Reflections On My First Decade As an Adult

First Decade It’s hard to believe that I have been an official adult for 10 years.  The time has just flown by, but I guess that is what happens when you are busy.  Most people who know me in the real world would be surprised that I have only been an adult for 10 years, my increasingly grey hair and high level of responsibility tend to throw the average observer off.

(“So Wake me up when it’s all over, when I’m wiser and I’m older….”)

Slacker Teenage John

In 2004 I started working and taking college classes while in high school.  I had wanted to graduate from high school a semester early because I had accrued enough credits to do so, but the school system would not let me.  After some amateurish negotiations on my part the school counselor offered me an opportunity to use the dual enrollment program.  Essentially I would only have to go to school for the first half of the day and then I would take one college course at the local community college, paid for by the school.  I jumped at the chance.  At first I felt that this was the best schedule I could drop into.  For a relatively lazy kid being able to take a film class and independent study pottery at my high school and one 3 credit college course, which only met one night a week, was like hitting the jackpot.   It didn’t take long before I realized that the only thing I was missing was a bit of cash in my pocket. I applied for a job at the first help wanted sign I saw and they hired me a few days later at KFC. I started out working a couple shifts a week, but by the time I turned 18 they were trying to get me to work as close to 40 hours as possible.

Initial Goals

My goal at the time was to graduate from high school and enter the armed forces. I had read that if I had 15 college credit hours I would be able to enter the Marines as a E2 instead of an E1.  I only looked at the pros and not the cons of such a career and I liked that I could see the pay charts and run the numbers.  My plan was to do 20 years and bank most of my pay, being retired at age 38.  I signed up for a full load of college courses for both summer sessions at the local community college, which would put me at the 15 hour mark in the fall.  I ended up never joining the military.  There were three main reasons for this: First of all, even though at this point I was working full time and going to school full time, I was having a lot of fun. Secondly, I met a girl that I liked and who had a kid and I wanted to be a part of her life. Lastly, My uncle who was drafted during Vietnam wrote me a heartfelt letter explaining to me some of the downsides of joining the military during a time of war, most notably, the option of not coming home.  I had been a young kid who felt that he was bulletproof, and his letter helped remind me that I am not invincible and things don’t always go as you plan.  I guess one could say I chickened out.  I do regret that I never had the experience of being in the military, but if I had I would have missed out on the greatest experience of my life.

Being A Dad

kiteIn March of 2005 less than 1 year into adulthood, Mrs. C and I moved in together. It’s funny when I think about it now, but I put less time into making the decision to take on the role of a self supporting adult and a step dad than I put into buying a freakin DVD now.  I guess when something is right it’s right.  I was of course in WAY over my head.  I was working two jobs and going to school full time and Mrs. C. was working full time at one job and going to school full time. 2005 was a crazy year for us.  It’s hard enough to work and go to school, add in being a parent, and especially trying to learn to be a parent into the mix and it is an incredibly difficult process.

In 2008 we had a son together, demonstrating some of the worst timing possible in kid spacing. Kid 1 started school 3 days after Kid 2 was born, so there was no break of having a small child at home 24/7. Since I didn’t come into the picture until Kid 1 was almost 2, dealing with a new baby was a new (and super scary) adventure for me.

I thought people were joking about getting no sleep when their is a new baby around.  That can’t be true, I always saw babies napping.  The problem is they like to nap when you have stuff to do, and don’t nap when you need to sleep.

The really scary stuff about being a dad

So my job as a dad is to protect these little dudes and turn them into productive adults.  Unfortunately there are situations where you can’t fix problems and there is nothing more scary than seeing your kid in pain or sick and there is nothing you can do about it.

When Kid 1 was around 4 he was running through the house and we had a kitchen counter than sticks out by the doorway. He rounded the corner and his head was the same height as the counter. We heard him hit and then he didn’t respond. He had knocked himself out cold. We couldn’t get him to come to. We called 911, by the time the ambulance got there he had come to, and they asked him a bunch of questions and he was fine.

When Kid 2  was little he couldn’t keep down his food. We could only feed him 2 ounces of formula at a time, and most of that would still end up on my shirt.  It took quite some time to get his system working right.  When he was super little, I think maybe 4 or 6 months old, Mrs. C. had left the house for the evening and I was hanging out with my little dude. We fell asleep watching TV, when we woke up I was in a bit of a daze and carried him upstairs to bed, while climbing the stairs I missed my footing and fell on the stairs.  I grabbed him as tight a I could and twisted my body so I took all the hit of the drop. He woke up SCREAMING at the top of his lungs and just wouldn’t stop. I felt a lump on his leg and thought that I had broke his leg, I was now freaking out.  I called Mrs. C. and when she got home she picked him up and he stopped crying. She pointed out to me that the bump on his leg was from him getting immunization shots the other day. OOPS.  I don’t think I have ever been so relieved in my life.

Last year kid 1 came home from school and was acting a bit strange. He fell asleep on the ride home and when we went to get him out of the car, his brain had reset to that of a 1 year old.  He could smile, nod and hug. At first he could talk a bit, but that went away quickly.  We rushed him to the hospital and when all was said and done we found out that he had hit his head at school and had post concussion syndrome.  He slept that night and was fine the next morning.  He had a similar issue 6 months later, and then again in March.  This time in March it was similar to the first time, except something scared him at the doctors office and he screamed at the top of his lungs for literally 45 minutes. This event led to my favorite Dr. quote of “Don’t worry, we have more drugs than he has anxiety”.

There have been more bumps, bruises and injuries along the way, but these were the scariest.  My point is that while having kids can be fun, it certainly isn’t all legos and treehouses (Which reminds me, I was able to build an awesome treehouse for my kids last summer!).  You have to pair these scary moments with the fun ones and try to believe that everything will turn out OK.

Being a Step-Dad

An additional challenge from learning how to be a dad, is learning how to be a step dad. A step parent has some added challenges that biological parents don’t have.  As a step parent, you don’t have an innate right to disciple the kids, so its a fine line between letting them walk all over you and staying in the boundaries that are sometimes ill-defined.  Step parents also have to should try to keep relationships peaceful with the other biological parent.  This can certainly be trying at times, because it’s a difficult situation for all involved, especially for the kids. One of the hardest things for me was knowing that if at some point things didn’t work out between Mrs. C. and me I would have no rights to see kid 1.

One of my biggest pet peeves in life is men who date a woman who has kids and don’t step up.  I see this all the time and it drives me insane, especially when they move in together.  I remember one day when our kids were playing together in my yard and another step parent leaned over to me, complaining about all he has to do, and then told me, “And hey, it’s not like they’re our kids.” This guy had been dating his girlfriend who had a kid for over 2 years, and still felt like he wasn’t in the dad role.

Saving Money:

By the time Mrs. C and I had moved in with each other I had saved a few thousand dollars.  Even with both of us working, it was still relatively tight to pay all the bills every month and continue to save money. This was the beginning of my obsessiveness with spreadsheets. For a while I tracked our net worth every month and our spending every month, trying to save every bit of money as we could. We lived in an apartment building with neighbors directly under us and on three sides of us. The acoustics were terrible and we would sometimes get noise complaints from our downstairs neighbor for our son running across the floor. Try to keep a 2 year old from running around, it is not an easy task! With how much we were paying in rent and how much it totally sucked living with all those adjoining neighbors we decided we wanted to buy a house.

Our 1 year lease was up and we moved from our apartment into a basement room at Mrs. C.’s parents house.  Even though we paid rent well above what market rate would be for the room, it still wasn’t comfortable living there, even though we had full house access, it felt like we were living entirely in a 100 square foot room.  We lived there for 6 months total before buying our first home. Right around the time we moved in there I landed a temporary job at the local nuclear plant. I was able to keep my job at KFC and continue to go to school full time. The job was for 6 weeks, so I did as much coursework as I could ahead of time and I worked with my boss at KFC to reduce my hours, typically I was working 3 shifts there while maintaining my 60 hours per week at the plant.  This allowed me to save most of the money from this job and put us with enough cash for a hefty down payment.

When we purchased the house the down payment and closing costs ate up the vast majority of our savings.  I continued to work outages at the plant and work at KFC.  The uneven cash flows was really difficult to deal with early on.  When we bought the house I was 20 and once again, was in over my head.  I knew how to do a very minor amount of home maintenance.  Buying that house provided many learning opportunities in this arena, I wish that I had had more experience with fixing things, especially systems (heat, electricity, plumbing) going into it.  It seemed that pipes only burst when Lowes is closed.

The next 3 years were a series of feast/famine while I continued to go to school and work outages.  Once I started traveling more often in 2009 this cycle ended because I was able to substantially increase my yearly earnings.  This was a major turning point in time for us.  My pay rates had been and continue to be on a steady uptick and working more allowed for us to consistently have enough income and a buffer so that we didn’t have to worry about paying the bills.

In 2010 we had decided to start looking for a better place to move to.  One of the non-negotiables was that we would sell our current house first, giving us the money for a down payment before buying another house.  We found a house that Mrs. C was in love with that I really liked too, but it was over our price range.  A year later that same house came back on the market and we had a higher income and more in savings.  We looked at the house and really wanted it, but we still needed to sell our current home. We listed it and after 3 months it still hadn’t sold. The house we wanted had another price drop and we decided to go after buying the new house before selling our old house. We looked at the house again with the kids and seeing them play in the yard and how happy they were and Mrs. C was, I knew it was “the one” for us.

I had a lucrative outage season coming up and we had enough money in cash for a 20% down payment.  This was certainly not the most conservative decision we had ever made.  We went from having $32K in cash to only $2K in cash.  We figured that our first house would sell in the next few months and replenish our cash.  It did not.  We paid two house payments for almost a year.  We had two deals, back to back, drag on forever and then fall apart at literally the last moment. Currently we are renting out the house.

We had to spend a decent chunk of change shortly after moving in. We had to replace the washer and dryer, the boiler, the hot water heater, and buy a riding lawn mower, as well as a bunch of other smaller expenses.  After that was done we built up our emergency fund and last summer started really putting money away for retirement.

Life in General

I have learned a lot about managing people, and that has been mostly trial by fire. I am thankful that I have had the support from my bosses and project managers over the years in my development. I have heard stories about bosses who stifle the development of their workers to avoid any future potential challenge to their spot. I am super thankful that I have not run into this.

10 years ago there were some people I went to school with who passed away, but there was never a death that hit me really close to home. A few years ago one of my co-workers died in a motorcycle crash way younger than he should have. I had worked with this man for thousands of hours.  Only 4 months ago my sister in law, who had been my little sister for my entire adult life, passed away at 21.  These events certainly caused a lot of pain in my life and have brought the reality of the unpredictability of life to my thoughts.  I know people pass away all the time, but I had been looking at the average life expectancy of 86 years as a given, obviously this is not true.  It’s so easy to take life for granted.

Calvin Tree

My first decade as an adult has been crazy.  10 years from now our kids will be mostly grown, our house will be paid off and we will be over halfway to Financial Independence.  I hope that over the next 10 years as an adult I can capitalize on what I have learned in this segment of my life and move forward. You never know what opportunities will come along, so as time goes on so will my goals, my achievements, and even my setbacks will evolve as well.

John C. started Action Economics in 2013 as a way to gain more knowledge on personal financial planning and to share that knowledge with others. Action Economics focuses on paying off the house, reducing taxes, and building wealth. John uses the free tool Personal Capital to track his net worth and posts quarterly updates on his finances. Check out the Action Economics archives section for all past posts.

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