Thought for the Day:
“Financial health is restored in two ways.
First, by doing the inner work or changing how you think and feel about money, and then by doing the outer work of practical money management.”
Question for the Day:
Are you financially healthy?
So, let me just say this off top. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a financial expert. Any knowledge that I’ve decided to share with you all is practical wisdom that I’ve gained from hard bought lessons learned over the course of living nearly two decades in financial bondage. Navigating life under the burden of debt teaches you some things. For example, I learned to appreciate grocery stores that still allow you to write a check on Wednesday that won’t clear until Friday. Matter of fact, shout out to Winn Dixie for being one of the few grocery chains to still respect the sanctity of the floating check. I’ve also learned to never sleep on the power of spaghetti, chili, taco soup, and rice and beans to guarantee your family’s survival. Living with debt allowed me to become quite skilled at robbing Peter to pay Paul and I’ve mastered utilizing grace periods, making payment arrangements, requesting extensions, disputing charges, and making sure bills are postmarked by or paid at 11:59 pm on the due date as to allow myself a couple of days processing time to actually come up with the money. No, I’m not bragging about being able to get over on bill collectors and recognize that living this close to the edge of financial ruin shouldn’t be a source of pride. However, I still can’t help but thank God for keeping me and my family afloat and for the hustling skills that occasionally got us over the hump.
Truthfully, navigating financial crisis has been a long-standing source of pain and embarrassment for me. I consider myself a pretty transparent person, but this area of my life was one that I was careful to keep under wraps. When our money issues were at their worst, I couldn’t reconcile the fact that I was an educated married woman with two degrees from prestigious universities who was also unable to pay a $40 water bill on time. It was easy to write off driving an old car or having a shoe game that amounted to alternating between two pairs of flats, as simply not being materialistic. Though it’s true that I’m not one to keep up appearances, in fairness, I couldn’t afford to stunt on anybody if I wanted to. The pain of financial bondage is unforgiving on its own, but when you add the additional emotional burden of shame, it becomes near unbearable. BUT GOD!!
Despite many tearful nights, multiple maxed out credit cards, payday loan hell, collection calls, and bankruptcy, I sit here today out of debt, with savings in the bank, and a beautiful five bedroom home that me and my husband closed on just last week. It wasn’t easy, but we were able to come through our financial trials without killing each other or ending up in divorce court which is an act of God all on its own! To watch yourself evolve from hearing “when can we expect payment?” to “when are you available for closing?” is a transformation that only God could have facilitated and I’m grateful.
What I now know for sure is that there are plenty of reasons one might find themselves in debt that go far beyond just not having enough money. Issues such as a lack of education and positive financial role models, impulse control deficits, low self worth, past traumas, mental illness, and a plain old lack of faith are often to blame for driving us to the point of financial self-destruction. For me, it was watching my parents take one too many financial risks that jeopardized their financial health, seeking validation from outside myself, questioning my intrinsic value, a lack of patience, and an inconsistent faith in God that led me down the wrong path. My husband also was fighting his own battles as he’s had to take care of himself from a young age and also found his security in having more than necessary. When we met, we immediately became pregnant and the debts we brought into the relationship continued to grow. Not only had we not learned to manage money properly as individuals, but we were now mismanaging money on behalf of a growing family. Raising children comes with incessant responsibilities and constant expense. Utility bills continue to get higher, cars need to be upgraded, apartments are outgrown, and before you know it, there’s the need for just one more line of credit, one more loan, one more deferment, one more childcare payment, one more rent increase, one more pack of Pampers, one more tuition, one more Christmas, one more birthday, one more student loan, to get one more degree, to hopefully make more money, to pay more bills….. and so it goes.
The stress of trying to manage a four lane highway lifestyle with country road resources, eventually came to a head after a home we were renting caught on fire in 2012. This unexpected misfortune was the straw that broke this mama’s back, as me and my family were forced to temporarily move back in with my mother. We were not properly insured and were in too deep to borrow our way out of yet another crisis, so off to bankruptcy court we went. We were apparently too well off to file a Chapter 7 which would have instantaneously released us from our financial obligations and instead, had to file a Chapter 13. Looking back, I’m sure this was by God’s design because it didn’t allow us an easy way out. Chapter 13 bankruptcy is basically an agreement to pay off all your debt over a fixed period of time. Yet only this way, the government is your debt collector and baby… you betta pay on time! It’s one thing to miss a payment and have to deal with a late fee, but it’s a whole other thing to miss a payment and have papers filed against you in court. Five years of paying off our debt, saving, budgeting well in advance for any luxury, and just plain going without were all necessary before we could handle the responsibilities we’ve been entrusted with today. Currently, we use our credit responsibly by keeping small limits paid down to zero at the end of every month. We save aggressively, and monitor our credit scores which are now near or above 700. We were finally able to qualify for a new house and the home buying process, that once seemed complicated and out-of-reach, went quickly and smoothly. Won’t He do it?
So, I said all that to introduce a new series that I hope will encourage other people who may be struggling financially. I’m entitling this series The Coin Collection and today’s post is the introduction. This series will be presented in four weekly posts that will take you through my journey of acquiring debt, falling over the cliff, learning to budget, sacrificing, committing to savings, and eventually achieving some financial security. I hope all of you will join me as I use my life and my knowledge as a therapist to explore some of the emotional and psychological issues that lead us into financial bondage. I also hope to help others identify the internal resources we all possess that can help bring us out. Stay tuned for next week’s installment entitled “Let Me Hold Something” where I’ll further explore the psychology around lack and borrowing money. Hold on to your piggy banks ladies, because it’s time for our money to get lifted as well. See you next week.
“You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the power to get wealth.”