Money Matters

As a college student I managed to work low-paying jobs and live on the income from them and student loans but just barely. Because those things- my work-study job, my off-campus job, and my multiple student loans- only helped me pay for school, rent, and bills. Sometimes I struggled to buy groceries or gasoline. Going out was always a luxury. Travel was pretty much impossible.

And so I got some credit cards.

There were some months where the only way I could eat was to use my credit card. If any major expense came up- my car broke down, I owed money to the IRS, I got sick and had a doctor bill or needed new glasses- I used a credit card to pay for it or often had to borrow from my Mom. I had no savings account. When my first job after college told me about contributing to a 403b I laughed. I was like I NEED EVERY DOLLAR. Being smart with money was not something I was skilled in despite how hyper-aware I was of every single cent I earned and spent.

I lived in a state of financial lacking.

I was constantly stressed out by money. In my late 20’s during the height of my money woes, I was dating a guy who lived in San Francisco and worked for a reputable housewares store as a graphic designer. He rented a room in a nice house and wore Kenneth Cole. And there I was, 29, from a hippy, beach town in my thrift store jeans and Converse, driving a car I bought off my Mom. He often wanted to go out, travel, do things that were outside of my means. He also didn’t offer to pay for me so in order to keep up, I kept charging more on my credit cards- gas to get from The Cruz to SF, plane tickets to visit his family in Arizona, etc. It was stupid and ridiculous.

Around this time was when the hounding started- the constant calls from debt collectors. And when I stopped answering my phone.

The thing about being deep in debt is that it feels humiliating and paralyzing. I lived in a constant state of lack, of stress, of panic. Everyone needs money to live and I didn’t feel like I ever had enough. Dating a man who was elitist and who lived an hour and a half away didn’t help but all of my financial troubles started before I met him.

So, I finally caved, admitted I was in over my head and filed for bankruptcy.

I remember the day I had to go to “court”. I was a nervous wreck. Creditors could show up and contest it! What if I had to fight them in front of an audience? I was scared out of my mind but it turned out to be nothing. A man behind a folding table in a rented out hall (a makeshift court) asked me a few questions, asked if anyone was there to contest it (I held my breath, no one showed) and then had me sign something.

I vowed to myself that day that I would do money differently. No new credit cards (no company would give me one anyhow). Living within my means. I got a better paying job. I broke up with that guy in SF. Without the barrage of debt collection calls and the stack of bills filling my mailbox, I could breathe. It took years for me to get to a place where I felt financially stable.

Years later when I took my second job as an Apartment Manager I knew this was my opportunity to really change my relationship with money. In the four years I’ve been working as a building manager instead of paying rent, I’ve paid off my car, paid of 2 loans and 1 credit card I kept out of the bankruptcy. Any trip I’ve taken I have paid for out of pocket. Clothes, holiday gifts, car repairs, vet bills- all paid from my checking and/or savings account.

I thought by now I’d have thousands upon thousands saved up. That was a lofty dream. I thought when Mr. Darcy moved in we’d be able to save more but purchases like a new couch or trips back east have bitten into what we’ve saved. But the point is, we ARE saving. We have a cushion. And right now we’re focused on aggressively saving so we can get out of the apartment management business and into our own home. That’s a dream we hope to actualize before next summer. I am excited and scared for this next chapter.

Despite how much work managing the building has been at times, being able to not pay rent for the last almost-4-years has been a life changer. I don’t live in the mindset of not having enough. I’ve learned to budget and save. I just hope that when it comes time to pay a mortgage I’m solid enough in my financial footing to only minorly freak out. You know, like freak out in equal proportion to the act of buying a house (because, eeek!, that’s a big deal!).

I’ve come a long way even if I still wear Converse and shop at thrift stores.

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27 thoughts on “Money Matters

  1. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wearing Converse and shopping at Thrift Stores πŸ˜‰ but yes, it’s very imperative to learn how to manage money… and especially how to live within your means.
    I think working the second job as an apartment manager really gave you the little “breathing room” in your financial situation that made it possible for you to save and budget.

    I think for people who always live paycheck to paycheck with almost no breathing room at all it’s much harder to really gain oversight over their financial situation… it takes some peace of mind to do this, to sit down, assess and plan ahead.

    Bravo! I can’t wait until you post “We move into a house” πŸ™‚

  2. We really are kindreds. I went through a similar time in my early 20’s, and I’m just now repairing my credit. It’s such a crazy experience, to shift your views/ways of dealing with money.

  3. I too ran up incredible credit card debt in my 20s. And I defaulted on my student loans. Somehow I managed to pay off the credit cards and the loans are back on track after going through a rehab program. And now in my 40s I own my place.

    It takes time, perseverance and patience but it can be done.

  4. I do not think I have ever seen you in Converse. It seems unlike you in some small indefinable way. I always see you in my mind as wearing flats, or sometimes boots.

  5. I find it so sad that the school system, in teaching our children to be good citizens of the world, teach nothing about personal finance and budgeting and saving and spending. It kills me that so many parents (mine included) never teach their children how to properly save (opening a savings account doesn’t really count), how to use credit cards responsibly and how to invest for the short- and long-term. These should be mandatory parts of parenting/educating and yet, nothing. You’re not alone in the decisions you made as a youth and suffering from the consequences. No wonder our generation puts on hold things like marriage and kids, y’know?

    That said, I’m so incredibly impressed with the path you’ve taken, the decisions you’ve made and your ability to get back on your feet after a pretty severe blow!

  6. I agree with Nilsa – we learn almost nothing about practical finances. My parents, both music majors, were required to take a course called “math for musicians.” It involved learning how to file taxes, balance your checkbook, pay bills… They used to laugh about how farcical it was, but I think a course like that would really be helpful!

  7. This makes me so happy! Your description of being deep in debt is spot on – humiliating and paralyzing. I made many, many mistakes in my early to mid 20s and remember feeling absolutely terrified and alone about my situation. I was embarrassed to tell anyone, even my family. I’ll be 31 next week and am almost 100% debt free. My boyfriend and I have also managed to save a decent amount of money for our wedding next year. It is such a relief to have that worry off my shoulders.

    Sounds like you’re on the right path, too! Congratulations πŸ™‚

  8. I am very bad with money. As is my husband. To the point where I will talk about it with no one. I’m not even sure my husband knows how bad it is. We are that paycheck to paycheck household with no savings.

  9. What a road you’ve taken to get to a place you can be proud of. You know, even though it’s been very rough and you would have done things differently, having climbed out you are now doing better, sadly, than a huge percentage of America.

    And as far as a house goes, well it is a great thing you have made saving and not over-spending a habit because with a house, there is always money to put in somewhere and a never-ending list of improvements you need and want to make. Yay, responsibility! πŸ˜‰

  10. i don’t think i will EVER get over my weird relationship with money after being so very, very poor in college / the first few years after college. those years where i had to eat ramen because it only cost 10 cents, and when i had to check my bank balance before knowing if i could afford a $2 happy hour bud light.

    i now get PYSCHO if i don’t have “enough” money in savings (“enough” being a nebulous amount that my bf keeps trying to get me to define, which appears to be “more than whatever i have now LEAVEMEALONE”) and i absolutely MUST keep a truly unreasonable amount in checking as a “cushion” after overdrawing my account too many times (after miscalculating those $2 beers. it was NEVER a big purchase. i’d go $1.57 over my balance and owe $60 in fees. the worst). it’s been the better part of a decade now and i’m still really squirrelly about it. i do think i learned some good lessons though. silver lining…?

  11. I hear this from so many people here in the US who went into debt during their late teens, early 20s with a lot having to do with school, buying food and clothing and the like. But you have done a fanfreakin awesome job in getting out of it. You and Mr. Darcy will definitely be able to save up to buy you’re own place. I know it feels super daunting (Matt and I are attempting the same thing), but it CAN be done and you know extremely well how to manage your money that you’ll do a super job when the time comes to purchase that place.

  12. The only thing I don’t buy at thrift stores are my panties, my bras, and my socks. Everything else is free game. Bring it home, wash it in hot or dry clean it, and I’m good to go. I pay pennies on the dollar for my clothing. Same with housewares and furniture. The only things I don’t buy second hand for the home are my bedroom sheets, pillows and towels. I’m mostly into Mid Century Modern and there is QUALITY furniture out there to be had for almost next to nothing. As much as I like the design of IKEA the cheapness and how their items hold up (they don’t) makes me crazy. I get lots of compliments on my clothes both vintage and designer and nobody has a clue I buy them second hand, although if they ask I tell them. I have nothing to hide and actually I’m kinda proud of some of my finds. Cars — anything that depreciates the minute I drive it off the lot is not for me. My latest “new” car? A 1993 Volvo “brick” that I bought for less than $2500 with 99k actual miles, no rust, inside perfect. She purrs like a kitten and she is cherry red. PERFECT. Sure, you’ve gotta spend time and energy to save a buck or two but to me it’s worth every penny I save. Half the time its all about the thrill of the hunt — for me anyway.

    BUT ….. it took me a long time to get to this place too. I used to buy new everything. I’m not exactly what made me change my habits but I’m glad I did. Now I couldn’t go back to by old ways if I tried. Mostly because old stuff is where you find good quality. And I hate shopping malls and big box stores. I try and support Mom Pop stores and I try to buy my food locally, too. The internet has made shopping easier too. ETSY and E-bay have become good friends — where else can you find unique, fun stuff for cheap??

    Good luck and have fun finding your first home. There is something to be said for owning vs renting — I just never felt comfortable renting because I knew at some point I’d be moving whether it was my choice or not. Plus moving is stressful for me.
    Nothing like living debt free either. It just feels good.

  13. Isn’t it always the same that when you save up something breaks and you need to spend the money to replace it? It’s great that you’re living within your means now and it’s wonderful to hear such a positive attitude about money πŸ™‚

  14. Dude, the fact that you wear Converse and shop at thrift stores just means you’re cool on top of being savvy.

    I have a blogger friend who always says “live beneath your means.” I love this. I think that is the key to cultivating freedom.

  15. Something hilarious in a not at all funny way is that when I was working and first married we put every penny of my paycheck into savings and lived off my husband’s. It was pretty awesome, and allowed me to stay home with our kids when we had them. As he got raises and moved up with work we again started adding to the savings. After all my medical issues we stopped adding to the savings because we were using that money for medical bills. I thought our old savings account sat untouched building interest (even a small amount is ok) and when recent things happened (you know what I mean) I looked into it. It is important to check on these things because when someone else has access to your accounts they might be doing things you didn’t realize and you could be in a much less secure place than you thought. Of course you really equals me and this is totally unrelated to your story, just what I was thinking about as I read that you were irresponsible when younger and how I thought I wasn’t but ended up being so even though I wasn’t actually the one using the money and had no idea it was happening.

    Anyway, I am so happy for you that you are being responsible and working towards a secure future and owning a home. That is incredible that you worked your way back to a secure place, something I guess I’ll be learning more about soon.

  16. I agree, there is nothing wrong with buying from thrift stores and luckily Seattle has some amazing ones. I used to live beyond my means and firmly in the idea of lack as well until I made a conscious decision to turn it around. I wasn’t being “cheap” I was being “financially responsible.” I wasn’t “depriving” myself I was “taking care of myself” in the future. Now I am in a place where my bills are what I can afford and I *think* I’m about to make my dream of moving back to Seattle come true because I have worked hard and saved. (I applied for an apartment yesterday) I guess what I’m saying is deciding to live for your financial self and not what someone else thinks you should do with your money feels so empowering whether you are buying a house or paying off debt. Someone wise once told me “you can’t save face and save your ass at the same time.” It has always stuck with me especially when I get myself into a jam.

    So excited for you and Mr Darcy on the house hunting/purchase goal.

  17. im a bankruptcy survivor too! I’m so glad you turned it around, not many people do! its an amazing accomplishment, and you deserve to feel proud!!!

  18. Your ex sounds a lot like AK’s ex–she wanted them to live the good life, but she wasn’t willing to subsidize it. Kudos to both of you for moving to awesome cheapos like myself and Mr. Darcy.

  19. Thanks for the post. I need to borrow a page from your (bank) book as I work on building my own finacial situation in a more conscious way.

  20. Thanks for the post. I need to borrow a page from your (bank) book as I work on building my own finacial situation in a more conscious and responsible way.

  21. I didn’t realise I’d been reading your blog for so long. I started reading it just before you got the apartment managment gig. Wow. Time flies.

    As someone with a mortgage, I am of the firm opinion that paying off debt is equal to saving money. You are saving yourself the interest you would have paid in the future if you hadn’t paid extra the loan off faster.

    You have done well! Congratulations πŸ™‚

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