Today is the 2nd day of January 2018 and I am 2 days into my journey to pay down $178,290 in debt, build wealth and achieve financial independence!
I’ve read so many blogs that tell how someone “got out of debt”- AFTER they’ve reached their goal. But very few blogs are written as the author goes through their journey. I often wonder what they were thinking, and what they were feeling. What strategies failed, and where had they made mistakes?
I’m writing this blog so that anyone who stumbles across it may learn from my struggles and triumphs. Perhaps readers can share insights with me, and others. If my mistakes help even one person not make the same, I am happy. If my progress and success encourages and motivates even one person, then I will be thrilled.
So who am I? I am a single mother, age 44, with three older children ages 14, 16, and 22. I work in an office, and I’m finishing up my last year of graduate school to become a counselor. I also have a part-time hobby-business as an artist. I’ve been divorced for nearly 8 years, and I currently rent our home in Austin, TX. I have $0.00 dollars in savings, and about $1200 in a Roth IRA. I have roughly $180,000 of debt:
$2090 in credit card debt
$2000 in medical bills
$3600 in personal student loan
$3600 in bad debt (written-off)
$22,000 car loan
$145000 federal student loan debt
Total Debt= $178,290
I’m going to be honest- that number scares the hell out of me! How did I get here? What am I going to do to rescue myself from this mess? How am I going to be sure it NEVER happens again?
I’d like to tell you that I’ve never had any financial problems, and that somehow this is just a fluke. But the truth is that I’ve rarely been financially responsible. I believe the root of my behavior is from growing up in poverty while living in one of the most affluent towns in the nation.
I’ll paint the picture for you. I grew up in a home under 1000 sq ft. My two parents raised my older brother, me, and my younger sister on an income that was below the poverty line. My father got into a lot of debt in his 20’s and decided that in his 30’s he would pay off that debt at all costs. That was an admirable ambition for sure. However, he took his zeal too far, and as a result, we often went without the basic necessities of life.
Imagine if you can, living through bitter cold New Jersey winters without a furnace or fireplace to warm you. When the furnace broke, my father refused to have it fixed. Instead, he bought a small kerosene heater for the living room. No one was allowed to light it until he came home from work. That meant that for the next 8 winters, we children came home after school to a house with an average temp of about 45 degrees. When our stove and oven broke, we cooked meals in a tiny pot on top of that heater in the middle of our living room. This usually consisted of boiled hot dogs and green beans. We received $100 clothing allowance at the beginning of each school year. This was a very special treat. But children grow and clothing wears out. I often went to school with holes in my clothing and shoes. We wore socks on our hands because we didn’t have mittens. I rarely ever asked for anything because I feared hearing the words “no, we can’t afford that”.
My parents always made sure there were presents under our Christmas tree. I truly appreciate that they made that effort for for us. But when January came around, my father and mother fought bitterly, due to the stress of letting bills slide in December to buy those gifts.
I began working the day I turned 14. (Ironically, I own nothing to show for it today! 30 years of work already and I own nothing other than the clothes, furniture and trinkets in our rented home.) I worked 36 hours a week so that I could buy my own clothing and food. My father made me a loan for a car, and I paid him back within a few short months.
My parents didn’t believe in or support my desire for higher education. Even though I was an excellent student, college was not an option. So, I spent my adult life as a wife, raising children and working. At the age of 36, I decided to pursue a new career avenue, and I applied to college to get an undergraduate degree in Psychology. After that, I enrolled in a Masters program in Counseling. My entire private-school education has been funded through student loans.
Throughout my adult life I have known times of intense financial insecurity, and financial abundance. But what strikes me as fascinating, is my subconscious drive to remain financially insecure (at least up until now). What I mean is that every time I have begun to get ahead financially, I have sabotaged myself. If I got a raise at work, it wasn’t long before I quit. If I paid off a car, I financed a new one. When I bought my dream home, I suddenly decided it was time to become self-employed (the house was foreclosed on only 1.5 years after purchasing it). If I received a bonus or tax return, it was suddenly time to treat my friends to dinner, take the kids on vacation, or buy new furniture.
In essence, I have kept myself at “poverty” level by never allowing myself to enjoy financial security. I’ve been unwilling to tell myself “no” because I hadn’t yet healed from the pain of my childhood lack.
Within the last few months I have gained awareness of this unconscious drive to give to myself, and to avoid causing any pain to my children by denying them the things they long for. This behavior has now led to a tremendous amount of debt and no security.
This is where it changes. This is where I am going to draw the line and say “With God as My Witness, I shall never be in debt again”- I’m thinking of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind as I type this, lol.
I invite you to read along as I go on this journey. I only have a rudimentary plan of how I will tackle this mountain. Yet, I believe with all my heart that it is very possible. Perhaps my desire and my belief coupled with unwavering commitment is the perfect recipe to find my way out of this mess.