By: Revanche

Revanche: The Origins of A Gai Shan Life

December 25, 2008

I started blogging about money because no one in my real life would talk about it: as many people know, it’s historically one of the more taboo subjects, topping politics, religion and even sex.  This blog was an escape as well, a means of venting when I couldn’t bring myself to air dirty laundry and “betray” my family.  It grew to be a great sounding board/forum, a connection to the PF blogging community, and sparked real life friendships. 
I’ve answered a lot of questions about myself over the years in comments and posts but this is the compendium of more than you ever wanted to know about who and what I am.  If you still have questions, feel free to let me know!

Man doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and I certainly didn’t raise myself.  My biggest life challenge and influencer of life decisions to date is my family.  People keep asking why I support them, what happened to make me the primary breadwinner, and don’t I know that I’m crazy for doing it?  Like most things in life, it’s not so simple and it didn’t happen overnight.   But to “sum up” as Ricky Ricardo would have you do: I always had an absolute horror that my parents would end up on the street, abandoned and ill, if I don’t/didn’t provide for them.

Here’s our story…..

In 1980, my parents escaped a war-torn homeland to give their kids a better chance in life.  Like Warren Buffett, I won the genetic lottery – twice. I wasn’t born in a third world country, only because my parents chose to sacifice everything familiar for our sakes.  They didn’t even know me yet!  Dad spoke the language, but Mom started learning once she set foot on foreign soil, newborn baby in her arms, and not a change of clothing between them. They’d lost everything to pirates on their crossing.

In 1982, I was born. Best thing that ever happened to them.  You know it’s true. 😉  Even if I did cry nonstop for 9 months.

In 1990, they’d scraped together starting capital to open their own businesses.  The income went to keeping a roof over our heads, food on the table, and us in school.  They even sent my brother to private school.

In 2000, they sold one business and the other failed, the bankruptcy hastened by a manager’s embezzlement during highly competive pricing wars. I had begun putting myself through college that year.  Facing what I thought was a temporary rough patch, I amped up my working hours to fill in the gaps at home.  That turned into a 80-work week + full course load situation for the next four years. “Just to get us through,” I thought. 

In 2003, Grandma was diagnosed and bedridden with late-stage Alzheimers. She was no longer in touch with the same reality as the rest of us.  Trapped in her own world, she often looked at us, and saw ghosts from her childhood.  We took care of her until her death three years later.  I bought a brand new car this year and paid more than I can ever admit out loud for individual car insurance. *tsk tsk*  This was one of my more spectacularly poor money decisions. Refusing to stay on the family plan thinking that it made me more independent was just dumb.

In 2004, Mom was diagnosed with diabetes. After my graduation from college this year, I took a job locally instead of moving to the East Coast to pursue a career, and stayed to support them a little while longer.  My new job paid for my train commute so my car essentially retired from work for the next 4.5 years. 

Brother was, to be terribly blunt, worse than useless during this time with a history of causing us grief and running up debts. Mom rarely took care of herself because she was trying to work, take care of Grandma, and worrying about him which laid the groundwork for a massive health failure when Dad made bad job/financial choices. In an attempt to keep the family afloat, I continued 60+ hour workweeks. 

In 2006, I started this blog under a different pseudonym. Debt repayment was a regular part of my life by this point. I was working on paying down the first $7000 of my parents’ credit card debt, and had purchased a new truck for my brother’s use. He had agreed to pay me back if I would finance it under my name. Big honkin’ HA!  If that wasn’t enough, I was about to make a few more pretty big financial mistakes for my family’s sake after that. 

By 2007, I had shouldered 99% of the financial responsibilities at home. I made the monumental error of lending them $20k as starting capital for a business.  The bleakness in my dad’s eyes, as he reflected on his inability to earn a sufficient wage, when he asked me to make the loan was what pushed me to say yes. Around this time, I realized that 12-hour work days for the foreseeable future made zero sense considering my expertise and responsibility levels.  I pushed for a major raise that my bosses agreed that I’d earned ten times over.  8 months later, my salary went up 70%.

Stress, anxiety, depression, uncontrolled diabetes + other unidentifiable health issues (like the stroke) sent Mom into a tailspin and she could no longer be left alone for fear she would hurt herself, inside or wandering outside, get horribly lost or set the house on fire. Dad served as a caretaker for Mom for the next four years, housekeeping and doing odd jobs to bring in some money while I remained responsible for bringing home the real bacon. 

This arrangement never sat well with him but it’s what worked, sort of.  Obviously, he wasn’t wholeheartedly a fan. Lying to “protect” people is not my idea of dealing well.  Brother continued to play at being responsible with no discernible improvement.

By 2008, I’d paid off the $20k folly, faced some hard facts about my family, and was well on my way to building a solid core of savings.  I’d need it because this was the year my job became intolerable, and we were going to be laid off some time in the murky future.  Job hunting began in earnest.

In 2009, the layoff happened. I spent many months job-hunting, taking classes, traveling, seeing to loved ones, reflecting, learning, and seeking new ways to take on life.

In 2010, I moved to start a hugely challenging new job, leaving a power vacuum in my family and causing more stress in a multitude of ways, faced more family/ health challenges, got our first Christmas tree, and got engaged.

2011 flew by with a fantastic trip to Thailand, the adoption of our dear Doggle, ponderings on future family building, a very sudden marriage, and the even more sudden loss of my mother.

And here we are! Through all of it, I’ve learned a lot about budgeting, conscious spending, delayed gratification, career management, saving, investing, planning for the future, how to prepare for financial crises like layoffs, how to appreciate and enjoy life, and even how to save for myself while differentiating between supportive and enabling behavior

At the same time, I’ve become much more of a minimalist, reducing my stuff so clutter doesn’t give me claustrophobia, and using the money and resources saved to help where I can.

It’s a work in progress, and always will be because I do get the gimmes. Once upon a time I had to pinch pennies like a total Scrooge to make sure bills were paid in full, on time.  Now, I’m allowed a few goodies, but I’m totally the mouse from If You Give a Mouse A Cookie so I believe in conscious spending.  VERY conscious spending.

Careful money management and determination was absolutely key to maximizing my opportunities.

Now in my late 20s, I’m focused on making the best of what life serves up while building as secure a financial foundation as possible.  Budgeting and maximizing income opportunities will always be part of my life because I want financial freedom. 

I want to be free to make the right choices, not for the sake of money. 

Come and share the experience with me!

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21 Responses to “Revanche: The Origins of A Gai Shan Life”

  1. Wow, what a rough story! Glad you pulled through, and hope you are doing everything you’ve always wanted to do b/c before you know it, you’ll be 30. NO REGRETS!

    Keep on gai shaning and don’t ever stop!

    Hope to see you around my site one day.

  2. eemusings says:

    I must say, I never knew any of this – I could never find my way around your old blog layout.

    You’re come such a long way – I’m proud of you!

  3. Mike Ng says:


    That’s an intense story. You are a stronger man(woman) than most of us. I don’t think I would ever be able to support my entire family. Keep up the good work – subscribed to you!

  4. Hi there. I’m so proud of you. Sounds too much like my family. My mum and Dad had marital problems and saw gambling as a way to hide behind their problems. Since I was busy studying at the time I did not have the time to play marriage counsellor to my parents. However once I had graduated, I guess I had more time to observe their ways. I started noticing my mum started stressing alot more and was not able to sleep, I knew it was all about the debts. So I finally sat her down and looked at her financial situation. It broke my heart to find out she had gotten herself into more than $20k worth credit card and loan shark debt. I started doing her budgets for her and managed to pay everything back. But unfortunately I didn’t teach her enough about budgeting since now a couple years on after I’ve handed the financial reigns back to her, she is back into debt. Sometimes I wonder who is the mother here!!! Your story has given me some strength to face her finances again. I’m just not sure i’m going to like what I find!!

  5. Wow! You’ve done and experienced a lot. I recently made the decision to lent my parent $15k to pay off credit card debt. I hope that doesn’t turn out to be a complete folly. I certainly notice some similaries between us. I also have a sibling who plays at being responsible with absolutely no improvement at all. But, that sibling will never ever see a cent of my money.

  6. Austin says:

    “I started blogging about money because no one in my real life would talk about it”

    I was thinking this exact thing on my walk to work this morning! Weird.

    Austin @ Foreigner’s Finances

  7. J. Money says:

    You’re awesome, girl. Very very good role model 🙂 Keep rockin’ it out!

  8. You’ve faced the life of a single parent in reverse. If praise and gratitude are any consolation, I want to say I am so proud of you and I know the gratitude of your parents and grandmother will be with them all the days of this life and the next. Your brother…. well many of us have one of those and we do the best we can with them.

  9. Wow – what an intense story. Very touching that you have shouldered the financial burdens of your family – not many young adults in today’s world would or could do that.

  10. Darren says:

    Wow, looks like you’ve learned a lot… through rough circumstances in your life.

    Good to hear you didn’t give up, but became better because of it!

  11. Roxanne says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. Anna says:

    Your dedication and work ethic are admirable and your story really is something larger than personal finance. You have tons to teach us all – no matter what age your readers are. Thank you for sharing and contributing.

    Thought you might want to know that over at the LendingTree blog, we recently mentioned your blog as a counter example to a recent study about Gen Y attitudes towards finances:’-kids-need-help-with-their-money/

    Best wishes in your continued blogging adventures. Anna Cearley

  13. chew on it says:

    It’s uplifting to hear stories about not just a responsible young person but a filial daughter as well. Your parents must be real proud of you.

    It’s also our desire to be able to support our parents especially in their old age. I can’t imagine seeing them spending their life during their golden years in some retirement home.

    Keep up the good work!

  14. Brian Taing says:

    Hey I just got referred to your website by a friend. I haven’t read beyond a few blog posts, but I had an overwhelming sense of familiarity with your stories. I look forward to continue reading, and sharing my stories in your comments.

  15. Wil Possible says:

    WOW… what a story. Thank you for sharing as many people will not be so open about growing up this way. You are definitely someone a parent would be proud of. Cheers 2 U.

  16. Felice says:

    I have left comments on your site before and it was not until now that I read the “origins”. This was probably one of the first blogs where I had my face glued to the monitor reading your story. You have a way of captivating people with your words and your financial choices. Thank you for sharing your story.

  17. Amazing story. Thank you for sharing.

  18. LC says:

    What an amazing journey you have made toward financial and emotional health. Thank you for visiting and commenting on my blog. Your comment led me here and I definitely will be back to catch up on your posts!

    Both my parents and my husband’s parents were children of the depression. They instilled by word and example the desire to live debt free and to distinguish between needs and wants, lessons we had to relearn for ourselves as young marrieds. I am thankful for our parents. I hope your family is thankful for you.

  19. Wow. The most powerful about page I read so far. I have no words to describe how I felt after reading this page.

    This post touched the deepest of my heart. Thanks for sharing and I subscribed to your RSS and following on Twitter.

    I will be mentioning your “About” page on my upcoming “Liked Link” series

    good luck

  20. Lisa says:

    I just found your blog. You could be telling my story with a few circumstantial tweaks.


  21. […] details of their lives before us, some of which you can read here about my mom and a brief synopsis here, there was plenty that they did right and much they did to have inspired my desire to support them […]

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