The Influential People of My Life (Past & Present)

puppy black with stick
Puppy Grace and a big stick.

Cast of Characters

I’ve written a cast of real-life characters of mine in the hopes of building rapport. This list constitutes those who have left a unique fingerprint on my existence, both past, and present.

I didn’t mean to start this blog as a diary (but it totally is haha.) A lot of my past involves character building and financial takeaways that have helped create the person I am today. Plus, I would hate to have to explain things repeatedly, or worst, drop random names. I needed to set the foundations because the more I begin to write about my financial lessons, the more these names popped up.  This will act as an index of what will eventually become useful in the future as this blog grows.

I give a very personal and very private look into what I believe made me who I am today.

We’re still a personal finance brain hive, trust me. I don’t mean this website to be only a personal diary but I do find myself wishing for a characters glossary more often than not. Before I cut to the money, I feel a good blog should rightfully grow with you. For the 25 years that I was not blogging – this is what’s needed to fill in the blanks. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to add one down the road so readers know I’m not just a single person behind my insanity.

Other people are also responsible for all this sassy mess 😛

Introspection is one of my stronger suits. Here, I briefly reflect on how I became the person that I am by paying homage to those who helped me even make it this far in life.



Money Habit: Saver

Protagonist; oy, that’s me! 😸

I was born in Southern China and I spent a good portion of my life away from my parents. I was raised by my aunt for the first few years of my life. My parents didn’t have enough money to start a family back then. My parents were forced to send me away when I was 7 to a boarding school far from home. The corrupt administrators in my prefecture erased my county citizenship and I was no longer allowed to move onto 2nd grade. They claimed “my family and I were not Chinese citizens” despite all arguments otherwise. Their intention was to sell my school seat to another family with more money and higher caste system.

The boarding school system cursed me with separation and social anxiety for years after. It was a screwed up place. Years later, my family and I finally got the green light to come to America. We landed in San Francisco and my first impression of America was how beautiful and neat the houses were. In China, we lived in my grandma’s rundown brick house and that was actually the best structure around.

My parents worked a lot to keep us afloat in San Francisco. I was left alone to muddle around from age 10 to age 18 until I went to college.

My nickname in middle school was “talks-to-herself girl.”

I was your typical artist in high school. I was very goth. I was the quiet one that doodled on the sides of the composition notebooks. At age 16, I consciously forbade myself from anything art related. If I studied art, chances were likely I wouldn’t be able to feed my already poor parents; thus it was a waste of time. I didn’t want to take the risk. Being an artist is an expensive privilege.

Although I was born in China, I only consider myself American.


Money Habit: Saver

Ladies and gents, this is my hubby. He is the breadwinner of our rat pack. My life didn’t really begin to blossom until I met him. Hubby and his 3 other older siblings grew up in a beautiful suburb outside of Marin just north of the Golden Gate bridge.

Baby Hubby pointing at what you should be reading instead of looking at his photo.

He went to UC Berkeley for his engineering degree and got an internship at Amazon soon after. His father was a well-to-do engineer at PG&E and his grandfather was a well-to-do engineer (and later president) at PG&E too. Well, the genes have it, Hub’s a software engineer and he’s as smart as fried chicken is delicious.

Related: How Dumb Luck Made My Husband a Rich Man

Since he has the most picturesque family, I annoy him with questions constantly about his family and his childhood. What they ate for dinner, what time his dad came home from work, what video games did he play, did he fight with his brother a lot, did they have bedtime stories read to them, what was having grandparents like…so on and so forth. I secretly live vicariously through him and his family.

His favorite show is RuPaul’s Drag Race. When he cried like a baby after Latrice Royale (below) was eliminated, I knew he was the One. His nickname throughout high school and college was “Princess.” Hahaha.



Money Habit: Spender

My mom was born to a well-off and well-educated Chinese family. It was not common for girls to attend school during that era. Her father (my grandfather) insisted she should be educated like her brother but after his early passing, she was not able to move beyond 4th grade.

She recants this bitterly along with all the other political turmoil China went under. When the administrators took my school seat and stopped me from moving onto 2nd grade, my mom snapped. It reminded her too much of what happened to her. She was determined for me to have a better life and marry better. She went back to work full-time and put me into a boarding school far away. The big picture plan was to save enough money so we could all get out ASAP.

She is an artist by pedigree and was a painter by trade long before I was born. When she was younger she sang in a girl band. She still holds contact with friends from her girl band. She gravitates more towards materialism and would spend the money if she had it. My mother speaks 2nd grade English and has picked up a good amount of Cantonese as well.


Money Habit: Saver

My dad grew up in an extremely poor and dysfunctional family. He is ill-tempered, slow-witted and asocial. He had 8 other siblings and they never had enough to eat. Dad was able to finish middle school but none of my parents attended high school.

He was a distant and physically abusive father. My first memory of him was when I was 7, I accidentally spilled a few drops of soup and I was beaten for it. My mom claims it was his upbringing that made him very wrathful towards any type of waste.

Combine that with his horrible temper (which I’ve regretfully inherited), I consider him the worst part of my blood. I used to daydream when science would become advance enough that I could literally cut a parent out of my blood.

Most of my life with him has been one filled with fear. He found enormous amusement on the power trip and exclaimed to others about it.

My mother and I know that he has only a faint degree of introspection and self-awareness. Despite being in the U.S. for almost  17 years, he only knows about 30 words of English and refuses to learn more.

Today, our relationship can be labeled as distant but it’s miles better than what it was before.

“Better” as in if we accidentally brushed up against each other or made contact I don’t have to rush to the bathroom to wash my hands/arms. I just rinse it or wipe my hands now.

After I came back from college, he became very apologetic and meek. Instead of an authoritative father, he became more like a mouse. Mom hypothesized it’s his way of apologizing. This made living together bearable.

Fathers: your daughters are always watching you.

I was conscious enough to pin point all the qualities my dad had and deliberately found mates who had polar opposite traits. Jared is perfect for me in every way and I love him more every single day.


We adopted Grace from a Texas-based rescue group called L&S Dog Diggity back in 2015. Her breed is a mystery. She was abandoned at 6 weeks old with 8 of her other siblings. They were left out in a cardboard box on the doorstep of a small town vet. All the puppies in the litter were malnourished but 2 puppies out of the litter were physically injured. According to the vet papers, Grace was one of them. She was quarantined for months and missed most of her puppyhood.

It’s indicated in the vet paperwork that Grace was starved, infected with Giardia, ringworm, roundworm and a host of others things I can’t pronounce. She also had an open wound on her tail with living maggots inside it. She was not adoptable until she was past 5 months old.

Raising Grace has been a challenge. We hired a specialized dog trainer who told us she was a “lost cause” and “we should get another dog.”


After her teenager years, she mellowed out to become a well-behaved young lady dog.

She still has the symptoms of an abused dog.

If we raise our hands too fast, she flinches. Grace is also terrified of cardboard boxes. She refuses to go near cardboard and will run away at the sight of anything cardboard-y or brown bag related. It is very strange…

Mr. and Mrs. P

Money Habit: Saver

Jared’s lovingly awesome parents. Hubby’s parents are your traditional millionaire’s-next-door types. They lived in a modest single-family house their entire life, drove modest cars and invested their savings for the long haul. They are conscious spenders and great savers. Mr. and Mrs. P are both retired now and live a very comfortable life. They love dining out, going on cruises and oh yeah, the grand-kids!


Mr. Executive

Money Habit: Earner


Mr. Executive is an ambitious, highly intelligent and wildly successful SV execute. Mr. Executive is a fierce fighter for FIRE (Financial Independence, Retiring Early). He and I were in a long-term relationship starting in my senior year of college. He was 26 years-old at the time.

Mr. E came from high social standing with an impressive Ivy League pedigree. Both of his parents were doctors and executives themselves. He taught me a lot about life, finance, and entrepreneurship which changed my life. I will mention him often. He is a spectacular human and I consider it a gift to be able to see the world through his vision. He bears an uncanny resemblance to actor Dane Dehaan.

Mr. E had a large CEO salary while I was busting tables and bars like a more typical millennial. Due to socioeconomic class differences, age (maturity), work schedules, we separated amicably. Our relationship was doomed from the beginning but a refusal to let things fail kept us together for longer than we should have been together. He resides in San Francisco and we remain friends.


Poverty is not a good enough excuse.


Money Habit: Spender

She is my substitute mother despite the fact that she is exactly 1 day younger than me. She was my protector in our rough-and-tumble high school. Cyn is of Salvadorean descent and a true blue San Franciscan born and bred. She did not grow up with a father (jail). Cyn is a carefree optimist. I’m always baffled by her energy and joy. I’m a mope but when she is around I feel instantly happier.

She is career and faith oriented. I will never, ever meet a person as sweet-natured and good-hearted as Cyn. It’s a miracle for me to know someone like her and I enjoy her company immensely even though we’re separated a good few hundred miles.

Cyn isn’t much of a saver but she keeps afloat by being responsible and gainfully employed.


Happiness is a choice.


Money Habit: Saver

Valerie is my best friend. She and I share an analogous amount of traits from our home life to the way we think and process the world. Her family grew up poor like mine and we bounce off each other a lot in our discussions on life & creation. She’s the only person I feel comfortable talking with because at the core of it all – we are the same person.

Her family of 5 has lived in a rundown, rodent-infested flat in San Francisco Chinatown their entire life. They all slept in one small bedroom and shared the communal bathroom, living room & kitchen with the rest of the floors of residences. Nothing was normal for her and she spent a good chunk of her childhood hospitalized as well.

We met in high school and I liked her instantly because she had beautiful hair. One day, I randomly reached out and started braiding her hair in class. Surprisingly, she let me and didn’t think I was weird (yet).

We went to different universities but we both moved to Seattle within a year of each other coincidentally. Valerie is currently going to school and working in Seattle. She was very recently dating the wealthy son of “Old Money” but gave up on the relationship after realizing she wanted to live her life as opposed to of being tied down at 25.

She is frugal and responsible with money and has excellent career prospects.


Don’t have children if you can’t afford them, it’s unfair to the child.


Money Habit: Spender

Soap is the daughter of an incredibly affluent multi-millionaire family. Soap is one of my best friends although we have very little in common. Her childhood was what one would call pure opulence. Today, she is in her 30s with a drinking problem. She has bad health and cannot hold down a job.

Her sister’s married to the heir of a Chinese gas & energy billionaire. Soap was going down that route as well thanks to her family’s extensive high society connections. But Soap ran away from that life, literally, she ran away for 2 months in secret with a foreign man. Her family thought she had been kidnapped and killed.

Soap, bless her, has gone against every piece of good advice her parents gave her. She did the same with the money advice I gave her. She is horrible with money and has racked up an obscene amount of credit card debt despite the help her parents gives her.

Soap is not able to recall what she brought with her money or where it goes.

Her mom gave her spending money to the tune of $25,000 during a family vacation and she spent all of it in just 14 days. She once spent $32,000 during the span of 2 days with one of her friends (although it’s believed she was scammed.)

Soap is obsessed with the Paris Hilton’s lifestyle (Paris is one of her idols.) Soap has no plans of bailing herself out. She is currently waiting for her parents to fly back from China to save her just like the time they did before this, and the time before that and the time before that…

Despite her financial flaws, she is an amazingly down to earth and selfless person. She is a bright bulb with an unmatched wit and honest to a fault.

I have a beginner’s financial series written and dedicated to her here.


For the love of God, teach your children about money and responsibilities early!


Ocean Eyes

Ocean Eyes was a penniless runaway I met right after I graduated. Ocean Eyes ran away from his family at age 14. He bounced around across the United States for 5 years, seemingly unscathed, all the way from New York to San Francisco. He relied on his friends, his charms and the kindness (cough naivety) of girls like me 

Ocean Eyes possessed a precocious mind, unearthly charm and is still one of the most angelic beauties I’ve ever met.

Everything else about him was a recipe for disaster.

When we met, he was 19 years old and sleeping in a San Francisco MUNI car.

Gerhard Freidl is Ocean Eyes’ exact twin.

SF is expensive and he was being frugal? Heck no. He’s just a hapless 19-year-old street kid. His middle-class family in New York severed all ties with him. He showed me the letter his mother wrote requesting him to never contact her again. I never got the full story on that but what I knew pulled at my heart-strings.

We found common ground very quickly. For the first 36 hours of meeting each other, we didn’t separate once. We talked for hours until we dozed off. But I did not get into a relationship with him because I refuse to leave my (mismatched but stable) relationship with Mr. Executive. He refused to leave his girlfriend at the time as well. This all created even more problems down the road so Ocean Eyes and I cold shouldered one another until we lost contact.

After we lost touch, his girlfriends (now one of his many ex-girlfriends) found me on Facebook and told me I made the right choice. She told me when they were dating he constantly beat her. He also burned down a bedroom in her fathers’ landlord’s house. Their relationship ended when he tried to smashed her head in with a rock after an argument.

What an angel.

I knew nothing about this until she told me. He just seemed like a misguided but overall good kid to me. I guess I acted more like his parole officer, he was on his best behavior. Honestly, I still worry about him sometimes and I wonder if I should reach out again…then my common sense kicks in. He is completely self-destructive, thwarted and impossible. An utter waste of talent and beyond my scope and sanity.


You can only offer help to those who are ready to receive it.


I don’t know why it took me so long to remember “Brodie” when his story resonates with every aspect of debt and suicide.

I met Brodie when I was in my 3rd year of university. He was a 2nd year graduate law student at a well-know “T-14” school. For those that do not know: “T-14” is the slang they give to the top consistently performing law schools in the country. Essentially, if you graduated from any of these schools with a law degree at the top of your class, you’re set for life…but….I wrote a separate post completely about Broadie here.





I look up at my cast of characters and feel so fortunate in being able to have these incredible people all have a hand in my life. What is your cast of characters?


34 thoughts on “The Influential People of My Life (Past & Present)”

  • Oh wow, a cast of characters indeed, Lily! As I was reading this, I found myself thinking back to the people in my life who have formed me in some way over the my 27 years here. It is amazing how it can be both the good and the not so great experiences and relationships that point you to where you are today. Thank you for sharing this!

  • Wow! This is pretty deep. Thank you for sharing this little bit with us. If I am to bring it around to AirBnB, your cast of characters seems to have made you a good judge of character (that you are willing to tolerate), and probably a more discerning host. Kudos!

  • Thank You for this. I always feel like my blog will get sidetracked by the non financial stuff, but I for one, enjoy rounding out the picture more. After enough of us let some life details spill out the sides, we should look for common traits/experiences.

    • I like listening to personal stories just as much as I like finance stuff. But there’s only so many ways you could repeat “start saving today” before it gets monotonous. I found your story (yes all 3 parts) very fascinating as well Mr. OF!

  • Introspection is without question one of your stronger suits. I guess there is no other way to identify that about yourself?

    I have never attempted to dive that deep into my personal band of characters. It might get a little scary for me.

    I hope you and your dad can keep improving on things. It sounds like he has done some unforgivable things but forgiving him may actually be more a gift to you than him. I have a daughter and I can think of nothing worse than having a strained relationship with her. Best of luck and thanks for sharing all this.
    Grant @ Life Prep Couple recently posted…The Only Job I Ever Loved

    • I think you’re right Grant. And I know for a fact you’ll never have to worry about your relationship with your daughter. I was very jealous of all the other little girls with gentler fathers when I was young. Your lil girl is very lucky.

      I wanted to write in how it basically took me 18 hours to write this post. I didn’t plan on it taking so long but it was a huge struggle finding the words. 18 hours over the course of 3 days. D:

  • Wow. I loved this. So different and yet profoundly insightful. Thank you for being so honest, especially about past loves/near-misses. I’ve spent a lot of time lately contemplating how my romantic choices have impacted my current financial path. It’s a bit of a prickly exercise as it pulls at the heart strings AND the purse strings. Thanks for this. Somehow, this post came to me at a very influential time.

    • Haha “heart strings and purse strings” – you always have such a delight with words Ms. Lady! I’m glad I could…what did I do? Is everything OK?

  • Thank you for this. It’s an incredible insight into what made you who you are. I was lucky enough to have great parents, although did get my temper from my dad as well :/. You have a wonderful cast of characters, by the way 🙂

  • Interesting post and great cast of characters! Sorry to hear your dad wasn’t the best growing up (mine wasn’t either and still isn’t lol). He was the breadwinner of the family and viewed that as his role (and his only role), oftentimes after dinner he would just be watching TV and that’s it. My husband’s dad on the other hand (who has passed away and I have never met) sounded amazing and uber involved.

  • Well now I want to journal about my cast of characters. LOL.
    Please keep your common sense and DO NOT ever contact ocean eyes. Someone was watching over you and keeping you safe!

    I was telling my friend the other day about how some of the (Asian) bloggers (aka you and Firecracker) grew up without, never knew what they missed and were natural savers. but me (half-inkling Asian of a different descent) grew up without but spend like I know what I was missing and now thus in debt. So I pondered in my thoughts, what made us different? Natural saver vs. debt spender. Hmmmm….. (it’s cuz I am half-inkling huh? or could have nothing to do with with being Asian, too. I could have just learned to be like the 80% of Americans that naturally operate on debt to live. shrugs).

    • Oh interesting prose! So my theory is there’s two main effects of growing up “with less” which presents two common spending/saving extremes in people. I don’t think it’s an Asian thing, maybe just a personality thing along with a baseline for security. I need a lot of security to a point it’s almost sad. I’ve visited your blog on several occasions, I don’t think you have a spending problem at all. Student loans are a hard but common sell and so are cars.

  • I love this post! And it’s so creative! My mom is the one with the bad temper and our relationship is quite distant too because I’m withdrawn and irritable with her from her treatment pre-college. It’s something I’m trying to slowly get over, but I can’t say it’s easy! We’re all flawed, but I think in some ways I find forgiveness difficult. I definitely inherited stubborness from her :/

    I met a homeless guy on the bus who wanted to hang out. Can’t remember if his eyes were like the ocean. He looked pretty worse for wear, but we talked for 15 minutes on the bus ride and he had also run away from home. I wonder if it was Ocean Eyes years later?
    Jing recently posted…How I Went From A $50k Salary To A 6 Figure Salary In Under a Year

    • I understand what you mean. Forgiveness has never been easy for me. I’m an all or nothing person. Plus, (life)long term damage is harder to get over.

      Ooh when was this? Ocean Eyes moved to Berk but he probably hangs around SF. Was he gorgeous, sad and 6 foot 3?!

      • He was tall, but I never really sad him stand up. He seemed VERY homeless and definitely somber/sad. I must have met him January this year or late last year on a bus on Geary/Powell area. I was too busy being a little freaked out because I was a little worried he might follow me off the bus. Wow I wonder if it was him! That would have been crazy.
        Jing recently posted…Money Diaries: August Week 4

  • This is FASCINATING!

    Uhh… my cast would be pretty dull, my family are all basically great $$ role models while my in laws are $$ train wrecks. Total opposites.

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