After I wrote my recent post titled “Can You ‘Bootstrap’ Your Way Out of Poverty?”, someone asked me a very valid question, and that question was,
“Given your situation growing up, how did you end up in such a financial mess as an adult?”
The answer, quite honestly, is that I had, for years, short-sighted vision. After going through what I went through as a child, a seed was planted within me. My work ethic, which was good before, was now great. I got my first job at 14, painting the interior of rental properties with my mom. From there, I continued to work. Fast food, slow food, retail, whatever work I could find as long as I was working and, more importantly, making money.
You see, I had made up my mind that I was NOT going to be poor as an adult like I was as a child. That is a great goal. And I knew I needed to earn money to reach that goal. That, however, is where my wisdom at the time ended.
I worked, I made decent money – even as a teen. I then had the ability to buy clothes and whatever else I needed or wanted. And buy I did. The moment I got my paycheck, it was gone, as I perused the stores and bought whatever my little heart desired. I soon, instead of thrift store clothes, had an awesome wardrobe that people envied. As I entered adulthood, the trend continued. I had a nice car, a decent apartment, and I was one of the first in my group to have a cell phone. I was cool. Super cool. After Rick and I got married, I became even “cooler”. We bought a nice townhouse and upgraded five years later to a mini-mansion. We bought a brand-spankin’ new minivan and a brand new pickup a year later. Oh yeah – we had it goin’ on! Our kids took part in all of the activities that proper suburbia kids should take part in: dance, swimming, etc., etc. Debt would come and go, but we never had money in savings for more than five minutes.
You see, I had short-sighted vision. I wasn’t thinking of the broader perspective, the bigger picture. I thought that wealth meant nice stuff, and we had plenty of that. Even with our income fluctuations and tried-and-failed businesses we still managed to pay the bills on time.
Then Rick got laid off in February of 2010. Still no wake up call for us, though. He took a job at a great company seven months later, at 80% of what he had been making at his old job. No problem, we thought, we’ll just charge the difference on our credit cards until he moves up in the company. We didn’t actually think this, but that’s what we did. Three years later we were in a massive amount of credit card debt. Oh, crap. Now what?
It was then that our epiphany came. I started to browse the Web with search terms like “How to get out of debt” and “How to get rich”. I started to see blogs – personal finance blogs – of people who were much younger than us yet kicking it financially. I started to learn terms like instant gratification and early retirement. I had, up until this point, read the Dave Ramsey book, The Total Money Makeover, several times but it wasn’t kicking in. There was something about reading “live” ongoing stories of people who were like us who had broken the cycle and gotten free of debt, though, that instilled in us that “a-ha moment”. We were starting to get it! Whereas before we thought that financial freedom was unobtainable, something only “lucky people” got, we were now learning that we had a choice.
I started to view budgets differently. Instead of a punishment, I came to understand that a budget is a blessing – that we deserved financial freedom, and that the accumulation of “stuff” wasn’t going to get us there. Today, we are just a tiny bit into our journey to debt free, but we are on our way.
Today, we are no longer “cool”. Most of our old suburbia friends have dumped us by the wayside, shaking their heads at the simple way of life we’ve chosen. I’m sure they’re reveling in glory as they jet off to Mexico and dine at fine restaurants, peeing away all of their hard-earned cash. Don’t misunderstand – I’m not against those things, per se. What I am against is people’s choices being limited because they have bad debt and anorexic savings. I am against working at a j-o-b (just over broke) because you have to, not because you want to. I am against mindsets that convince people that early retirement and a financially peaceful and prosperous life are out of reach for them. I am against these things because the truth is that if you want it bad enough, you can have it. You’ve just got to get creative and be prepared to work for it. You’ve also got to be prepared to give up your short-sighted vision for your long-term happiness. Are you ready? Let’s do this.