Lydia Ruter's Story
Lydia, 27, grew up comfortably in Sacramento, California, but she’s witnessed poverty first-hand through her work with the Appalachia Service Project and Habitat for Humanity. Thanks to a full-ride scholarship and a savings account she’d built up from working throughout her teen years, Lydia graduated from college debt free. She then joined AmeriCorps, which required her and her husband to continue living modestly. Today, she’s a personal finance coach for the Colorado nonprofit mpowered.
OYO: How did you feel about money growing up?
Lydia R.: I sensed our family was living on a budget. I grew up knowing the difference between wants and needs, but didn’t feel like I was missing out.
OYO: Did your parents ever give you money?
LR: When we were teens, we got an allowance. We earned it by doing one chore a week.
OYO: Do remember anything you wanted so much that you saved up for it?
LR: I went to camp a couple of times as a teen, so I saved money for that. I refereed soccer starting at age 13 and had a job at a coffee shop at 16, so I saved money for college.
OYO: Have you always tracked your spending?
LR: No, but as soon as I was out of college, married and working, my husband and I decided we’d track our expenses and keep to a close budget. It’s been great for our finances, marriage and communication. I love knowing where my money is going and being able to adjust as needed.
OYO: What was the worst money experience you’ve ever had?
LR: I quit my first professional job pretty early on, and it definitely had financial consequences. Not knowing if I’d be able to pay my bills or deal with emergencies, I was very motivated to get a new job immediately. But the uncertainty was stressful.
OYO: Has money ever been an issue in any of your close relationships?
LR: It’s never been a contention between my husband and me, but it’s something we talk about a lot, partly because we willingly lived on low incomes while in AmeriCorps. We learned to manage our finances closely and prioritize.
OYO: How important is it to interact with others who come from different socioeconomic backgrounds?
LR: Really important. It helps people see outside of their own perspectives. You can’t create good policy for the whole U.S. without knowing how other people really live.
OYO: What’s your personal philosophy about money?
LR: I think of it as a tool to reach life goals. I don’t focus on the amount I have coming in, but more on the lifestyle I want, where I want to work, and how much I want to work.