I sometimes feel our history with our finances mirror the story of an addict. You hit rock bottom, you sober up. You work really, really hard towards getting your act together. Sometimes there are set-backs. Other times, you fall completely off the wagon and are in full crises mode once again. But eventually…hopefully…there is recovery. Long lasting recovery. You will always be an addict. You will always be faced with the temptations that could lead to a relapse. You will always have a tiny bit of fear of the “what if”…But if super dedicated and committed to recovery – you can enjoy the life you have always wanted.
Financial recovery. That’s where we are. At 47. Recovery from several years of financial relapse.
They say, (whoever “they” are) that your attitude about money begins in childhood. What you were taught, what you saw, how money or lack thereof, affected you. And I would say this is true. Both the Hubbs (HB) and I grew up without a lot of money or guidance about money and debt.
For most of HB’s childhood, after his parents divorced, he was raised by a single mom. His mom worked really hard and long hours to take care of herself and her kids. They were not poor – but it was hard. Money had to be stretched. Conversations about money were limited to how they needed to make more of it.
I watched my parents work their way out of poverty. On my dad’s side of the family, I saw first-hand what poverty looked like. It was a source of pride that my dad had gone to college and had “made it”. My mom’s parents, on the other hand, still shopped at dented can stores, stockpiled canned goods, and brought us over government cheese and peanut butter. At the time, I did not quite understand the significance of that. I do now.
But there were never any conversations about money in our house, except when the request to buy something was met with “we can’t afford it.”
When we married at age 25, while still in college and expecting our first child, neither HB or I understood the importance of savings. We also did not understand that it meant more than just working to draw retirement or until you could make it 62 ½ to collect social security.
For a long time, I believed college was an impossibility because we didn’t have the money. That was one area HB had some advantage; he received a football scholarship from the University of Nevada, Reno. I had all but given up on college until, through coworkers, I learned about student loans. And so, began the cycle of taking out as much as I could get in student loans each semester, without really understanding the consequences of how much I was taking out, or the importance of only taking out what I needed. I can’t tell you how much of that money was blown on non-essentials…the thought of it makes my stomach turn.
Besides. I was going to be a lawyer and earn A LOT money. Imagine my shock when I learned my starting salary at my first job as an attorney only paid $42,000.00 a year. Far from the six figures I had been banking on and clearly not enough to pay back the balances that were now well over six-figures.
Long before this time, HB had also lost his scholarship due to an injury and began working to support our small family. At nights, he attended private universities to get his teaching credentials and master’s degree. Again, we borrowed as much as they would give us and he quickly racked up six-figures as well.
Then life kind of took over, and we began pursuing what we thought was the American Dream. Who knew that it was bought on credit. We bought our first house, almost entirely mortgaged. That’s what you were supposed to do right? Graduate and then buy a house. This was followed by two cars – both financed. We “needed” them. We were both professionals now and our family was growing. I couldn’t drive my two-door Honda Civic anymore. I was a lawyer now.
And then we needed to get “things” for the house. Houses require things. Financed furniture. You can’t put old furniture in a new house! A pool…in ground, with custom waterfalls and mosaic turtles swimming on the bottom! Of course…This was Phoenix. You can’t live in Phoenix, without a pool. People die there without them.
Yes. It was a slippery slope. Totally our making. No one else was responsible but us. But it soon became too much and we were barely treading water in our fancy-schmancy pepple-tec pool.
But there was a solution. Bankruptcy! I jest. It was not a solution. It was a Band-Aid. It relieved some of the pressure – but it didn’t solve the underlying issues of spending and of not saving for our future. After the bankruptcy, we quickly charged up our credit cards, AGAIN. There were more things that needed buying. Repairs that couldn’t wait. This went on for several years and then crises hit. We were “victims” of the real estate bubble. Suddenly we had two houses that both were valued at half of what they were mortgaged for. We were over extended. Ultimately, we lost both our primary house and the investment property. (Which it never really was – because it never made us any money.)
Shortly after the market crash, we were very fortunate to discover Dave Ramsey and Financial Peace University through our church. His books and classes were exactly what we needed, at that time in our lives. He helped us learn what a budget was. Helped us understand the importance of an emergency fund and of living within our means. We did everything he told us to do. We followed his baby-steps. We made significant progress for several years. But we never made it out of Baby Step 2. For YEARS that’s where we remained. It was discouraging and eventually, the momentum gave and, though we didn’t increase our debt by much, we didn’t make any progress either.
There were some relapses. Not anything like what we experienced during the market crash. But there was some life-style creep too.
We had purchased another home. Relocated to a new city. Added to our family. We were both making really good incomes. But there was no real hope of ever getting ahead. The balances on our student loans were SO BIG. And they just seemed to get bigger due. We were resigned that this was going to be our lives. Paying off debt and never being able to save for retirement. The debt was going to follow us to our graves. We wanted more for our lives – but we had no belief of how that was even possible.
Then, over the course of a few years of searching for a way to get out of this rut, I discovered this crazy-weird-almost cult-like FIRE community . (Financial Independence/Retire Early) It was almost like a religious experience. My eyes opened wide and I began devouring every article, blog and podcast I could find. I have discussed that more extensively in a previous post.
I think most addicts will tell you they remember a moment that changed everything for them. It was almost like that. Finally, there was hope. There was a way to achieve what we wanted. A mind-shift. We began to see things from the perspective of what we COULD do to change our circumstances and not limit our thinking to what obstacles were in our way. That was the key. Not just having the knowledge of how to achieve what we wanted – but the BELIEF that we could.
Since then…(It has been almost exactly a year), we have made incredible-unbelievable gains. I have seen the numbers, and I can’t barely believe them myself. If there were any doubt left in me before that we couldn’t do this…they are gone. We CAN do this. We ARE doing this. Next week, I will explain how we have increased our net worth (reduced our negative net worth – more correctly) by $86,000.00 in ten months. Come back and see me – I hope will come into the light as well.
Love and Prosperity,