What Financial Health Means to Me


June 9, 2000 was the day we arrived.

Mom, dad and little me left our little fishing village and flew across the ocean to America. It was my first time on a plane, my first time in a car lane and my first time seeing my mom cry. We left everything behind, although not without premeditation. They started the long, expensive, immigration process 10 years ago, right before I was born.

The first 6 months we lived in my aunt’s one car garage in San Francisco. The three of us slept on a queen mattress my dad found on the side of the road. I pretended to be sound asleep when I was really listening intently to their late-night conversations. One sentence in particular became the first concept of financial demise in an otherwise complacent childhood of financial ignorance.

“You know if one of us gets sick,” mom half-jested to dad, “it’s over. We crawl back to China with our tails in between our legs.”

Me with Grandma in Fujian, China.

My parents had no health insurance. San Francisco was a particularly expensive place for two supermarket stockroom workers in their late 40s. The three of us clung on to the razor’s edge for the next 12 years like that. You can play therapist and argue the plethora of ways it has effected me today. The effects of poverty has properties to PTSD 1 2. Poverty permanently impedes brain development 3. Imagine my enthusiasm as a neuropsyc major when I was sitting in the university lecture hall learning about that.


Fast forward to present day and my hyper-frugality seems absurd now. I am working on it. The last thing I thought I was going to learn when I joined the personal finance community was how to expend money but here we are!

Three years ago, I recall spending 28 minutes sulking in a Safeway because I was tortured by the thought of having to buy an entire carton of milk when I just needed 3/4 of a cup for a recipe. I looked at the carton, looked at the price, walked around, thought about it, put it in my cart, walked around dazed, looked at it again, took it out of my cart and placed it back into the store refrigerator. I left the store empty-handed. This was my struggle with milk. Guess my mentality on anything else that required spending.

By pure monetary circumstances, I shouldn’t have to question a $1.99 carton of milk. But that was my financial illness. I was not financially healthy. Financial health is not just about controlling spending but it’s about becoming unafraid to when you become financially secure enough to do so.

Financial health matters because excessive anguish and fear over any financial matter should not be the makeup of life. Although one cannot undo 12 childhood years of perpetual financial fear, I am indeed trying. I even entertained the idea of a (guilt-free) cruise with my husband next year!


CFSI: #FinHealthMatters

  1. https://repository.wlu.edu/handle/11021/33414
  2. http://dc.uwm.edu/uwsurca/2016/Posters/91/
  3. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1878929316301013

24 thoughts on “What Financial Health Means to Me”

  • That’s interesting poverty impedes brain development or functions similarly to PTSD, I was not aware of that. I wonder how much it has to do with other factors more common to poverty-stricken households, like violence.
    Your situation with the milk is reminiscent with my experience with what seemed like OCD. When shopping, I would examine each item on the shelf to find one with the least scratches, to find the one as near to pristine as possible. If there wasn’t one without a scuff or any sign of wear, I’d put it back. Having grown up in a poor family myself I wonder if there was a connection.

    • Hi Natalie! Thanks for commenting! 🙂 The studies I pulled stresses things like degree of violence, homelessness and duration etc. It’s hard to separate out esteem and depression though which is powerful on it’s own. I have other hidden “bad” behaviors and I definitely believe there’s a connection.

  • Thank you for sharing your unique and touching story, Lily! You have touched on an important aspect of financial health: being unafraid to spend on what you need and can afford.

    I too grew up in a poor family and saw the impact it’s had on my parents and my behavior. It’s never fun worrying about making ends meet. But in a way I’m glad it’s helped me become who I am today. And you should be proud of what you and your husband have achieved as well. 🙂

    The cruise sounds like a great idea. Mr. FAF has been dreaming about that as well hehe.
    Ms. Frugal Asian Finance recently posted…Our Pledge For The Million Dollar Club

    • Thank you as always Ms FAF 😣😣😣 I’m still bummed you can’t enter (I wanted to read your take on it 🤓 your story is so mysterious 🙈)

  • Wow jeez louiz I thought I had frugality issues. But analysis paralysis over a carton of milk is definitely next level. Thanks for sharing. I come from a poor background as well but we always had food on the table and shelter over our heads. It took an extended amount of time to get healthier from a mentality standpoint. And so now I’m in a “better” place mentally. Hope over time you can be free from the constant strain of overthinking the little stuff because that can be very debilitating.

  • That really is interesting.

    Being an immigrant to this nation, I can relate to a degree. My parents and I had nothing more than a couple of cloths for each one of us.

    Is it possible that PTSD can manifest in the opposite?

    For example, instead of being extream about not spending money even if it’s for a necessity, you go blow every penny because of the fear of not knowing if or when you’ll get more.

    I think I struggled with that in the past.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing. It’s awesome that you’re not throwing in the towel. You can do it. 🙂
    Francis @mybreadmoney.com recently posted…11 Money Mistakes That You Can Avoid to Better Manage Your Money

    • Thanks Francis! I’m glad we could relate with each other on this. You know that’s was also something I thought about. I brought it up on Reddit, and got tons of upvotes – which means I’m not the only one who sees a pattern of those in BOTH extremes (hyperfrugality and over spending.) Whatever the case, it’s not healthy at all.

  • What a dramatic upbringing! Your parents took the ultimate risk, but it was the only choice they had to offer you the life they wanted you to have. That’s LOVE.

    Best of luck in winning the contest.

    P.S. I know how you feel about buying milk. I still feel the same about wasting it, as it goes sour on me all the time.

    • Thank you Mrs. G! That brought a bit of tear to my eye. Yes they did 😿 and it is love. I sometimes think what would happen if I stayed in China – how life would be much different (that’s another long story altogether.)

  • Hi Lily, thanks for sharing your story! As a child of immigrant parents, I grew up in a house that wasn’t necessarily poor, but was definitely lower-middle class. It’s never fun worrying about making ends meet or worrying at Walmart if you should get a $5 calculator vs the $10 one. I’m glad it’s helped me develop frugal habits, but sometimes I’m admittedly a little too cheap. Case in point: last month, me and Mr. NA got food poisoning because I bought clearance fish from the supermarket. Whoops
    Ying-NavigatingAdulthood recently posted…How We Saved Over $2,000 On My Engagement Ring

    • Oh no! Ohhh I’ve been there. I ate day old shrimp because I didn’t want to throw away shrimp. I was dead sick for a day. Some things just aren’t frugal.

  • I didn’t grow up in poverty (we weren’t rich, but I always got to eat), but when I graduated into the ’08 recession and couldn’t find a job even at McDonald’s, I gained a lot of weird poverty habits like taking things home from the trash can at work (when I finally found a job) and finishing other people’s abandoned food. I’m very qualified and employable now, but I still have this irrational fear that if I lose my job, I’ll be unable to find another one. Some of my friends think my fear of risk is stunting my career growth. Streaks of poverty when you are young really stay with you!

    On the plus side… did you know you can make biscuits with sour milk (if it’s not too far gone)? Helps to use it up if you accidentally overbought. 🙂
    Meow recently posted…Meow’s Dividend Journey: June 2017

    • Oh my goshhhhhh! You’re like my twin right now! I stole food from the trash too (got caught, embarrassing, let’s not talk about it. Lol!) Aww hon I’m glad things worked out even though we both have the scars.

      I didn’t know about the sour milk tidbit! Nice!!!

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