My parents and my grandparents were selective teachers of personal finance. I remember asking my mom if we could buy a speed boat. She told me that my parents would discuss it when they were rich, but it would be better for me to save my money for that. My grandpa always said that the best money he spent was on an accountant. After attempting my first round of taxes at age 14, I managed to get in on that deal at a discounted rate (I think my grandpa covered the difference between the $20 I put in and whatever this accountant actually charged).
I remember playing, "The stock market game" in my early college years, and I asked my dad if he had any pointers on picking stocks. He said, "I prefer to invest in my business because on average the returns have been at least 3 times higher than the average stock." He also said, "Never invest money that you don't have to lose."
I don't remember my parents worrying about money much, although I do remember being in middle school and asking why my parents would only give me $20 for new school clothes. I think my dad's answer was that it was more than he had been paid in the last six months (I guess the business went through a rough patch). I remember celebrating when the house was paid off (I was 10). I remember learning the cost of adoption (HOW MUCH!?!). I remember my dad celebrating the first client that would do a million in business that year- we got shakes and fries at McDonald's.
When I asked my parent's about healthcare in my second job out of college, my dad advised me to go with the high deductible plan. When I asked why, he said that I was a money bags waiting to happen.
More than anything though, I remember my parents teaching me about the connection between hard work and money. My mom always had cash, and my dad never did. At least twice a week my dad would ask my mom, "Can I have most of your money?" My mom usually responded, "As long as you work hard."
My parents would hire us for jobs around the house, and they let us advertise our services to the neighbors too. By age 12, I had weeded gardens, house sat, baby sat, cleaned graffiti off a sidewalk, shoveled snow, and cleaned garages to make money- all for somewhat less than minimum wage. All of my siblings were like this. We weren't always the best at things, but we worked hard. My little sister called our family, "The Unfortunate Johnson Try Hards" We were unfortunate because our ambition (especially in sports or academics) often outstripped even our ability to work for it. My parents, to their credit, just called us the "Johnson Try Hards." They were much more concerned about perseverance and effort than they were about outcomes.
I grew up thinking that working hard for money was a blessing
Unlike many of my friends parents, my parents never put down our efforts to make money (except for participating in fund raisers- they always wanted to write a check). They also encouraged me to be grateful for the opportunity to work, and the opportunity to earn money. They never differentiated that I should be grateful for the money and not for the work. That wouldn't be sensible at all.
When I was "complain asking" my dad about the babysitting wages of my lowest paying client, he told me that I needed to ask for more money. If they didn't value me at that level, I shouldn't begrudge them. Instead I should be grateful for the chance that I had to earn money for several years.
By the time I was 15, I felt that I had more jobs than I could reasonably handle (I also had my first boyfriend which may have influenced my perception of time). I asked my dad what I should do. I will never forget what he said.
"Nobody is making you work. Only slaves are forced to work, and that is evil. All the work you do is purely at your discretion. If you want to make more money, then work more or work smarter. If you want to make less money then work less. Those are your choices."
Nobody is making me work
I think it was revolutionary for me to think this way. I had always assumed someone else was making me do things, when in reality I was the person engaging in a contract. I was the person choosing to work. I was not a slave, or a victim of low wages. I was the person earning money, and I could choose more or less.
As an adult, this story seems like it should be more nuanced. I have a kid to feed. I've had leases to pay for. I've had a few debts that I honored. But even though I actually need money now (as opposed to age 15 when my parents provided everything), nobody but me is making me work.
Even though I haven't opted out of the financial system, I have never been, and I will never be a wage slave because wage slaves don't exist. I could be trapped by golden handcuffs (arguably I already am), or I could be caught in a poverty trap, or crushed under a mountain of debt. But no matter my financial situation, my choice to work, will always be a choice.
Work will always be at my discretion. If I want to make more, then working harder or smarter or more is likely to yield more money. This is a blessing. When someone values your work so much that they are willing to pay you, then they are really honoring and respecting you.
Sometimes I don't think my job is the world's most meaningful job. I try to get people to buy more things. But I am not a wage slave. I have agreed to provide my services for a sum of money. At any time, either me or my employer could sever this agreement. We've both entered into it freely.
Pursuing financial independence shouldn't degrade the dignity of work
The term wage slave assumes that working is somehow beneath you. As if earning a wage is undignified.
I'm a big fan of passive income. More rentals Please! But the ability to create value and earn money no matter how trivial the task is a dignified act. Humans are not valuable because they create or earn money. Humans have dignity no matter their state. However, working and creating and earning helps people realize that they have been created with Imago Dei- in the image of God.
Working to earn money should never be called slavery. No matter how enslaved you feel to your lifestyle or your debt or anything else, the ability to work hard to earn money is a blessing. To degrade that blessing with a name called "wage slave" will only breed a discontented spirit and an unappealing air of superiority when you achieve the passive income only lifestyle.
I have no doubt that I will be happy when we achieve a rate of passive income that no longer requires work. I also believe that we will take advantage of that by spending at least some time creating and pursuing interests that we can't do while we need to earn an income. But we endeavor to remember that work won't be then, nor is it now beneath us. Working and creating is a blessing not a curse.
I'm a wife, a mom, an employee, and a personal finance nerd who is devoted to spreadsheeting my way through life.