One of my biggest insecurities in this world is around money. Honestly it is. The reason? I messed up pretty big when it came to finances many years ago. It's not something I am proud of, or even something I like to talk about, however, I believe it happened for a reason. I am now able to see that it is thanks to my previous journey that I am in the place I am today.
I have known for some time that I wanted to write a post about this part of my life, but I just haven’t been ready to do it until now. It is an area of my life to this day that I feel extremely ashamed of and insecure about. I have realized over time that the only way I will ever have any sort of healthy relationship with money is to face it straight on.
So let me tell you my story. Let me be so flipping vulnerable that I want to hit DELETE on this entire post. Let me describe to you the actual journey and transformation I took part in. Looking back at it now I have realized it is pretty crazy to be honest.
I became a single mama at the age of twenty one. At that moment I knew I needed to do whatever it took in order to provide for my daughter. She was my life. My entire world. I was not going to allow her to suffer one ounce. You know what that entailed though right? That meant I took out ALL the credit cards.
All of them.
Oh, she needed new clothes? Old Navy credit card it was. Diapers, wipes and food? Thank GOD our local Walmart was one of those super centers. I’ll take the highest limit please and thank you! Gas to get to work, doctor appointments and anywhere else we needed to go? Shell gas station credit card to the rescue!
You get the point right?
I had a decent job. I worked full time at a local restaurant making really good money as a waitress and bartender. When the restaurant closed for good, I actually ended up getting a Monday through Friday, 9-5PM job that had decent pay, insurance AND I got to tuck my daughter in at night. The income was coming in, but for some reason the bills just kept piling up.
From a young age I had a skewed perception around money. My mother did the best she could for us while growing up, but she raised us as a single mama and struggled with money as well. So the behaviors I was experiencing were ones that I was actually mirroring. Listen, that does not mean I am by ANY means blaming my mother for the mess that I made. I was a grown adult. I take full responsibility for the decisions I made. I just didn’t know what I didn’t know.
Let’s be clear here and make sure you have the full picture though. Not only did I have a ton of credit card debt, but I also had school debt. I continued going to school for my associates degree even after I got pregnant my freshman year. In order to continue my education, I had to take out school loans and extended the amount of debt accrued in order to have some additional supplemental income coming in. I would also like to add that I never actually got a job in the field of this degree. I do not regret it, but I wish I would have had some forward thinking about what the future held and if switching my major would have been the smart thing for me to consider. What’s done is done.
Shortly after I became a single mama, my little brother graciously offered to move in with us. It was the only way I was going to be able to provide my daughter a home of our own. We bounced around to a couple of different apartments, trying to find the "perfect one", but never kept an address for more than a year. A couple of years in my brother enlisted in the Navy, so my daughter and I got our first apartment on our own.
It was exciting. It was decorated so cute! Christmas Tree Shop was my favorite store. I must have been there weekly. It was everything I had ever wanted. Two stories. Our own bedrooms (we had shared a bedroom previously). It was a dream come true. Look at us.
Credit card bills piled up. Bounced checks to the daycare (where we were actually asked to leave). Utility bills were missed. School loans went into collections. One day my electricity was actually turned off. Do you know how bad that is? The electric company NEVER shuts off your electricity. ESPECIALLY when you have electric heat in your home like we did. My electricity was off. That same day I took in my second cat.
Let's just assume here that my debt to income ratio was not lining up. But oh how cute my apartment looked, in the dark.
That's when I got the call from my landlord. My check bounced which I can only imagine was not for the first time, but I seemed to have blocked that information out to this day. He was giving me the opportunity to move along before he had to take a more serious action and start the eviction process. I had heard from peers how this was not something you wanted to experience as it sits on your "record" forever.
I had two choices. I could try to find another apartment that had a lower rent and move my daughter again, or I could make a call that I really didn’t want to make. I had a problem and it was much bigger than the fact that I was about to lose my home. I had a toxic relationship with money. I needed help.
I made the call.
The call was to my father. It might not seem like a big deal to you, but it really, really, really was. My father and I did not have the strongest relationship. And here I was calling him to ask if my daughter and I could move in. I was so ashamed. Oh, did I forget to mention, he lived in Maine. So the life I had, my friends, my boyfriend, my job, everything I knew was in New Hampshire. I needed help. I had promised my daughter I would do whatever it took to protect her remember? .
We moved to Maine.
It was not easy. I had to swallow a lot of pride, but I did it. My father and step mother sat me down and asked me to show them all of my debt. They taught me about interest rates, making minimum payments and how that’s not ideal. They educated me on what collections was and that there were consolidation programs out there that could help. They also taught me how important it was to pay your school loans, ESPECIALLY when they were federal programs.
Soon after we moved in I found a full time job at a local non profit. I worked my butt off. I created a budget. I stuck to it. I chipped away at my debt and started to pay things off, one by one. I went back to school and got my undergrad so I could get a better paying job. I did still take out loans (a post for another time), but I was investing in my future, in my daughter's future. I was modeling what I wanted her to do with her life. To put her head down and work hard for what she wanted.
It took me a solid two years, but when I left my father's home in 2008, I was debt free, minus my additional school loans.
It has been 12 years since I moved out of my father's house. My daughter celebrated her 18th birthday in October. Today I live with my husband (my then boyfriend) and our three daughters in our modest home here in New Hampshire. We will be paying off our house this summer. Something I never in a million years would have thought was possible 15 years ago. I went on to get my Masters degree a couple of years ago and once our home is paid off, my education will be the only debt we have.
I will not pretend that I have healed my toxic relationship with money. I still make poor decisions as to wants vs. needs. One day over the summer I actually overdrew my account as I had cut it way too close. Fortunately I had money in my personal savings account to correct it, but the feeling of having my debit card declined at a gas pump is something I NEVER want to experience again. It immediately brought me right back to that place 15 years ago when I wouldn’t answer my cell phone as I didn’t know who would be calling me for the money I owed them. Shame. I felt pure shame 15 years later.
To this day I still have that receipt for the gas I attempted to pump with my debit card and instead had to put on my credit card. It sits on my dresser as a daily reminder of the person I used to be and the version of myself I want nothing to do with.
I truly believe that the most important lessons in life are the ones you learn the hard way. I have held onto this narrative for eighteen years. I am so tired of it being the story that I have allowed to define me. I’m exhausted. I don’t want to carry this weight anymore.
There comes a time when you have a choice to turn the page or to close the book. Today I choose to close the book.
I will be sending a weekly email out keeping myself accountable and sharing my journey and lessons learned around creating a healthier relationship with money as I become not only debt free, but are able to talk about money without my palms sweating and my stomach turning. If you'd like to follow along, you can sign up by clicking here.