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.