Watching my mom buy fancy cars she couldn't afford led me into deep debt, but I finally turned things around when I started working on my mental health

Watching my mom buy fancy cars she couldn’t afford led me into deep debt, but I finally turned things around when I started working on my mental health

  • I was raised by my low-income dad, but when I visited my mom she was always driving a luxury car.
  • She couldn’t afford it, but seeing how it made other people treat us made me want to do the same.
  • I ended up in deep debt and using drugs until I got sober and dealt with my mental health and trauma.

I grew up low-income, and it’s one of the primary reasons I’ve been so terrible with money my entire life. I love my parents, but their lack of financial literacy along with the way they spent money led to me developing some terrible spending habits.

I wouldn’t realize until later in life that my mom’s obsession with giving off the appearance that we were well off would play a role in my spending and accumulation of debt.

I was always surprised by my mom’s fancy cars

Today, my mom is 17 years sober and helped me get sober 10 years ago. But growing up, she was an alcoholic and was married to my former stepdad. He was a high school art teacher, and my mom was pursuing her PhD in psychology while also working a low-paying job. Although they clearly weren’t making enough money to live an extravagant lifestyle, you’d think they were pretty wealthy.

My dad raised me, but I’d visit them during school breaks for the holidays, and I was always blown away by how many nice things they had. Mainly, I was shocked at their expensive cars.

My stepdad drove a beautiful Corvette, and my mom loved luxury cars. I can’t remember a time in my life when my mom wasn’t driving a Mercedes-Benz or BMW. Part of me knew they didn’t make that much money, but as a kid, our concept of money is still pretty skewed.

It felt good to be part of my mom’s extravagant lifestyle, even though she couldn’t afford it

Eventually, I started noticing how often they fought about money and how they’d constantly talk about needing expensive things. It was strange to me because I lived in a small apartment with my dad, and he drove whatever old beater car he could afford until it broke down. Their spending was strange, but I also realized that I felt different being with them — like I wasn’t being looked down on by others. 

During most of the year, I was the lower-class kid while all of my friends lived in big houses with nice things. I always felt lesser because we didn’t have much, but I didn’t feel that way being surrounded by nice things when I went to visit my mom.

I ended up in debt

As I grew older and started working, I wanted to maintain that feeling; it may be why I’ve had such a strong work ethic throughout my life. I wanted to work as hard as possible to make as much money as I could to buy nice things and never get looked down on again. This craving to look wealthy that I inherited from my mom resulted in debt and more anxiety than I like to even think about.

I wasn’t making nearly as much money as I needed to, but I didn’t want anyone to know that. Whenever friends wanted to go out to eat or to bars and clubs here in Las Vegas, I’d always go and spend hundreds of dollars for a night I would barely remember. When my roommates and I would look for apartments, I’d always agree to live somewhere that was much more expensive than I could afford.  

In addition to overspending, I was also struggling with an expensive drug addiction.

I continued to struggle to keep my head above water while trying to live this lifestyle and feed my habit. Finally, I reached the point where I started taking out the worst types of loans. I began taking out payday loans, which can have interest rates from 40% to as high as 199% for longer loans. That means that a $500 loan could cost me $200 to $995 in interest in addition to the original $500 I borrowed.

It was common for me to go to a different payday loan place to pull out money to pay back the original loan from a different company. I even took out a title loan on my truck, something I swore I’d never do. A title loan is when the company can take your vehicle if you don’t make your payments — not a situation I wanted to be in.

Dealing with my childhood trauma helped me get on track with my finances

When I finally got sober in 2012 and started working on myself, I had to do a ton of work on my mental health that dealt with my childhood trauma, self-esteem, and other issues.

My whole life, I hadn’t realized why I was spending the way I was. The entire time, I was doing it just to impress others the same way my mom did. Like my mom, it didn’t bring me happiness or fulfillment. It actually made me more miserable, anxious, and exhausted.

Since I started reading about human behavior, I’ve learned the concept of conspicuous consumption. This term came from sociologist Thorstein Veblen, who wrote about it in his book, “The Theory of the Leisure Class.” Basically, conspicuous consumption is when we purchase things with the intention of showcasing our status, and it’s something all of us do.

I’ve completely turned my financial life around because I realized I don’t need to impress anybody. Now, I only purchase things that bring me happiness. Whenever I’m making a purchase, I pause and ask, “Why am I buying this? Is it for me or for others?”

I even taught this to my son when he felt like he always needed the newest Fortnite skin. He was only 9 or 10 at the time, but it stuck with him. Now, that kid can make his Christmas and birthday money last for months. He actually still has some money from last December as I write this in July.

My mom just bought a new Mercedes-Benz, but now that she’s sober and an accomplished psychologist, she can afford it. I don’t know if she’s been able to move away from trying to impress others, but I’m grateful that I was able to break the cycle and help my son avoid the same mistakes.

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