[Today’s article by Anton from
Financessful… UPDATE: Site recently shut down due to new information that’s come to light regarding Anton… Sad sad stuff to hear.]
I was born in the USSR and am damn proud of it. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a die-hard communist by any means (I’m running a business here in America, after all :)). I simply respect the country and the people who raised me and am proud of my heritage.
The USSR collapsed when I was only 3 years old, but I continued living in Russia until I was 15. The 90’s were a very turbulent time for Russia – the new government was struggling to control the country, the economy didn’t quite know how to deal with privatization and the people were constantly worried about the future.
Looking back, I think my childhood experiences and observations had a major impact on the way I am and the way I think, especially when it comes to money. They say that the habits and attitudes we develop when we are young are the most persistent and the hardest to change. For the most part, this has been true for me. The following things that I learned about life and money during my years in Russia largely define who I am today:
Every Man for Himself
One of my biggest surprises when I first came to America was how nice, friendly and helpful people are. I know it’s not like that in all parts of the US, but compared to what I experienced in Russia, it was like night and day.
When I was a kid, I learned very quickly that nobody is going to hold the door for me or help me get back up on my feet. Everybody around seemed to only worry and care for themselves (and maybe a few very close family members or friends). I couldn’t really blame them – it was a difficult time for many people and if you didn’t put yourself first, you were likely to be trampled by somebody else.
I learned to stand up for myself and be self sufficient. I didn’t expect any help and I knew that if I wanted something, I had to go out and get it. This is still very much how I think today. If I want to buy a new car or house, I’m the only one who can make that happen. If I want to be wealthy, I have to be the one purchasing more assets. I realize that you can often benefit from working together and helping each other out, but I am a believer that ultimately each of us is responsible for our own well-being.
The Government Will Not Be There for You
Just like most of the people didn’t care for my well-being, neither did the Russian government. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian executive, legislative and especially judicial systems were in ruin. There were few meaningful laws and most of them were not enforced. The cops were just as likely to help you as they were to arrest you if somebody paid them a bigger bribe. Many government programs were shut down and corruption was widespread.
I was never sent to jail (although I did get arrested once for letting off some fire crackers), but what I learned from looking at all of this is that you can’t depend on the government to help you with anything. In fact, it’s best to stay away and be cautious of government officials.
This is in stark contrast with the views of many Americans, who trust their government to maintain order and help those in need. And I’ll admit – the US government does a much better job at helping and serving its citizens than the Russian government. There will always be people who complain and protest, but it can be much, much worse, trust me.
What I do wish some people realize though, is that depending on the government financially is never a smart move. Funding for welfare programs or social security can easily dry up. Where would the people be who depend on those programs? Instead of wishing the government would help you more, help yourself – find ways to earn more money, find affordable housing, pay for your own healthcare and save for your retirement. If the government does help you – great, but don’t depend on it every time you get yourself in financial trouble.
You Don’t Buy What You Can’t Afford
I didn’t have a credit card until I was about 18 (and that was only because my mom convinced me I needed it to build credit). Things have changed now, but when I was growing up in Russia, there was practically no available credit. People didn’t have credit cards, they couldn’t get an auto loan or even a mortgage – the banking industry wasn’t developed enough to make any of this happen.
If you walked into a furniture store and asked if you could pay for a new couch over the next 12 months instead of upfront, you would’ve gotten laughed at. I learned from a young age that if you wanted something – anything – you had to have the cash to buy it. You waited until you had saved enough. There was no other way.
I’m very glad that I didn’t let the American consumerism corrupt my views on debt. These may be strong words, but I firmly believe that consumer debt is one of main causes of all financial problems people face in the US. To this day, I have never bought anything but real estate on credit. I don’t carry outstanding credit card balances and I’ve never had an auto loan. If I want something, I work hard, save and buy it in cash.
This has done wonders for my net worth – I am 26 and just short of being a millionaire. I can’t say the same for many of my peers who like buying expensive “toys” on credit.
With the Right Approach, the Sky is the Limit
In the 90’s, the Russian economy was pretty much in disarray. The government was selling factories, industrial complexes and mining operations for pennies on the dollar (in the USSR there was almost no private industry). The laws and economic conditions were constantly changing. There were armed conflicts, riots, assassinations and bombings.
And despite all of this, almost all of the Russian millionaires and billionaires made their fortune during this time. They had the right mindset and approach to take advantage of their current situation and prosper as a result. They didn’t wait for things to get better or for the perfect opportunity to come along. They acted, probably failed a bunch of times, learned from their mistakes and eventually succeeded.
Although their methods were often questionable, I always respected their ambition and perseverance. They taught me that if you have a strong desire to succeed and learn to adapt to your environment, you can have all the wealth you desire. The key is to act, seize the moment, learn from your mistakes and never give up.
These principles have proved invaluable when I worked on establishing my financial foundation, when I was first investing in stocks and real estate and when I was creating and growing my business.
My childhood may seem tough to some, but for the most part, I had a great time and was a happy kid. I am thankful for the lessons I learned because they help me every day of my life. Who knows where I would be had I grown up somewhere else…
What about you? What has your childhood taught you about money or life ?
Anton Ivanov is a financial writer, a personal finance & investing coach, an investor and an entrepreneur. He is extremely passionate about helping others become financially independent and shares his financial knowledge at
[Top photo cred: freestock.ca // Others courtesy of Anton]