I went broke this year.
I’m 31 years old and am recovering from an insanely difficult three months that I did not plan on. I unwillingly left a great job, drained my bank account because of it, and have had to rebuild my life one very slow step at a time.
I’m writing this to break the stigma and embarrassment of having money problems, which might seem like an uphill trek in the technology age: the age of broadcasting an unboxing of your new clothes on Instagram. The age of checking in to the airport to let people know you’re going on a trip. The age of foodie shots with $15 loaves of gluten/grain/dairy/sugar free bread.
You’re not better than anyone if you have money. You’re not less valuable if you are poor, or experience poverty. Many times, it is not even your fault.
One thing: I recognize that my life is very privileged, regardless of the issue I am writing about today. I’m not intending to whine, I am simply sharing what I have gone through, how it affected me, and how my friends and family helped me survive it. I hope it resonates with someone going through a similar difficult time.
I’m incredibly independent, and am used to being able to pay for everything myself, say yes to anything all of the time, regardless of the cost; can afford to take trips pretty much when I want, can buy music equipment, photo equipment; and generally treat myself when I want. I have rarely had to worry about money, and the last time I did (10 years ago) it was 100% my fault because of the choices I had been making at the time.
I’m also in a lot of debt, but always pay every bill on time and in full. I have student loans and credit card debt, which most of us have.
Do I have a poor relationship with money?
Don’t we all? If money was not handed to us, we are all trying to figure out our relationship with it.
I created a personal financial plan for myself at the beginning of this year, using the Mint app. I was going to have all my credit cards and half my student loans paid off! Having sold my car in December, that knocked out $7k of my debt and $500/mo of expenses. It felt GREAT.
I was planning to move into the Denver locale anyways, and would not really need a car, plus the only way I could afford to live by myself again was to make more money or eliminate some expenses. The extra $500/month gave me what I needed to get my current place in Denver’s Capitol Hill.
Plus, my legs are in AWESOME shape with all the biking I now do – which benefits me when hiking up mountains.
My new plan was gold, I was already saving money be paying attention to where I was spending it (seriously, download Mint – it’s a game-changer), and was settling into my new apartment.
Then everything changed.
(Note: I’m leaving out a LOT of details here to save some reputations. Maybe one day I can share the whole story).
In late May, I found out some discouraging news at my job that would impact my finances and eventually lead me to leaving two months later, with absolutely no safety net.
I panicked when I found out what was going on, because I had just signed the lease on my new place two weeks prior to finding out news that would put my finances in jeopardy, plus had this amazing financial roadmap I was eager to follow.
So, I made a game plan to pay a month ahead on my rent, get ahead on my essential bills (energy, phone, internet), and then stash the rest of my cash while I looked for more work.
Surely, I would find something quickly.
I didn’t, and as a result my bank account was hovering below $500 while the clock ticked closer on having to pay another month of rent + bills, which was definitely more than $500. Oh, and I had to feed myself.
I used my savings and some spare cash in an investment account to pay up all my bills and rent, so the $500 was literally IT, and I had no idea where my next dollar was coming from.
When pitching to potential clients, it can take anywhere from a day to onboard someone or over a month. Everyone I was pitching to was the latter.
You can imagine the stress, lack of sleep, and resentment that was building up.
Resentment towards my friends sharing un-boxing videos on Instagram of some stupid item they bought and definitely didn’t need.
Resentment towards anyone who could afford $12 worth of organic avocados.
Resentment towards people who went to brunch every Saturday, spending $30 on themselves.
Resentment towards my closet bc I couldn’t afford to buy new clothes for the interviews I was going on.
Resentment towards the trend in this country that you are only worth what you have or can pay for.
Resentment towards the stigma of being poor and the undeserved blame the poor get, but don’t deserve (hello, it’s systematic).
I was saving money by shopping at the dollar store, buying from the day-old produce section, and even looked into food stamps. I was eating $1 boxed meals, and when my favorite fruit, blackberries, went on sale – that’s when I would buy them. I couldn’t’ justify or afford it if they weren’t on sale (here in Colorado they run about $5/package if not on sale).
I was embarrassed about my situation.
I was embarrassed that I was 31 and not financially stable.
I was embarrassed that if something cost money, I had to opt out, which meant staying home most of the time.
I was embarrassed that I had to sell things to pay my rent.
“You know this is NOT your fault,” my mom would tell me over the phone when I called her crying (which happened often).
But then, things began to shift about how I viewed money and how I viewed myself.
People I knew and didn’t really know offered help without asking questions.
I also started asking for help.
I borrowed money from a few close friends (hi, I love you).
I prepared my parents for possibly having to borrow money (I have not done this in 10 years, and last time my money problems were all my fault).
I began letting people pay for me when they offered.
I offered to treat people, when I was able to again, for being so kind to me.
I found fun, free things to do.
I quit drinking alcohol.
I started writing more music.
I started reading more books.
I began to empathize with people in situations similar to mine and saw that it isn’t their fault.
It is not your fault.
It is not your fault.
IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT.
I began to let go of placing my worth on the things I could and could not afford.
I am now realizing that this was one of those rough patches that is also a blessing in disguise: I have new incredible opportunities in my life now that I’m passionate about, and am nearly back on track with my finances.
Plus, a new relationship with money: I’m no longer scared of it and refuse to let it define me.
The myth of “success = independence,” in this country is a hard one to disprove. In other countries, families rally to support each other and do not consider someone a loser if they rely on someone else.
Yes, it feels good to be able to pay for anything you want.
Yes, it feels good to go spend $24 on farmer’s market fruit.
Yes, it feels good to post on Instagram when you get something new or go somewhere fun.
By allowing the things we can afford to define us means that when the ability to afford those things is stripped away unexpectedly, and it can happen to anyone, you have to redefine how you value yourself.
Having trouble financially is not a reflection on you as a person, especially when you didn’t cause your strife. (Now, if you money problems are caused by your spending habits, that’s another story).
Although I had no control over what happened to me, I did have control about how to get out of it: and I’m nearly there, because of help from others and having no choice but to constantly pick myself back up, every single day, with the will to fight and motivation to redefine myself.
>> Cover photo by Erin Sullivan. <<