What Being Homeless Taught Me About Money and Happiness

[Got another great guest post for y’all today. This one comes from Lyn Alden, a newer blogger on the scene who puts out some great in-depth financial guides on her site. Today she dives inwards and shares a part of her own journey with us, and what she’s learned about money and happiness throughout it. Hop on over to her site when you’re done and show her some love!]


When I was a child, I was homeless for several years.

While most kids my age were starting elementary school, my mother and I were living in homeless shelters, cheap motels, and at the worst point, in a car for a while.

We washed ourselves in public restrooms (sometimes we had to sneak in to do it, in the early morning when people weren’t around), and whether we ate enough or not was based on the kindness of strangers.  I jumped around between schools a lot during kindergarten and first grade, and had some multi-month schooling gaps.  A homeless guy taught me how to play chess.

Eventually my luck improved a bit, and I went to live with my elderly father in a trailer park, where I grew up until I left for college at 18.  He didn’t have much money, so I had to rely on $50,000 worth of student loans and part-time work to fund it.

That all sucked, but now at 29 my finances are solid.

My student debts are a thing of the past, I have a large six figure investment portfolio that I continue to pour money into, there’s plenty of cash set aside for liquidity, and I financially support my mother to help her make ends meet.

The combination of a great income from engineering and finance, always maintaining a side hustle, having a minimalist (but admittedly not frugal) lifestyle, and consistently investing, has worked well.

A lot of people don’t like talking about money.  Especially for things that feel awkward to admit, like having been in poverty.  But for me, these experiences were incredibly valuable, and it’s worth sharing what I learned from them.

#1. It’s the uncertainty, not the lack of comforts, that causes suffering

Being homeless sucks, but it’s not necessarily for the reasons we might assume.

In extreme circumstances, like people in cities literally out in the cold streets for prolonged periods, or life in certain developing countries, the lack of comforts really does cause physical suffering.

But most poverty in the developed world causes a different kind of suffering: constant stress and uncertainty.

I mean, many well-off people use their vacations to go camping.  They PAY MONEY to live as though they’re broke for a week, and it’s fun!  And that’s because it’s just a game; we can enjoy the upsides of roughing it out in nature without experiencing any of the uncertainty and difficulties of people who don’t have a choice.

Although it became scary and unhappy at the end when I was living in a car, for most of my time homeless, I was happy.  Kids don’t need much in life to feel joy.

One day, a bunch of us children in a shelter were bored, so we decided to make a circus for our parents.  We did a survey of our available skillsets, got some markers and cardboard and random odds and ends, and put on a show.

Other times, my mother would take me to museums, which are cheap.  She always had me reading, going to the beach, or otherwise doing something of value.

But for her, I’m sure it was a lot less fun.  She had the constant stress of uncertainty, of never feeling in control, and of not knowing where herself and her child were going to live next, or who might give us food.  And trying (and succeeding) at being a good parent even in the worst of circumstances.

People don’t necessarily need to be homeless to have those stresses, either.  A significant percentage of the population is living paycheck to paycheck, not knowing for sure how they will pay their bills next month.

We can apply this concept to our daily life to build serious wealth.  Voluntary simplicity is joy.

Living simply, when it’s a choice, doesn’t have to detract from happiness at all.  Material comforts have relatively little impact on happiness beyond a certain point.  Living in simple conditions, cooking your own food, going to the beach or library or museums or hiking for your pastimes, and saving a ton of money in the process, can be a lot of fun.  And it’s healthy.

Meanwhile, when your simple lifestyle allows you to build up your retirement savings, start an emergency fund, or pay off your debts, you begin to feel free.  When you have enough money stashed away to cover your expenses for a long time, along with diverse income streams, it provides peace of mind.  And considering that money problems are possibly the leading cause of relationship fights, good money habits can make for a more joyful partnership as well.

When I was living with my father, family vacations consisted of him driving me and a friend to a local beach town, where we stayed in a little motel and spent time on the boardwalk.  He would give me a big pile of spare coins that he had saved up for months as my vacation allowance to spend on arcades.

In contrast, I’ve upped the scope of my vacations in more recent years, like spending three weeks in luxury hotels in Hong Kong, enjoying rooftop bars, fancy restaurants, and gorgeous mountain trails the whole time.  But what I learned firsthand, at least for me, was that the fun of a trip is almost 100% based on who you are with, rather than how classy you travel.

Luxuries are just the sprinkles on the sundae.

#2. You need all parts of your financial house in order, not just some

In her youth, my mother earned a high income and had a sports car.  But when things went (really) sour and her income stopped flowing, she had no savings.

My father was the opposite.  He lived in a trailer and never had a high income, but always had a fully stocked emergency fund and his credit score was 848.   No joke, he literally complained to me wondering why they took off those two points.

His only money problem was that he never had a wealth-building mindset.  He paid every single bill on time without fail, and never spent more money than he earned.  He had a pension to rely on for retirement, and always had five figures of cash stashed away so that liquidity was never a problem.  He was generous to me, to neighbors, and to friends.

(And to his girlfriends; he was a bit of a stud in his old age!)

But he never deliberately saved extra money, and never compounded it to make it grow.

In fact, he sold all his stocks in his small 401(k) at the bottom of the market during the 2001/2002 recession, and stayed in cash.  Rather than holding onto his investments, he got turned off by the volatility and went to cash forever, and missed out on the recovery.

To achieve financial freedom, all three components need to be in order:  Income, Saving, and Investing.  Not just one or two.

#1. Income: It’s important to earn enough money to make an impact, however that is defined for you.  Whether through education, entrepreneurship, or side hustles, a bigger stream of income will lead to financial security more quickly.

For example, someone who makes $30,000/year in after-tax income and has $20,000/year in expenses will have $10,000/year to use for paying off debt and saving for retirement.

But if she can earn just $500/month after tax on the side, then although it only increases her income by 20%, it increases her potential savings rate by a full 60%.  That makes a huge difference.

#2. Saving: Whether it’s keeping a budget or something else, find a pattern that fits for you and that keeps your savings going up.

A lot of pro athletes make millions and then go bankrupt five years later.  Johnny Depp made more money than a hundred people do in a lifetime, but spent it all buying things like $5 million cannons.

No amount of income can fix poor spending habits.

#3. Investments: This is where a lot of people go wrong.  They spend decades working and aren’t much richer than the day they started, because they haven’t been investing.  Then they find themselves vulnerable to layoffs and pension cuts.

Investing every month like clockwork, and achieving a good rate of return from a diversified portfolio, will allow you to reach financial freedom early.

One of the best ways to really push yourself to build wealth is to track it.  Most people don’t.

#3. Wealth-building isn’t always a smooth process

I started investing in stocks when I was 16.

Admittedly, I had NO IDEA what I was doing, since to me, a stock was “undervalued” if it dropped a lot in price recently, since it was less valuable than before, and that’s what Warren Buffett said to do, right?  Or something like that.

I didn’t know about price-to-earnings ratios, analyzing the discounted cash flows, or any other way to fundamentally value an investment like people who wear suits do.

But it was a start.

I was tired of being broke, and of always being uncertain about the future or how I would afford things like school.  I saw the two halves of my parents, and wanted to put their strengths together in such a way that I wouldn’t have the same struggles they did.

So, I read every book I could find on investing. I got excited about spreadsheets, and turned on by compound returns.  Warren Buffett (and Batman, let’s be real) was my hero.

When I was in college, I had it all figured out.  I knew what the typical starting salary for an engineer was, could figure out all the basic expenses of life and how to keep them small, and calculated that if I put $2,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars away per month, and achieve a 7% average return on my investments, my money would grow like this over my career:

awesome wealth projection

But in my mid-twenties, my father passed away.

I encountered health problems of my own as well, which lasted for a few years and resulted in big medical bills that weren’t fully covered by insurance, which wasted many thousands of dollars while I was trying to work and save.  And my mother started needing financial support.

I hadn’t accounted for all that in my projections…

So, I started to go off track, and had a couple years where my wealth didn’t grow at all, and even went down one year.  My income was stagnant due to my lack of time and focus, and my expenses grew.

I eventually got it back on track, and started pushing my income up and expenses back down.

What I learned here was that we can’t compare ourselves to others.  I saw examples of people hitting a million dollars by age 30, or people whose net worth seemed to only go ever upward, and I thought, “what the hell!”

But everyone encounters different curveballs in life, and the worst thing you can do is let a temporary setback drive you permanently off course.

#4. Experiencing both the good and the bad in life is valuable

Most of us go through life fearing certain things, and financial topics are near the top of the list.

We worry that we’ll lose our jobs, we worry about debt or retirement, we worry about recessions, and many of us imagine the worst – what if we’re out on the street?  What if we’re homeless?

In ancient Greece and Rome, Stoics used to practice voluntary discomfort as a form of self-improvement.  They would identify things that they feared, and deliberately go out and experience them.  At that point they could say, “is this what I feared?”

Being homeless in my youth let me experience at least some small part of the rougher side of the spectrum.  All these years later, it still helps put things into perspective when I encounter day-to-day problems.

If not for that experience, I don’t think I’d be as committed to wealth-building and financial freedom as I am today.  But rather than stop there, I made a habit of practicing voluntary discomfort from time to time:

MMA Fighting — I spent 12 years doing mixed martial arts, especially during my teenage years.

I’ve been held down and punched repeatedly by a man twice my weight, on more than one occasion.  My left knee was broken in a sparring match and still makes some interesting sounds to this day.  I fractured my right thumb when I hit a guy in the ribs with a hook punch and accidentally clipped his blocking elbow during my swing.  I’ve been choked to submission and slammed to the floor more times than I can count.  A professional fighter 15 pounds heavier and 15 years older than me beat me at a tournament so badly once that I cried a little.

To this day, it all makes a lot of things in life seem less scary.

Fasting — I used to think that if you don’t eat, you just keep getting hungrier and hungrier, which frightened me.  So, I decided to try a 3-day fast, with just water.

As it turns out, once you cross a certain point of not eating, the body starts to tap into its own body fat for fuel more readily.   If you go long enough, your brain starts running on ketones instead of glucose, which is known to suppress hunger in many people, and give you a sense of alertness.  Many people fast during religious or spiritual experiences, partially because it creates a sense of mental clarity and even mild euphoria.  I was less hungry on day 3 than I was on the first day, and I still occasionally do 1-day fasts.  (Disclaimer: Maybe check with your doctor first before trying any weird eating habits, especially if you’re on meds.)

That experience ended up coming in handy, because a few months later, my town was struck by a thunderstorm deadly enough to have a Wikipedia page about it.  I was about to go grocery shopping that morning, so literally the only food I had in my apartment when the storm hit was a single chocolate bar.

Power was out for miles, stores were closed or emptied out, and more fallen trees than I had ever seen in my life were blocking roads.  Three people were dead not too far away, and the county was declared a federal disaster area.  But because I had already experienced what fasting really felt like, I didn’t feel like there was much to worry about, and just thought calmly about how I should best approach this and get supplies from somewhere, eventually.

It would have been a lot more stressful had I not already experienced what not eating is like.

Lack of Control — I’m an orderly person that likes to plan everything in advance and have multiple backup plans.  The idea of not being in control is unappealing.

So, I once flew to Argentina without telling a single person where I was going, and rented an apartment in a middle class non-touristy neighborhood of Buenos Aires for three weeks. I don’t speak a word of Spanish, and English isn’t very common there.

The whole trip consisted of me trying to navigate around the city to see things, with everything being 10x harder than usual because I didn’t know what I was doing and couldn’t speak very well.  But it was memorable, and reminds me how easy life is with a car, and where I can speak to people and read signs.

Final Words

There’s a Chinese proverb that goes, “wealth never survives three generations”.

From what Money Magazine has reported, it’s true.  A full 70% of wealthy families lose their wealth by the second generation, and 90% lose it by the third generation.

That’s an astounding statistic if you think about it.  Not only do most of them not continue to build wealth from their starting point; they actually lose what they already have.

Partly that’s because, according to the same article, 2/3rds of people don’t disclose almost anything about their wealth to their children.  As the next generation grows up, they often don’t have any of the money habits or hard work ethic of their parents that originally built the wealth from the ground up.

Naturally, parents want to give their children a better life than they had.  But often in doing so, the next generation becomes soft and pampered, unable to appreciate their money that they didn’t have to earn themselves, and never developing the skills to maintain and build what they have.

So, if you don’t have a lot of money and didn’t come from a well-off background, then take heart!

Although you may be disadvantaged in some ways, in other ways you have an advantage, because you’re hungry for more, and you have to create what you want from scratch.  Not a lot of people set out on a wealth-building lifestyle, but once you get on that train, you’ve got all the money habits in place that should keep you going up.

And if you did come from money, and don’t want to fall prey to the statistics, then try to continually rekindle that sense of energy and passion and vulnerability so that you can maintain all the advantages of having money without having the downsides of complacency.  Practicing voluntary discomfort is useful in that sense.

Either way, it’s important to push yourself, to stay fresh by experiencing multiple sides of the world, and to put yourself in new and uncomfortable situations to learn and grow from them.

But live below your means and save and invest like hell, so that as much of the discomfort as possible that you experience in life is by choice.

Lyn blogs over at LynAlden.com, and holds a bachelor’s in electronics engineering and a master’s in engineering management with a focus on engineering economics. Much of her work involves budget planning, technical procurement, and project management. On the side she does website development and freelance writing, and creates in-depth guides on financial topics.

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  1. Ember @ An Intentional Lifestyle August 4, 2017 at 6:38 AM

    Wow. That was an incredible story. And your transparency is so awesome.

    I think it’s so true how little kids need to be happy. We were pretty poor growing up, but I feel like I had an incredible childhood. My parents, on the other hand, remember days that we ate popcorn for dinner because it’s all they could afford. We, as adults, can learn alot from kids. Being content with less, enjoying the other things, like museums and hiking.

    MMA fighting?? That’s pretty much beast-mode! You push yourself out of your comfort zone to grow and that is so hard to do for most of us. I can’t imagine doing many of the things you mentioned, which I guess means that I need to push myself more.

    Thank you for sharing and being so open!

    1. Lyn Alden August 4, 2017 at 8:18 AM

      Thanks for the comment!

      Popcorn for dinner is a great example. A lot of kids would think that sounds great, but the parents would be stressed out because they know they have to figure out how to give them something more nutritious next time.

      MMA is great because you have to psyche yourself up and go into beast mode before and during the match, but then you can give your opponent a hug afterwards! Although I wouldn’t be surprised if doctors start finding long-term problems with a lot of MMA fighters like they are starting to do with football players.

      1. J. Money August 4, 2017 at 4:40 PM

        My kids told me today that as soon as they’re adults all they’re going to eat for dinners is candy :)

  2. Team CF August 4, 2017 at 7:41 AM

    Very inspirational, shows you that hard work, common sense and perseverance gets you a very long way. Well done Lyn!

    1. Lyn Alden August 4, 2017 at 8:32 AM


      I checked out your dividend portfolio and options-selling on your site. I use a similar strategy.

      Well, my main account is index funds, but then my other accounts are very income-focused like that.

      1. Shereese January 21, 2023 at 2:15 AM

        I’m currently living out of a leased car I never returned.(nor os up to date with registration) Now I’m trying to figure this all out while dealing with anxiety. Any bit of money I get goes to gas, food and the occasional roof for ahowers and decent sleep (if I sleep at all). I’m trying to build a tea business but like any business it takes money to make money. Today’s economy is even harder because there are way more people on the poverty spectrum than before. Any book advice or advice on getting out of a vehicle that no longer in compliance?

  3. Lance @ My Strategic Dollar August 4, 2017 at 7:50 AM

    Neither of my parents were poor, but they certainly grew up with less than what they’ve provided their kids. I don’t remember one time growing up thinking that we didn’t make enough money. My parents worked hard, earned a decent income and raised great kids. It’s crazy how innocent kids are and how little they think about money, material objects or what they don’t have. This is similar to kids in social situations, they don’t see or care about what makes them different from people, they are just content.

    1. Lyn Alden August 4, 2017 at 8:36 AM

      Yeah it’s mostly when they’re older that they start getting self-conscious about things.

      For material stuff, when I was growing up with my father, pretty much all I needed was to play outside and have a couple video games. That pretty much had me set!

  4. Ms. Frugal Asian Finance August 4, 2017 at 7:57 AM

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. When I was reading your story, I was literally picturing in my head what life must have been like in such an unstable situation.

    I’m so glad you have come out ahead and have learned so many great finance lessons from hardships and challenges in life. I’m sorry to hear about your father and wish you the best with your future endeavors!

    1. Lyn Alden August 4, 2017 at 8:23 AM

      Yeah, the instability got to me after a while.

      When I first went to live with my father and stopped being homeless, I had a ton of behavioral problems at school. Like, following directions, being quiet, and paying attention for 8 hours a day was just not gonna fly.

      But within six months or so I got into the routine and it worked out!

  5. Miss Mazuma August 4, 2017 at 8:34 AM

    Lyn, your story is remarkable. Not from what you went through (which, of course, was a lot!), but how much you learned and grew from those experiences. Your parents were the best kind of teachers. They did the best that they could in the moment and you learned what to do for your future.

    “Everyone encounters different curveballs in life, and the worst thing you can do is let a temporary setback drive you permanently off course.” That is the key element. I’ve been there financially and was able to get back up and move forward. I see others stop dead in their tracks and refuse to move forward. At a young age you were wise beyond your years to keep pushing forward. I wish you continued success in the future and welcome to the blogging world! :)

    1. Lyn Alden August 4, 2017 at 11:39 AM

      I was lucky in that regard. My mother was very highly educated, and wanted the same for me. She took me to museums, the library, and practiced math with me. My father never had much education but he was hardcore about me getting one.

      I went and read about your curveball! All that real estate. I’ll have to read more!

  6. Financial Samurai August 4, 2017 at 9:00 AM

    Thanks for sharing Lyn! I feel like your experience allows you to fully appreciate more of what you have now.

    A simple life is wonderful, and I like the part you mention about kids not needing much to feel joy. I feel this especially when my son smiles back while we just playing in the coach of mat. Nothing else matters in these moments!


    1. Lyn Alden August 4, 2017 at 11:41 AM

      Thanks Sam! Your son sounds adorable. ^-^

      I love your article on buying utility and renting luxury, btw.

  7. Brian August 4, 2017 at 9:00 AM

    Thanks for sharing Lyn. Although your parents had very different approaching to money, they both taught you a great deal. I agree the mental fatigue money problems cause is much greater to over come that most of the physical one. Continued success!

    1. Lyn Alden August 4, 2017 at 11:56 AM

      Thanks for the comment!

      Congrats on reaching your 4-year blogging anniversary! I’ll try to make it that long. :)

  8. Dave @ Married with Money August 4, 2017 at 9:11 AM

    Wow, what a story. Thanks for sharing. the best part of an otherwise bad situation is that you gleaned some positive lessons and learnings out of it. It’s interesting to me that you seemed so happy. I guess I can see how the uncertainty thing really would be the biggest stress…

    Sidenote: Am I the only one who had to do a double-take on the 848 credit score your dad had?

    1. Lyn Alden August 4, 2017 at 11:49 AM

      I know right?

      Here’s how he did it:

      -FICO score is 35% payment history. His was flawless.

      -FICO score is 30% credit utilization and such. He paid his bills each month, kept no balance, and maintained a very low credit utilization. Several cards gave him a high overall credit limit.

      -FICO score is 15% length of credit history. This is where he was bonkers. He opened his credit cards in the 1980’s and earlier, and didn’t open any more, and didn’t close any. So his average card account was 20+ years old in the 2000’s.

      -FICO score is 10% credit mix. In addition to using credit cards, he had a car-buying habit (part of his non-wealth accumulation), and would finance them with auto loans, which he would pay off. So he always had diverse credit mix, which is good for the score.

      -FICO is 10% new credit. He rarely applied for new credit except when financing a car every certain number of years.

      Other than making all his payments reliably, most of that was by accident. I don’t think he tried to optimize it. Still, he was mildly insulted that his was 848 instead of 850, because he considered his credit score as part of his reputation. He was like, “I’ve never missed a payment. Why not just give me those two points? I mean, why take them off at all?”

      1. J. Money August 7, 2017 at 9:53 AM

        I wonder if *anybody* has a perfect 750? I actually doubt it…

        1. Lyn Alden August 9, 2017 at 3:45 PM

          Maybe for brief periods of time.

          I bet if my father’s credit score was graphed for a year or more like the free tools we have today do, there was probably a random month in there where he poked 850.

          I mean, my own credit score oscillates between 820 and 835 for no discernible reason. Last month my FICO jumped up 8 points and my VantageScore fell 3 points.

          But yeah, I don’t think anyone just hits 850 and stays there. I don’t think anyone just *has* an 850 score.

          1. J. Money August 10, 2017 at 7:45 AM

            Good point on the fluctuating!

            1. Lyn Alden January 8, 2019 at 12:18 PM

              No lie, I logged into Discover today and I saw my FICO score touched a perfect 850 this month, up sharply from 841 last month and generally in the 830s before that.


              I somehow remembered this comment about whether it’s possible lol. Apparently yeah. I’m sure it’ll dip back down in a month or two tho.

              My Vantage score actually dropped from 825 to 823 in the same month too, so who knows what the algorithms are up to. I didn’t change anything notable.

              1. J. Money January 8, 2019 at 2:30 PM

                That is too funny, haha…

                Love that you snapped a pic for proof ;)

  9. Dads Dollars Debts August 4, 2017 at 10:21 AM

    J Money, you keep bringing interesting stories and perspectives in life to us! Thanks man. This was a great read and I look forward to seeing what else Lyn has to say on her site. Income Save Invest are truly the 3 roads to a wealthy life. As for leaving the money to the kids, forget it. Hopefully they will have a solid foundation of knowledge to build their own wealth.

    1. Lyn Alden August 4, 2017 at 12:00 PM

      Based on the rate at which wealthy families lose their money after a couple generations, your approach is smart. The knowledge you leave is more important!

    2. J. Money August 4, 2017 at 4:46 PM

      Glad you’re liking them man :) Amazing how many drastically different backstories there are out there right? And these are the only ones coming from people who are willing to SHARE them online! Haha… They’re brave!

  10. Krystal @ Simple Finance Mom August 4, 2017 at 10:30 AM

    Wow! Such a great read! Thank you for sharing your story with us. I loved your line “voluntary simplicity is joy.” That is so so so true about so many things in life, not just finances. And I have to say how encouraged I was that despite being homeless, your mom never made it a terrible thing. You were still a happy child. For about a year, we became the legal guardians for a little girl we knew who was homeless. She had SO many issues. Not because she was living in a car, not because she didn’t have a lot of fun, not because she was hungry. But because she missed her family and felt abandoned. I loved hearing how well adjusted you were as a kid, and how it pushed you to be a stronger adult. It gives me hope for her. Thank you!

    1. Lyn Alden August 4, 2017 at 12:05 PM

      I’m really impressed that you became the guardians for her. That gives so much help!

      My elderly father was kind of overwhelmed with having a kid as a single parent, so one his work friends kind of unofficially adopted me. So, I spent thousands of hours living with this big Italian family part-time, and it made such a difference.

      1. Krystal @ Simple Finance Mom August 8, 2017 at 9:14 PM

        Big Italian families are so much fun! What a blessing they must have been to you!!

    2. J. Money August 4, 2017 at 4:48 PM

      That’s so cool, Krystal!! My wife and I want to foster a little later in our lives, but don’t know a *thing* about it. We just know how much of a blessing it would be for both them and us :)

      1. Vee August 5, 2017 at 10:43 AM

        Do it!! I’m a therapist who works a lot with foster kids. Just get some good training on trauma and parenting traumatized kids first!

      2. Krystal @ Simple Finance Mom August 8, 2017 at 9:12 PM

        It was equally the hardest thing and the most beautiful thing we’ve ever done. If you are serious about fostering in the future, the two things I would say are 1) make sure your foster child has their own room. They need to know they have a safe place and no one will be touching their stuff. They come in with a LOT of issues and that is the easiest one to be proactive about. And 2) don’t mess up birth order! Our oldest daughter had to share the title of “oldest” which she struggled with, while our newest daughter was used to being the baby and she had to really adjust to having someone younger than her in the family. Of course, there are extenuating circumstances that prevent that from being possible, like in our case, but for the most part if you have a choice those are the two things I would highly recommend for any new foster parent.

  11. Jeff - MaximumCents.com August 4, 2017 at 12:01 PM

    That was a very interesting story. I am also an engineer who is interested in finance. How did you get into Engineering? I find that a lot of my colleagues are very busy and don’t understand the importance of investing considerable money early. It is not uncommon for many engineers at my job to work into their 60’s.

    1. Lyn Alden August 4, 2017 at 8:08 PM

      I got into engineering because I built stuff with K’nex all the time, and was interested in aerospace engineering while young. I eventually got into electronics engineering and took a different path.

      Part of it was that I could get a fairly high income with a 4-year degree, and work on my graduate degree on the side. Being something like a lawyer or doctor would have taken more school and debt before making a serious income.

      What about you?

  12. Joe August 4, 2017 at 12:50 PM

    Good story. I think your dad did just fine. He went with what worked for him.
    You might have heard this before, but these days engineers don’t have a long shelf life anymore. Keep saving and building wealth to make sure you have other options.

    Yeap, good advice about kids too. I’ll make sure to pass along what I learn to my son.
    Good luck!

    1. Lyn Alden August 4, 2017 at 8:14 PM

      Yeah I plan on being work-optional in my mid-thirties.

      Plus, that’s one reason I moved away from design engineering and into engineering management. These days I do 95% finance/administration and 5% design engineering. Mostly I do procurement, budget-planning, project management, etc. A tough thing about design engineering is that it doesn’t scale very well. But going more into the finance/management route does.

      The optimistic way to look at engineering is that it’s the ultimate FIRE profession. You get to start making a serious income with a bachelor’s degree right away, can earn a master’s on the side if needed, have a lot of earning power for 20+ years, and if you play your cards right you can retire early.

  13. rubin pham August 4, 2017 at 1:56 PM

    this is an incredible story. thanks lyn alden for sharing her story & insights with us.

  14. Mr. Freaky Frugal August 4, 2017 at 2:24 PM

    Very inspiring post! I’m very impressed with how far you’ve come.

    “Living simply, when it’s a choice, doesn’t have to detract from happiness at all. Material comforts have relatively little impact on happiness beyond a certain point. Living in simple conditions, cooking your own food, going to the beach or library or museums or hiking for your pastimes, and saving a ton of money in the process, can be a lot of fun. And it’s healthy.”

    So true and I’d take it even further! I’ve found some level of regular discomfort or challenge makes you happier. I’m FIREd, but I still try to do something mentally and/or physically challenging everyday.

    The philosophy of Stoicism talks about this even more. As does the modern concept of Hedonic Adaption.

    1. Lyn Alden August 9, 2017 at 3:05 PM

      Yeah I wrote about hedonic adaptation in a recent post on my blog about saving money. It’s a major topic!

      I like having a cyclical routine for that reason. So, I spend a lot of time in utilitarian conditions, focusing on work and productivity, but then when I travel, THATS when I let myself experience some luxury. That way my hedonic adaptation resets each time and it’s always fresh.

  15. Lily @ The Frugal Gene August 4, 2017 at 8:10 PM

    One of my favorite posts I’ve read. #1 and #3 provides amazing prospective and insight to wealth building. I had a 2 week fling with a 19 year old runaway and his mindset was nowhere close to this (given he WAS 19) but the last I checked he still doesn’t have a stable place to sleep, perhaps he’ll learn these lessons some day. Not that these apply to just homeless, its just sound advice all around.

    1. J. Money August 7, 2017 at 9:54 AM

      Glad you enjoyed the post!

  16. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer August 5, 2017 at 7:23 AM

    Thanks for sharing a gripping story, Lyn. I too grew up very, very poor, and it does allow for you to create a perspective of adaptability that will carry you through many things. Also agree on fasting: I do it and it really gives me a seriously amazing clarity. Good for you for not becoming a victim and taking control of your future. I know you’ll continue to accomplish great things!

    1. Lyn Alden August 7, 2017 at 8:49 PM

      More people should try fasting, imo. Listen to Laurie!

      Btw I just checked out your blog and saw the picture of Doomfist your daughter made on your “Buck Up and Dream” post.

      He’s a new character in Overwatch, a game I play! Awesome pic.

  17. Dave August 5, 2017 at 7:54 AM

    That was an inspiring post. There is nothing wrong with having a humble beginning. It is a good source of motivation. This post definitely left me feeling grateful for what I have.

  18. Financial Muse August 5, 2017 at 9:57 PM

    If I would have to choose one message from your story, it would be that everyone has the choice to either be the victim or work hard on coming out ahead. Thank you for sharing your journey so openly. I think it will motivate people who have grown up in similar situations. And it shows them that there can be a different kind of life.

    1. Lyn Alden August 9, 2017 at 8:46 AM

      At least many people have a choice, yeah.

      I would hesitate to say everyone, but many people do!

  19. Dublin August 6, 2017 at 1:10 AM

    Excellent Article.
    Really compounds a life experience paying off in wisdom at such a young age. As someone who has risen from homelessness due to problems in my teenage years. I am constantly trying to rid my self of the fear of poverty. I thank you for sharing what is personal in order to benefit others.

  20. Turning Point Money August 6, 2017 at 2:26 PM

    Thanks for sharing your story. There are always downturns in wealth building, just like life itself. You obviously have the patience and determination to see it through.

  21. Paul Morphy August 6, 2017 at 4:34 PM

    You learn a lot from humble circumstances, especially if you can survive them. Then, when you get rolling in life, you have real wisdom to share.

  22. ZJ Thorne August 6, 2017 at 7:59 PM

    My story is similar to yours, but I have not yet achieved the high income. I’m getting there, and the ability to look back on the extreme poverty and deprivation of my childhood makes most things comparably easy to adjust to. Congrats on making it and controlling what is yours to control!

    1. Lyn Alden August 9, 2017 at 8:52 AM

      Your net worth is headed in the right direction, at least! I’m glad you track it.

      The most stressful thing in college was me watching my net worth go down every semester as I went deeper into student debt.

  23. Melanie @MommyFinance August 8, 2017 at 1:26 AM

    Wow this is crazy. What a tough life. I can’t imagine what it would be like in that situation and yet there’s so many homeless people here in Hawaii. But you know what, you live and learn and know not to repeat the same situation. Thank you for sharing this story!

    1. Lyn Alden August 9, 2017 at 8:49 AM

      I guess if I had to be homeless someplace, Hawaii would be near the top of the list. My time spent homeless was fortunately in a warm climate; it would probably have been worse had it not been.

      Still, I’m sure it’s not easy anywhere. Thanks for the comment!

  24. Oliver @ Appreneurinvestor.com August 8, 2017 at 9:12 AM

    I have to agree on what you posted. I do notice that most of the time, people who grew up poor and worked hard as they got older are more successful and have higher appreciation for the value of money.

    1. Lyn Alden August 9, 2017 at 3:04 PM

      Looks like you’re making serious bank with your apps!

      I’ve found that when you do work outside of the normally 9-5 routine, it also creates a higher appreciation of money. Like, I do some freelance writing, and if I’m looking at a new pair of shoes, I think in my head about how I just sat down and wrote an article on the weekend and now all that money’s going to go towards one pair of wedges? Nope!

  25. Primal Prosperity August 13, 2017 at 1:41 AM

    OMG… you are awesome, girl! I’m also a female engineer. I love your thoughts on fasting. I hate when people use the word ‘hangry’. If people fasted more often, they would know the difference.:)

    1. Primal Prosperity August 13, 2017 at 1:50 AM

      One more thing… that is awesome that you use the phrase ‘voluntary simplicity’. This is something that I have talked about often in my personal and professional life, but a lot of the PF world talks more about frugality or minimalism. You and I think alike. :)

      1. Lyn Alden August 13, 2017 at 12:35 PM

        ::gives the secret female engineer handshake::

        Fasting and carb-restriction in general has made such a big difference in my energy and well-being.

        I’ve always had blood sugar issues. But by eating foods that keep my blood sugar at ideal levels, rather than the big spikes people get from bagels and such, it makes it so that hunger always comes on as a gentle reminder rather than some sudden urge.

        I use the word “minimalism” sometimes, especially in my main article on saving money, but I don’t use frugality too much. Maybe I should start rocking “voluntary simplicity” more often!

  26. WealthyDoc August 13, 2017 at 1:54 PM

    Inspiring post. Much wisdom. Thanks.
    I grew up dirt poor. Now I’m doing very well. This is a great country for those who are willing to learn and work hard. I hope to impart some wisdom to my children without spoiling them. I’m not sure how well I’m doing that. But my daughter did dress as Warren Buffett for Halloween, so maybe I’m doing something right!

    1. J. Money August 14, 2017 at 12:28 PM


  27. Colin @ rebelwithaplan August 19, 2017 at 11:01 AM

    I love this and can relate to it on a level. I lived in my car during my freshman year of university. I didn’t have much financial aid, didn’t want to take out more loans than necessary, and my parents didn’t help out with my education costs.

    Thinking back to the experience, it really was the uncertainty of things that caused me stress rather than the lack of comforts. I was determined to get through it. I studied and did good in my classes and worked at a job and saved. Things are better (and clearer) now.

    1. J. Money August 21, 2017 at 1:50 PM

      Holy crap man, that is hustling! Were you able to meet people and friends to later crash at their places at times? Or at least take showers and stuff? (Or did you use campus stuff for all that?)

  28. John hallman August 26, 2017 at 4:02 PM

    Thank you lyn for taking the time out to share your story. I’ve been going through a rather large awakening I guess you could say and it’s motivating to see that someone can pull it off. Thank you

  29. shahbaz December 27, 2017 at 5:42 AM

    I do notice that most of the time, people who grew up poor and worked hard as they got older are more successful and have higher appreciation for the value of money.

  30. Denny June 10, 2020 at 5:43 PM

    I just came across your appearance on George Gammon ‘s web site and decided to look up your bio. Your life as a young person struck me because of the hardships you experienced and how much that paralleled my childhood. I grew up on the west side of Chicago in what was essentially a white ghetto during World War 2…mice in the house and rats trying to get inside. Single mother lucky to have a job during the WW2. We were poor, dirt poor. But that existence and memory gave me the drive to never be in that financial position again. Fast forward… spent time in the military(4 years), one year of collage and married the love of my life. Got a job as as computer programmer during the 1960’s; that was back when programming was done at almost internal machine level. Learned to save money and invest in the stock market. Now am a retired multi-millionaire. Both of my children now are also “MM’s”. It was interesting to read your story as it brought back so many of my childhood memories. Thanks and hope you have a happy life. Denny
    BTW, saw on your web site you have an article on covered call options. Think I may look into options to have some fun.