Constantly Moving as a Kid Might Have Messed Up My Money Skills

Photo credit: Lily, CC BY 2.0.

Moving as a kid can be really fun. You’re starting over in a new place, you’re exploring somewhere completely different, you get new kid perks at school… it’s a great time.

You learn that when people laugh, they’re more likely to be your friend later. You also learn that acting like you’re a big deal usually means people will treat you like you’re a big deal.

Then you learn that you’ll probably be moving again soon.

By the time I was eighteen, I had moved eight times with my immediate family. Two of those times I couldn’t remember. All of those times had been within the states of Oregon and California.

Most of the time these moves were for my father’s job. He was a firefighter, and often switched up where we were living based on who was offering the best perks or the best commute. A few moves in particular were based upon being able to afford our house.

These eight moves don’t include the house my father moved into when my parents were divorcing, where we stayed a few times before he lost the place. Nor am I counting moving into the dorms for college, and the few different attempts at finding the right apartment setup. It honestly gives me too much anxiety to think about.

Lots of kids of my generation probably moved frequently. Divorce, the burst of the tech bubble, crime — the reasons for a family to move are manifold.

I fit the profile of an adult who moved a lot as a little kid: Difficulty forming adult friendships, difficulty with parental dependence, and occasional low self-esteem. Frequent moving teaches a kid that nothing is really consistent. Without a solid base, the kid can turn into an adult that doesn’t trust many people.

Nowadays, I’ve made excellent progress with all of these aspects (hooray for coaching and getting on the right medication). I know how to say no when my family wants me to do favors for them or travel frequently to see them. I’m more rooted now than I ever have been, and it feels great.

But I still see the effects of a childhood of constant moving in one place I didn’t expect: my wallet.

The idea that anything can change at any time haunted me for years. I was attached to getting out of my student debt, but savings? Why? Things could change in an instant. I didn’t want to be tied down.

This may also explain why I decided to start my own business instead of taking on a conventional job somewhere. I already had the entrepreneurial spirit. Add in a healthy fear of being trapped somewhere I didn’t like, and you can see why I chose to build my own career.

For a while I flirted with the internet nomad lifestyle. Being restless all the time? Always being on the move? No big major commitments? It sounded perfect!

Except I couldn’t explain the creeping anxiety I had whenever I thought about becoming an online nomad. I didn’t want to be a fuddy-duddy. But the idea of having no home, no permanent home base… it honestly frightened me.

I realized that I needed the opposite.

It took living with my partner for five years in the same town for me to settle down. Not “settle,” but rather calm down and be reassured that I wasn’t going to have to run away. I could travel to new places and have the relief of coming back to something familiar. It was a years-long trust exercise that is finally paying dividends.

No one was going to pull an emergency hatch and send me off packing somewhere else.

I no longer had to worry about having my stability yanked away.

I was the adult now. I could choose to adapt, not uproot.

In fact, now that I had a stable home, I could focus on actually building up my wealth.

Once that clicked, everything shifted.

I started buying books again, something I avoided ever since I realized that I needed to carry everything with me if I wanted my stuff to survive my family’s moves. I joined a local gym. Then a library.

I started looking into more “traditional” financial goals, such as a Roth IRA and a savings account. Without an innate desire to be constantly mobile, I could buckle down and focus on doing money well.

This isn’t meant to diss those living a nomadic lifestyle. If it works for you, fantastic! I just can’t help but wonder how many nomads are living a life to which they’ve become accustomed, partly out of fear that once they decide they want to settle somewhere, the ground will shift beneath their feet. What does a bird do when it can’t find a good place to rest? Keep flying.

Of course, everyone still seems to think that Millennials are going to be content flying around forever. But statistics don’t support this. People of my age group want to buy homes. Those goals just feels unreachable most of the time.

Millennials are also starting to hold out for their “forever home.” Even if they can afford to buy now, they’re waiting until the home they want is on the market. The right home is out there. Buyers want to pick one they can see themselves staying in for years.

This makes perfect sense to me. Make compromises now so you can invest in something you really want later. Delay gratification until you find something truly gratifying.

Now that I’ve have the opportunity to settle into a home (my boyfriend and I are doing a homeshare right now, exchanging labor for space), there’s no way I’m going back. Even renting to me sounds like a bad proposition. No ownership and no guarantee of living there forever? No thanks.

Fate willing, the first home I purchase will be one I stay in for a long time. I fantasize about tending to a house and making it greater over time. Eventually handing it down to a sibling or cousin.

My money will go toward something deep and permanent. No more watching and waiting for life to finally calm down.

This story is part of The Billfold’s Moving Series.

Brit McGinnis is a copywriter and author of several books. Her work has appeared on Paste, SparkNotes, and anywhere fine stories are sold. She lives in Portland, Oregon.


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