody “owed” me anything.

Do you have a question about your finances? connect with me.. I’d be delighted to help if I can.

Second, I was lucky because I was taken in by a family who became my family. All the kids became my brother and sisters. The older kids all went to UCLA, and even though I didn’t, I got the message that college was a good thing for me to do. I had no idea what I wanted to do or what I wanted to study but I knew I needed to learn a trade that would help me find work.

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3. I was very focused.

I had no illusions. I knew that I had one chance to make something of myself and I could not waste it. I studied night and day in order to make sure I’d graduate in four years. I also worked hard in school because I wanted to be an attractive job applicant.

Focus and drive really served me well, and it didn’t stop when I graduated from school. When I started my business I would show up around 6 AM and usually go home no earlier than 8 PM. To tell the truth, it hasn’t changed much since then. I’m still a workaholic without a doubt.

4. When I hit a dead end, I found a different path.

The first job I had after graduating college was terrible. I was on the accounting staff of a major aeronautics company. I hated my life and my job. I left after nine months and decided I’d never work for a big company again. I didn’t know have any entrepreneur ideas at the time or know what self-employment was at the time, but I understood that I was young and had nothing to lose by taking a chance. I looked for small ponds where I could be a big fish.

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5. I looked for mentors and took direction.

I was smart enough to know that I didn’t know squat.

I sure didn’t know how to succeed, and failure was not an option…mainly because I had nowhere to go.

I had to learn business survival skills and quickly. I found people who were willing to give me a job, work closely with me and train me. I carefully watched what they did and how they did it. I mimicked what worked and interrogated my mentors continually.

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6. I took advantage of some opportunities and stayed away from those that didn’t fit.

I missed some business opportunities because I was afraid of making a mistake. I still carried a great deal of financial fear. While that fear cost me, on balance it served me well.

There were opportunities that I did take advantage of that worked out great (starting my business). And shying away from others were also good moves. I say that because those were not consistent with the person I am or the clients I serve. I understood that it’s not just about making the most money possible. I remained conscious of the risk side of the equation. That has helped me in my life and business tremendously.

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7. I was very conscious of my spending.

Overspending for me was not possible – I didn’t have any money to overspend with. I didn’t even have a credit card until I was 25. The idea of spending money I didn’t have never occurred to me.

I’ve always thought that it’s dishonest to spend money that I don’t have and don’t have a way to pay back. I have always lived well within my means.

I have always understood that the very basis of financial security rests on appropriate spending.

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8. I worked (and work) hard.

Excuses weren’t going to pay my bills, so I had to work hard. I learned that if I took care of clients in a way that other people didn’t, my business would thrive. It worked.

I am an extremely lucky man.

Did I grow up in an Ozzie and Harriet household? No. Neither did you or your children.

Sure there were very tough, frightening times. But it wasn’t Treblinka. Lots of people had and have it much worse than I did. Over the last 25 years I’ve met many people who have stories that make mine look like a day at Disneyland.

What’s remarkable about my story is that it is not remarkable.

Lots of folks have had to deal with much more severe handicaps and have done significantly better than I have.

I was simply given an opportunity to learn, and the only reason I did learn is because I had to.

My experience tells me that adversity really is a great tool. I’m not asking you to parachute your kids into Mogadishu on their 18th birthday. But I do believe we act at our highest level as parents when we let our kids grapple with life on life’s terms – whatever the consequence.

What I Believe

I grew up with a lot of financial fear and I couldn’t stand it.  Now that I know something about personal finance, I understand that most people worry about money needlessly.  I believe that no matter what, you don’t have to worry about money.  You can learn to understand how money works.  Contrary to what Wall Street wants you to believe, investing is not rocket science.  I believe you can use your budget to gain control of your finances.  And I believe you can have financial freedom no matter what if you are willing to put in the work.

What Has This Got To Do With Being A Certified Financial Planner(R)?

A CFP (R) is professional certification.  To obtain the certification, candidates have to undertake a rigorous education program and battery of tests.  The final exam last 10 hours.  Between 42% and 63% of the applicants pass the exam.  I decided to become a CFP (R) because I thought (and still think) it is the highest level of professional designation for a financial advisor.  It also carries with it a fiduciary responsibility and obligation to put the needs and interests of clients first. Because of my own experience growing up, I decided clients should be treated as I would have wanted to be treated and the Certified Financial Planner designation is consistent with that belief.

People I Like Helping

I enjoy helping people get control over their finances so they can have the life they really want.  That includes:

  • Retired people who want to enjoy their lives and family without financial anxiety.
  • Semi-Retired people who need to get more income from their existing portfolio.
  • Working people who are not currently saving enough and are worried about their financial future as a result.
  • Divorced and widowed women who need wise council to help them make wise financial decisions.
  • People who want to maintain their lifestyle and aren’t exactly sure how to do so.

If you have a question about your own financial situation please connect with me..  I’d be delighted to try to be of service.

 

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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Jane March 20, 2014 at 2:48 PM

Hi Neal: I loved your story, great job. So sorry you had to lose your parents so young in life:( I am a 51 year old woman, who has raised 3 children on my own. Their father left when they were very young and avoided child support like the plague. I unfortunately have a lot of credit card debt. I was looking for a loan through lending club, but read some bad reviews. I saw your add and thought why not, maybe he can help. I have managed to get my credit up to 695…..I have spent most of my life trying to get out of debt, so discouraging, I feel helpless. I managed to go to a trade school and have a pretty decent job for zero college. I have been working the same type of job for 13 years.
I just don’t know what to do. I will never be able to pay all this off in my life time at these interest rates. Any direction you can give me would greatly be appreciated.

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Neal Frankle, CFP ® March 23, 2014 at 7:53 AM

Hi Jane,

Thanks for the kind words and of course I’m sorry to hear that your childrens’ father did that to them and you. I can only imagine who much of a struggle this has been. But kudos for all you’ve accomplished which is really admirable.

Have you read my Lending Club Review? If they turned you down, maybe try this post.

http://wealthpilgrim.com/solve-debt-problems/

wealthpilgrim.com/lending-club-reviews/

http://wealthpilgrim.com/5-unique-ways-to-slash-your-cost-of-debt/

And especially this one http://wealthpilgrim.com/borrowing-money-inexpensively-from-friends-and-family-for-your-business/

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CAROLE July 16, 2013 at 8:17 PM

HI NEAL,
Please Help! Unfortunately, my husband passed away one year ago. I never had life insurance on him. I couldn’t afford the premiums since he was a smoker. I’ve been “advised” at our local bank ‘s financial investment advisor. The problem is I knew I wanted term insurance and she basically got me universal insurance. I’m sick knowing I made a mistake signing with this contract. Do you agree, that I should take the 5% penalty and get my money back and invest in term insurance?? I have 2 teenagers. Now I feel I cannot trust this individual since I feel she was not looking out for my best interest and future. She also is trying to get me to sign on a combined long term care with a universal built in insurance, which I know is not good. Please advise, should I cancel the universal insurance and purchase term insurance?? I will be losing about $750. by cancelling, but I am sure I will get a better night sleep knowing that I have a term contract for a lot more.

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Neal Frankle July 17, 2013 at 5:31 AM

Carole. I am so sorry to hear about your husband passing away and then the agent being so deceitful. I sent you an email. Let’s see what we can do to correct the situation. You should have received my response by now. Thanks.

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JL January 13, 2013 at 4:23 PM

I stumbled onto this page while investigating a possibility of finding life insurance for my 67 year old mother that had a lobectomy to remove lung cancer a year and a half ago, remained cancer free until October when she was diagnosed with metastic lung cancer to the brain. Five tumors. They had a round of radiation but the honest truth is what it is and her life expectantcy has significantly decreased. I’m finishing up a divorce, doing the single mom thing and the heavy responsibility caring for mom, her finances and her medical care and co-ordination…. I could go on on.
So I end up on this page and read some of your story. No, not the same exact childhood but I couldn’t help but smile and think… Me too. I think I found myself going through the same obstacles and or events. The worst part for me was thinking no one else has it like this or would know what it was like in my struggle for self… Or my preservation physically and mentally.
Thanks for sharing that. Thinking back to there from here just cements a little more strength that I need. And I need to keep looking forward right now!

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Neal Frankle January 14, 2013 at 9:09 AM

JL – sorry for what you are going thru. That sounds really hard. I am glad my story was some comfort to you though. I also felt I was alone and nobody had any idea of what it felt like at the time. It does feel good to know you are not alone though. Hang in there. You’ll go on. You sound like a very strong woman. Let me know how you are doing…..

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jeannie November 19, 2012 at 9:29 AM

Hi Neal,
I stumbled upon your website while searching for financial advisor advices over the net. I’ll start my new career next january with an amazing and notorious company.

I think you’re right about your story still affecting you.
While reading this post, I noticed that you are a winner. You succeed in everything you do because you work smart and hard. But I think deep down inside you don’t recognize it yet. You have a ball of fire inside you, your super duper energy to succeed is your gift.
If you haven’t considered its importance, I think you should.
You are gifted. You know, by saying that some people are in worst situation, it could be worst etc., I strongly believe it is a way of putting your gift in and unrecognized state.

I am gifted with drive, ambition, perseverance, trust, confidence and I am full of life. That is what differentiates me from people in worst situations. I get out of them. I will never be content of less than the best. This is the statement of our success, and never be ashamed of saying: I AM A WINNER! I can overcome anything! My life and yours are the proof!

Thank you for reading me. I will continue reading you. :)
Jeannie

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Neal Frankle November 19, 2012 at 10:03 AM

Those are very kind words Jeannie. I really appreciate you taking the time to share that. I think we all draw from our successes and attack problems with a lot of energy when we do so. I look forward to hearing about your accomplishments too!

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Tina November 14, 2012 at 10:50 AM

Hi Neal,

This is more of an advice seeking question than comment. I was in Computer Engineering before and now I want to make a career move to finance. I want to get the CFP but I do not have any experience in the finance world. The stock market really interests me. Where do you think I should start?

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Neal Frankle November 20, 2012 at 10:04 AM

I would read this on becoming a CFP and getting a job as a planner. Best of luck!

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ElleJay September 15, 2012 at 7:47 PM

I’m shocked that I didn’t read this a long time ago. You never know what a person has gone through. My aunt passed away right before I went away to college and left me 46,000 dollars. I blew through that money faster than a lottery winner blows through their MegaMillions. And still managed to do everything except finish college. All those lessons you mentioned above, I wasn’t ready for. I’m ready for them now and I’m inspired! Great story!

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Mike September 13, 2012 at 8:40 AM

Neal,

Thank you for your personal testament. I am 28 years old, a young man in the eyes of the law and a young person growing into my own as a full time employee trying to make important decisions about my financial future.

Growing up in a middle class family, I quickly learned that my parents understood the basics of financial literacy. My mother always saved extra money whenever my father spent more than he brought into the house on terrible ideas. He would purchase cars he did not have enough money to purchase in order to salvage his personal feelings or indecisiveness about other issues. Sometimes, he would spend the rent money on other things, which always led to an altercation between him and my mother.

In college, I made a personal decision not to spend more than I earned. Spending two summers working for an architect who is also my personal mentor, I learned to manage my personal life and finances to achieve my personal goals. I spent four years of college working two jobs, taking out 4K in loans, and living within my means. I had one credit card I used during absolute emergencies quickly paying off the balance. As illustrated above, I understood the value of money. Unfortunately, I carried two joint credit cards with my parents. After three years of college, I realized my parents could not help me. After graduating from college, I returned home, and found out the true extent of my parents debts.

Upon my return home, my parents told me to handle and maintain all payments on the two joint credit cards, which were opened up in my name. I honestly knew I could not handle these cards, but also knew, they could not either. With these two cards, a school loan, my other personal credit card, and no real job, I had to seek a new life away from my parents to achieve financial independence, and security. I left home, moved to Washington, DC, and took up several retail jobs, a full time hourly waged internship, and working for my former mentor, the architect in Baltimore, commuting every Saturday morning and returning Saturday evenings. The little bit of extra money helped me pay down rent, and some debts. I deferred my loans for one year and a half before increasing payments on my credit cards to decrease the total principal. After four months, I found a full time job, and continued to work in Baltimore for several years until I received a new government job with an increase in annual salary. Fortunately, by the time I received a salary increase, I immediately paid off every credit card debt, and school loans within two years. This was very important.

Earlier this year, I reviewed my credit report and disputed everything. A friend who was also a former accountant told me to dispute everything on one’s credit report because financial companies often keep worse records than consumers. I ended up disputing my record after contacting one creditor who did not have information about one of my accounts on file. It was within the 7 years information stays on a person’s credit report, so I decided to dispute this information and other information on my credit report. Fortunately, 90% of the information on the credit report was deleted. Now, I am saving more money and focusing on myself and ensuring I always stay within my personal means again.

Sometimes we have to make divert from our direction and other times, we have to see the bigger picture. I think Neal’s points above are right on the money.

Next question for Neal, I am saving and beginning to wonder about getting a home, how can I find a good financial advisor?

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Neal Frankle September 13, 2012 at 12:25 PM

Sounds like you’ve done a good job and worked hard. Also, you are very mindful of your direction. I like it. Read this on

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Linda Jean July 17, 2012 at 11:06 AM

Hi Neal,

I am in the same exact predicament has Kristy wrote about on July 16 at 9:40 pm. My worst fear is to be without life insurance if my husband was to pass away. We have to children and little extra money to pay for life insurance every month, but I do realize the importance of it and therefore willing to make a sacrifice. Can you suggest to me also what is the best life/term insurance? I am looking for something between $350,000.000 and $500,000.00. We live in the state of Georgia

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Neal Frankle July 18, 2012 at 4:23 AM

Linda, I applaud you for looking into this. I am not licensed in the state of Georgia so I can’t recommend any particular company. I apologize. I would ask for some quotes and then get ratings and compare.

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matt July 17, 2012 at 9:32 AM

Just read your life insurance article and I completely disagree with you on the children insurance and whole like insurance sections. How can you say that purchasing insurance on your children is a waste? You lock in their insurability when they are younger resulting in higher preferred ratings-god for bid they would develop an illness later on in life and would become uninsurable. Also, the cost is so inexpensive the parents can lock in the lower rates which would ultimately end up saving their child money in the long run. You also left out that less than 1% of all term policies pay an actual death benefit while all permanent policies pay out a death benefit. Which seems like a waste of money when you put it like that? The cash value built up in whole life grows tax deferred and the policy owner can take a loan on it for any reason they want to without having to pay the amount borrowed back. I feel bad for your clients if you are misleading them like this.

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Neal Frankle July 18, 2012 at 4:30 AM

I stand by the stance on insurance for kids as it’s a rip off. Who cares if it’s cheap if you don’t need it? There is a policy someone mentioned that is a one-time payment for burial expenses and if someone would find it impossible to come up with the burial money I suppose that might be OK but I if you have the $10k for that purpose (G-d forbid you should need it) the insurance is dumb.

There is rarely build up in whole life because the illustrations don’t show the real costs.

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Bill calvert July 17, 2012 at 9:21 AM

Neal, I think you are doing a diservice on your website by saying that Whole Life should not be bought. In todays market Whole Life in not nearly as popular as the indexed Universal Life policies that can provide a death benefit and a supplemental tax free income at retirement. That UL will be around for many years after the term has expired. Also in almost every case the client receives more income from the policy than the premiums that were paid in—and at death a tax free death benefit is paid.

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Neal Frankle July 18, 2012 at 4:31 AM

Fascinating that I get inundated by salespeople who think whole life is the greatest – and nobody who ever bought it ever agrees with those agents. Interesting….. I think you each make my point.

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glenn July 17, 2012 at 7:33 AM

sorry for your past loss. however i disagree with your blanket statement
on various life insurance policies

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glenn July 17, 2012 at 7:32 AM

Sorry for your past losses. However, I disagree with your blanket
statement on various Life insurance policies.

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Kristy July 16, 2012 at 9:40 PM

Hi Neal,

Thank U so much for writing about life insurance. My husband and I are 35 yrs and we do not have life ins. We have been talking about it but money is always tight and we never get it. We have 4 kids and it would be a very bad situation If something happened to one or both of us. Is there a life ins company U recommend that I can look into? I have a big issue with trusting companies mainly because they will tell u what ever they must to get your money. I want a trustworthy company that I can get life ins with and not have to worry about it every time I send a check in the mail. What do U think about USAA? Do U have a suggestion? I would greatly appreciate any advice U have to give. Thanks Kristy.

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Neal Frankle July 16, 2012 at 10:50 PM

What state are you in?

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Mitch Long July 16, 2012 at 7:34 PM

In regards to your article on life insurance. Particularly your advise that life insurance for children is a waste because parents don’t depend on their income. What happens if a child does die and those parents don’t have enough money in the bank to pay for a funeral because they live check to check?

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Maria T. Romero March 28, 2012 at 12:16 PM

Hello Neal:
I admire the people who overcome so many hindrances in life. I just sat down to use the computer and typed in google: ” what can I do if I do not have college degree?” I was a stay home mother in Mexico and for certain circumstances I live in the US. Now, I am divorced, no skills. Well, I took a Certified Nursing Assistant program and Medical Assistant (from the second one I owe them so much plus the student loan that charges 500% of interest). I do not qualify because of my lack of good communication skills in English. Now, it is one year that I finished the MA program and because I do not have experience, besides my good English, I can’t find a job. I have even worked cleaning homes, etc., but my bills are higher. Two of my three sons had to go to live with their dad because I could not feed them. Their dad pays the rent of the place where I live (a relief). So, what can I do? I wanted to go back to Community College but was rejected because I owe the government almost 10,000 in student fees and loan. I have $20 in my pocket. Some things to eat in the refrigerator… and my oldest son is doing foolish things and I think he is getting depressed, a little bit like me. I you advice to pay a course of something, I can’t. I am now learning to use the computer and that is another reason why companies do not hire me. So, what can I do? I lack of creativity. I can’t go back to Mexico City until my sons are ready for college. They have excellent grades and their dad helps them a lot, but they still need their mom around and I love to see them grow up… Do I have excuses to feel like this and to be in the lowest lever of poverty? What do you think? Thank in in advance for your answer. Mayte

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threadbndr October 21, 2009 at 12:56 PM

SS benefits will be extended to HS graduation if the child turns 18 during his/her senior year. My son was just two days into his senior year when my husband died. We had to go to the SS office and prove that he was a full time HS student (enrollment forms) and give his date of graduation.

SS continued to the month of graduation (and then he left for the Marine Corps – a whole OTHER story there).

So check on the possibility of an extension depending on the birthday vs graduation date.

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Neal October 21, 2009 at 4:06 PM

Yes……thanks for clarifying. It’s been many years since I was 18.

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Neal June 3, 2009 at 7:29 AM

fern,

What an amazing story…..

The family that took me in was also very large – 7 kids.

It’s amazing that givers…just keep giving.

I so appreciate you sharing your story.

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fern June 3, 2009 at 7:10 AM

That was an interesting story and unexpectedly paralleled mine in some ways.

My parents divorced when i was 6 and after that my mom moved us around quite a bit. At one point, my father kidnpapped us and we went to live with his parents for a few months until my mother got us back, thru the courts. In my senior year of high school, i lived the whole year with my best friend’s family becus my mother was getting remarried and moving to another town. I desperately wanted to stay in the same town with all my friends, and i got my wish thru the incredible generosity of this family with 5 kids already of their own. I can honestly say that was the happiest year of my life.

You might say my childhood was unstable. So buying a home was always very important to me, becus it represented security. I lived in the basement of my sister’s house for a few years, saving my money, and was able to put down 45% on a $209,900 house 14 years ago, where i still live today.

I have remained single and so financial security has always been very important to me becus, well, it all rests on me.

Life experiences definitely impact the way we view money.

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Josh June 1, 2009 at 3:37 PM

This is one of the most inspirational articles I’ve read in awhile, Neal. And the best part is you are willing to help others (even complete strangers) as you did with me a few weeks ago.

My story of overcoming adversity came my senior year in high school. My friend and I were on our way home from a football game and it was very foggy. We were on a back country road and we hit a fog patch and he drove straight through the curve off a 40 foot drop. Luckily we both survived and climbed out of the car just before it blew up, but my hand had gone through the window and was pretty much just hanging there.

I was a pretty big tennis player at the time and when the doctors told me I would likely never play again I was pretty devastated. But I told them I would play within two months, win first singles that spring and play in college. I did all three and won athlete of the year at my school this year.

Not near as inspirational as your story, but it changed my life for the better and it has been a great story in interviews ever sense (they seem to love to ask the “tell me a time you overcame adversity” question). I my hand is still deformed and doesn’t work quite right, but I wouldn’t trade what happened for anything.

Keep up the great posts!

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Neal June 1, 2009 at 9:21 PM

Josh,

I really appreciate you sharing your story. I’m very sorry about what happened to your hand but I am inspired by the way you turned it into an opportunity.

You are a true Wealth Pilgrim!

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chuck June 1, 2009 at 2:36 PM

You’re the best, Neal. Amazing how you came through what you came through. You deserve the wonderful family and success that you have. It’s nice to know that occasionally, good things happen to good people.

I find it difficult to know how to deal with money, college, and raising my sons. Fortunately, they seem to have been born with a better sense of money than their dad, but thanks to Wealth Pilgirm, I’m learning!

Chuck

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Neal June 1, 2009 at 8:25 AM

Thank you MLR. You are a very kind person and not many would take the time to be so thoughtful.

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MLR June 1, 2009 at 8:00 AM

You really throw yourself out here on your site and I admire that. Your story is VERY encouraging and I have the utmost respect for what you have made of yourself.

Your experiences have obviously shaped you very much.

I love these posts that let us know more about you.

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Ki June 1, 2009 at 6:16 AM

Neal,
I love your story, it is very encouraging! My son’s father died when he was a little over 1 year old, I applied for SS benefits and receieved them but was told when he turned 18, the benefits would stop. My son went from HS directly to College and is on his 3rd year. Do you think he should have had benefits until he completed college? His father was not involved in the military at all.

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Neal Frankle June 1, 2009 at 6:42 AM

Ki,

Unfortunately, the rule changed when Reagan became President. The benefits were cut at 18.

That was very unfortunate and short-sighted. I’m glad your son was able to get to college though…(Unless he’s going to be a fireman! – JUST KIDDING!)

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