Blame it all on my roots. This doesn’t have anything to do with boots, black-tie affairs, or Garth Brooks. It has everything to do with how I was raised, and I am not sure I have let everyone in on it. In fact, I know I haven’t. If I had, you might think about those people—you know, the ones without degrees—a little bit differently.
I am a product of the working class.
I am a first-generation college graduate.
I am the daughter of a mechanic and a teamster.
My father never finished high school. Though he did get his GED in night school. Maybe. He doesn’t have any of the paperwork, but I also don’t know that he ever bothered to look. It never mattered to him. It was never going to be a stumbling block along his trajectory. It was more to appease his parents than anything he needed or wanted. School was never his thing. It didn’t have to be.
School was very much my mother’s thing. She made it out of poverty thanks to my nana, who gave her all of her love and a fierce shove. But she did not make it out until after finishing high school. As a result, the only way that a really gifted young woman could get ahead was to skip a grade. There were no special classes, no tutors, no extra help at home. Her father was dead, and my nana never made it beyond grammar school.
In a lot of ways, theirs is the exact storyline that much of the world flirts with when they talk about the working class. The problem is that there is so much more to their stories than the archetype. If you only follow the storyline, you assume things.
Things like people without degrees need help, primers in all things money and career and life. They need to be talked to, to be taught. But when you write for them, don’t forget to KISS it. Keep it simple, stupid. Not only are these people uneducated, they don’t ferret out new information. They certainly don’t dream big, so hacks and hustles aren’t for this crowd. They have accepted their fates and will muddle through life like they deserve cameos in the reboot of Roseanne.
The problem with assuming things is that you are wrong as often as you are right. Could you be right about some people without degrees? Possibly. In the case of my parents, you could not be more wrong.
Keep writing about hustling. Not only did my dad develop a toolbox of knowledge to learn to build and remedy and repair, he did it all on his own. He may not have ever had much use for book smarts, but to imply that he isn’t smart would do nothing more than reveal your own ignorance. He was a heavy machinery mechanic who tinkered around enough with cars on the side that he was able to make the career shift to car mechanic.
Except he wasn’t just a car mechanic. He hustled hard enough, worked enough odd shifts, extra shifts, graveyard shifts, you name it, that he built up enough capital that he could buy his own repair shop. He was an entrepreneur, a boss, a businessman. He just happened to also be comfortable with more than a little grease under his fingernails. He may not have cracked many books, but he has enough business acumen to last a lifetime.
Keep writing about FIRE. In fact, do more than just talk about it. Ask my mom how she was able to retire when I was in elementary school. That extra year she skipped in school landed her in the office of a trucking company a year ahead of any of her office counterparts, which meant she had an extra year of work as a Teamster under her belt, allowing her to collect her pension sooner.
Except she didn’t just collect one pension. When you’re done taking notes on her foray into early retirement, ask her how she went back to work by finding not only another job that she loved, but one that would pay a second pension when she retired from that job. The beauty of that strategizing and sheer cunning ought to make any FIRE blogger smile.
Does every non-college graduate end up like my parents? Absolutely not. Do college degrees help? There are statistics that show college degrees unlock higher incomes and open doors that high school diplomas might not. But higher education is not without its own cost. Ask the 44 million Americans buried under $1.4 trillion in student loans.
There is no single way to wealth. Would it serve the personal finance community well to remember that? Of course it would. But instead of only asking what you can tell those on different pathways, take a moment to consider what you might learn when you listen to someone else’s journey.