Coffee Talk – Financial Lessons from your First Sweetheart

by Sandy L on February 14, 2011

In honor of Valentine’s Day, today’s coffee talk will be about first boy or girlfriends and what people have learned from those experiences. Most of the posters for today will have to reach far into their memory banks for this story.  Be sure to check back at the end of the day as I will be links to the other posts at the end of this article.

My first boyfriend picked me up on a street corner when I was in high school  in his 1978 black Pontiac Firebird.  I know, I know, mothers of teen daughters everywhere are cringing right now.  The pick up went something like this:

Tom: (drives up slowly and stops.  He’s got sunglasses on and long hair much like the hairbands of the day. He leans in and smiles.)  “Hi”

Me: “Hi”

Tom: “Do you hang out here a lot?”

Me: (sarcastically) “Yes, I hang out on street corners for fun.” I point up at the bus stop sign and tell him I’m waiting for the bus.

Tom “Where are you going?”

Me:  “I have a dentist appointment.”

Tom: “Who’s your dentist?”

Me: “Dr. Maykel.”

Tom: “Oh my God, she is my dentist too. I love her. She does such a great job. Hop in and I’ll give you a ride to her office.”  Suddenly this guy went from being a dangerous bad boy, to someone completely safe and into the car I went.

The car I learned to Drive on, a V8 Firebird

Tom and I ended up dating for over 4 years. Truth be told, I was actually in love with his family more than him. He had 4 younger siblings and the most wonderful parents.  It was my first taste of what stable family life was like and  it was heavenly.   He was a leather jacket wearing, motorcycle driving, big hair,  bad boy…but that was only on the outside.  On the inside he was a very intelligent Electrical Engineering student at a very tough school.  Even though he went to trade school, he still scored a perfect score on his Math SAT..he really was a sheep in wolf’s clothing.  So here are my lessons in no particular order:

  1. Just because you’re smart doesn’t mean you’re good with money.
  2. Credit Cards don’t solve your money problems, they just create more of them.
  3. Spenders will sabotage your savings goals.
  4. Wanting to work is more important that wanting to learn.
  5. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover and if people don’t like you’re cover, it might be worth changing it.
  6. How to Write a Check.
  7. Being Late is Extremely Rude.
  8. Going to College is Essential to getting out of poverty and engineering has a high job placement rate.
  9. After your receive your financial aid, always go back to the financial aid office and ask for more.
  10. It’s never too late to redeem yourself

Just because you’re smart doesn’t mean you’re good with money.

There is no question that Tom was intelligent, but by the time I met him he had already racked up several credit cards worth of debt. I think like a lot of college kids, he just assumed that once you get a job in the real world, you’ll be able to pay everything off lickety split.  For someone who had a perfect score on his Math SAT’s, he should have known the laws of compound interest a lot better.

Credit Cards don’t solve your money problems, they just create more of them.

Despite the many thousands of dollars that were racked up on his credit cards, he still never had any money.  He was one of those people who would constantly run his car on fumes. When he went to the gas station, he’d put $2 of gas in his car to get to the next destination.  Did maxing out those credit cards help at all? That would be a big fat no.  I also got to witness first hand that paying the minimum on a credit card doesn’t reduce your balance at all.

Spenders will Sabotage your Savings Goals

Since he drove me around, it wasn’t long before I was the one paying for gas and although I didn’t rack up any credit card debt (because I was too young), it didn’t take long before I wasn’t saving a single penny anymore. I had already saved $600 in babysitting money and that was making $1/hour.  It wasn’t long before that was gone and my entire paycheck too from my job at papa ginos.

Wanting to work is more important that wanting to learn.

Although Tom was an A student and loved to learn, he really hated working.  It took him a very long time to come to terms with the reality that some day he was going to have to hold down a steady job to dig himself out of the hole he was in. By the time we parted ways he was over $40K in debt and that was a lot of money 20 years ago.   He never worked when school was in session. He did have some jobs during summer, but he wasn’t like me who’d take every hour that was offered.  It really doesn’t matter how smart you are or how many degrees you have, if you can’t or don’t want to hold down a steady job, you’re going to have a tough life.

Don’t judge a book by it’s cover and if people don’t like you’re cover, it might be worth changing it.

I swear all the bullies in our home town end up going to police academy.  We were constantly being pulled over and harassed by the police.  It was really annoying.  You know, when you grow up in a tough part of town or go to a rough trade school, it’s important to look tough yourself.  If you look tough, people are less likely to pound on you. However, cops and other people will assume things about you too and they aren’t positive things either. When you go out into the working world, it’s also important to look the part.  Don’t be getting tattoos in obvious places if you someday want to work in corporate America.  My “look” these days is pretty boring, but in high school, black was my favorite color.

How to Write a Check.

Believe it or not, in Tom’s trade school, he had a class on the basics of money management. I really wonder why all schools don’t do this. I thought that kind of class is a great idea. I also think it’s very naive to assume that only trade school kids need those skills and somehow other children learn through osmosis.

Being Late is Extremely Rude.

I’ve never been a tardy person, but I still remember the time when I lent him my car before my shift at work and he was 2 hours late picking me up.  This was before cell phones and I was fuming.   Not respecting someone else’s time, especially when they are doing you a favor is the worst form of disrespect.

Going to College is Essential to getting out of poverty and engineering has a high job placement rate.

I have to say, there are two reasons I didn’t become a teen mom with no education.  One is my high school chemistry teacher, and the other is this guy.  You see, no one in my circles has ever been to college, so it was not an obvious next step for me like it is for so many others.  He showed me that it was possible to go to college even if your family doesn’t have a lot of money. He also taught me the ins and outs of FAFSA and showed me all the ways to get scholarships, loans and grants.

After your receive your financial aid, always go back to the financial aid office and ask for more.

I did this every year, and every year it was effective.  I’d get an extra scholarship or a no interest loan.  The people at my financial aid office were very good to me.

It’s never too late to redeem yourself

Towards the end, Tom also owed my mother quite a bit of money (thousands actually).   He agreed to paint her house one summer and she paid him for it.  He only got one wall done and used the wrong kind of paint and it all peeled that fall.  You know who painted that 3 decker the next year, yes me..and it was pretty scary being 3 stories up.  The whole time I was mumbling to myself how he should be up there helping me but he wasn’t. In addition to that, he and a buddy rented one of her vacant apartments and guess what happened when he got behind on the bills. You know it, he stopped paying rent.  After 4 months I told him he had to find somewhere else to live because my mom needed the income (she really did).   He promised to pay it back.He swore on it, but then when we broke up and  I assumed it was gone for good.  He had several other personal loans from his family members too and it also put a strain on those relationships as well.

I bumped into him a few years later at our dentist of all places (the irony). He was all happy to see me and the first thing that came out of my mouth, was “how can you live with yourself for not paying my mom back after she’s been so good to you.”   I told him I didn’t want to talk to him because I trusted him and he obviously was not the person I thought he was.  I didn’t have any hard feelings for our time together, but I was pretty PO’d that he took advantage of Babci.

Well, about 5 years ago, right before my mom moved to town with me, he stopped by her house.  He rang her doorbell, but she wouldn’t let him in.   She kept telling him to go away. “I no wan et.”  She had no idea who he was because he looked totally different. The bad boy was gone and he looked more like a bible salesman now.  She was convinced he was either a crook or a salesman, neither of which she wanted in her house.  When he refused to leave, she threatened to call the police.

Finally, he slipped an envelope under the hallway door and told her to come get it.   It was a check for $5000 plus a handwritten note in Polish.  It was very poignantly written.   It spoke of how he’s always wanted to pay her back but it took him years to get to the point  where he could finally make things right.  He also thanked her for all the help she gave him when he needed it most.  Once she saw the check and she let him in. He told her he’s married and followed in his parent’s footsteps with a big family of his own.

Oh, I forgot to tell you why we broke up.  Well, I think it’s obvious that part of it was a classic case of financial incompatibility. There were about 100 other reasons too. If I weren’t so young and in such desperate need of a stable family life, it probably would have been a flash in the pan.  I did learn a tremendous amount from the relationship and I’m thankful for it. It’s definitely one of those experiences where I wonder, if I weren’t dating a guy in engineering school, would I ever have become one myself?  Most people I went to school with had a close relative that was an engineer (dad, uncle, cousin, brother, etc).  It’s kind of an intimidating career until you know someone who’s done it, so I guess it was worth all the ups and downs because it helped mold my path in life. (It also helped that my chemistry teacher sponsored me for a women in engineering seminar..she also saw it as a good path for me.)

The best part of the story is that it does have a happy ending.  As skeptical as I was, I did eventually end up finding someone just as perfect for me as I was for him (and neither of us realized it until we were friends for almost a year).  We’ve been together for 14 years and married for almost 9 and it’s been just wonderful. Each passing year gets better and I’m so thankful that there was someone out there that had similar goals, ideals and life plans.  We make a great team and he’s extremely funny on top of it all.  Woo Hoo for Love!

Happy Valentine’s Day. I hope everyone enjoys today’s coffee talk and the links to the others will be posted below:

Molly on Money It’s my money Dammit

Squirreler Who pays for the first date.

101 Centavos with Always Bring Enough Money

Invest it Wisely with Lessons Learned from My First Love

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicole February 14, 2011 at 8:32 AM

My sister volunteers at women in engineering events for 5-12 graders.

Interesting story! My first boyfriend was an engineer too… but so is my husband. I like engineers.


Sandy L February 14, 2011 at 9:50 PM

Nicole – yeah me too regarding being married to an engineer. Tell your sister she is changing lives. It really made a huge difference for me.


Molly On Money February 14, 2011 at 8:58 AM

This is so sweet! I think back in the day it was OK to be picked up by a strange boy in a 1978 Firebird. Am I right?!


Sandy L February 14, 2011 at 9:52 PM

Molly – LOL…no it really wasn’t okay, but it’s amazing how a common acquaintance can make someone feel safe. I would never suggest anyone follow in my footsteps in that case. I stopped picking up hitchikers too. Oh and thanks for joining in on the fun.


Squirrelers February 14, 2011 at 10:08 AM

Lots of lessons learned here, and the best was saved for the end. For all the antics that guy seemed to take part in, he did well by remembering who helped him and who he owed. Nice to see a happy ending and positive reflections on the whole experience.


Sandy L February 14, 2011 at 9:58 PM

Squirreler – thanks for participating with your own great story. It’s best to get something out of all our life experiences whether they are good or bad.


Suba @ Wealth Informatics February 14, 2011 at 1:55 PM

Nice post. Lots of lessons and great ones too. Glad to see the happy ending for everyone (including Babci and Tom). My husband is an electrical engineer. Most of the financial mistakes, we made as a couple. I am glad we made them young, so now we know where we are headed and how.


Sandy L February 14, 2011 at 10:00 PM

Suba – I think most people make financial mistakes from time to time. Heck, I still make them. It’s so much easier to recover from a dumb mistake when you are young vs older.


101 Centavos February 14, 2011 at 7:05 PM

Great story, and good ending. I got a kick out of Babci telling him to go away through a closed door. I have no problem imagining her holding something sharp and pointed, for good measure.


Sandy L February 14, 2011 at 10:01 PM

101- you know 101, that might just have been part of the story I missed…although with Babci, it would be more of a fist waving from her 3rd floor porch yelling “I call-et cops.”


Deidre @ TransFormX February 14, 2011 at 7:30 PM

Sandy..hmmm too bad you didn’t get the Firebird as collateral 😉
Wonderful story! I smiled as 101 did at the part about Babci not letting him in 😀


Sandy L February 14, 2011 at 10:03 PM

Deidre – that car was a lemon. It was always breaking down and you had to tickle the clutch to get it to engage. That was my first and last experience with American cars. Every car that I’ve owned has been Japanese since then.


Deidre @ TransFormX February 14, 2011 at 10:39 PM

LOL @ lemon… completely funny! Normally they are not.


Invest It Wisely February 15, 2011 at 6:31 PM

I completely missed this coffee talk… 🙁


Sandy L February 16, 2011 at 3:44 AM

Invest it -that’s too bad. You can still write a story and I’ll link up to it. It’s up to you. I need to advertise the next one better. I’ll post the next topic on Yakezie, so more people will see it. Or, maybe I can start an email distribution list for the regular participants. Let me know.


Invest It Wisely August 14, 2011 at 4:37 PM

Hey Sandy,

I haven’t noticed any coffee talks lately… is it cause I’m blind or have there really been none? I sort of miss them 🙂


Eileen February 20, 2011 at 9:20 AM

I’m so glad he did the right thing and paid your mother back. I’m sure it took a lot of courage to confront her after all those years.


Invest It Wisely March 7, 2011 at 8:50 PM

Definitely must have taken courage to come back and see Babci, but he did the right thing in the end. About few in your circle going on to college and him showing you it could be done, sometimes you just need to be shown a different way to realize that the possibilities are out there!


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