Money has always been kind of a mystery to me. My parents did not discuss it. For a long time they preached about not having a credit card and then out of nowhere a mysterious fireproof box appeared with MANY credit cards. My mom would rifle through them and then choose one for us to get whatever it was we were needing/asking for. No one ever explained to me how they worked.
Fast forward to college and no one had spoken to me about how to pay for it. No one. Not even when the tuition bill came. My friends all had college funds and were not truly concerned about it either. I assumed that was the case for me as well. It was not. My mom had filled out my FAFSA and never spoken to me about any of it. When I was approved for the student loans (still was not spoken to), my mom signed for them and when the refund check came, it went straight to my mother. I never saw a dime. I worked and was paying for my schooling, so I thought, but that money was really going to help my parents pay on credit cards and other things. Again, no one said a word.
I had a savings account that I had been putting one-third of my paychecks in since I started working at 15, so I had some money . . . . I thought. I did not. When I went to check my savings balance, there was nothing there. Nothing. I had worked A LOT. I was given managerial responsibilities at 16. I worked a night shift and put in 40 hours a week while I was going to school. Nothing was there. My mom had co-signed for the savings account at her credit union. When she was short on money, she “borrowed” it. Never said a word. Never had the money to pay it back.
Fast forward to college graduation. I am DONE!! Graduated and ready to start my new life! I had always had beater cars and now that I had completed college and was moving to another state with a contract signed, I was going to get a new-to-me car! I went to the used car lot that my family always went to. The man that had been working with our family for years was less-than-happy to see me. I had no idea why. Before he even walked me through the lot, he said, let’s run a credit check. He came back with a STACK of papers and said, “this is all your debt.” I was flabbergasted and, frankly, scared. I had no idea. I knew I had a couple of store credit cards, but I had been really great about always paying on them, more than the minimum due and when I balanced my checkbook, I always rounded the change up, so I had more in my account than I thought. Cushion. I was doing great, right? Nope. By the time I graduated with my Bachelor’s I was nearly $100,000 in debt with college loans. I had no idea what to do. I had followed my parents guidance and just did what I was told.
Fast forward to husband. I married a guy that seemed to have it all together. When I met him, he had his own business and his parents had discussed with him credit and how to keep it good and what he needed to do. He was responsible and reliable. When I got the news that my parents had lost their house, I panicked. I had been steadily cleaning up my credit and paying on all my bills. My students loans were in forbearance, so I had a little grace. When I heard about my parents’ situation, I turned over my finances to my husband. I was scared that I would do the same thing that my mom had done and did not want to mess anything up. I was never taught and he was, so this was the smart thing, right? Nope.
Fast forward to move south. My husband and I had moved to a new state and were living in a very cheap apartment. Both making a decent salary as teachers and did not have any extravagances other than cable TV. We had gotten a small Saturn SL2 used prior to moving and that was really the only major payment, other than rent that we had. I went on a road trip with my friend and I was trying to get some food in Mississippi and my card was declined. I called my husband and he told me we had no money. I mean none. There was no savings. There was no stocks. There was nothing. Plus, the car had been reassessed. I am in Mississippi. No money. Nothing.I was again flabbergasted and scared. I had no idea what to do. I could not turn to my parents for help. They were in their own money hell. I could not understand how this could happen. When I got home, we laid out all of our bills next to our income and we had WAY MORE than enough to get by and to create a nice cushion. It was at this time that my husband tells me that his depression is worsening and his therapist told him that he is not paying the bills to get attention. I had no idea how to respond. I was afraid to react too much as this was someone who had threatened suicide many times and I did not want to push him over the edge. I asked him if he wanted me to take over the finances and he responded angrily, “What?!?! You don’t think I can even do that right?!?!” I wanted to say, “no, I don’t. You obviously cannot!” But I didn’t. I said, “of course, I believe in you. If you want to keep doing it, then I will trust you.” DUMB ASS. This is one of the moments that I wish I could rewind to.
Fast forward to baby. I am pregnant. I get pulled over for a taillight or something trivial. I hand the officer my insurance. He says, “Ma’am, this is expired.” I get a massive ticket and have to appear in court to show that I am, in fact, insured. I miss work to do this. I miss my first day ever to do this when I am going to have to use all of my vacation time for maternity leave. I ask my husband and it seems he has been printing out fake insurance cards to fool me and there is no insurance. I am pissed. I feel like my husband has just put me and the baby in danger. I am not sure how, but this is how I felt. This is the first time I bring up leaving him. He blows up and I see his rage for the first time. I lock myself in the bedroom with my dog and my baby and I cry and I try to figure out what I should do. I have no money to leave. I have nowhere to go.
Fast forward to toddler and new rental home because we were evicted from the last rental home that was owned by my (was then) friend. My husband is making a McDonald’s run because we had a late night and I did not have a chance to cook. He is pissy when I ask him for this and I do not understand why. I go to change and I find him in my toddler son’s room stealing his money. Money I had set aside from birthdays, holidays, selling back toys and clothes, and change that I gathered and was setting aside for him to learn about money, the way I had not. This is the moment I needed to see. I ha been squirreling away money and hiding it in my things since the insurance incident, but this kicks it into high gear. I open a secret savings account. I ask for my summer job to not do direct deposit. I pick up those checks and deposit them straight to my savings, no matter how much we need them. Phones cut off, lights are off for periods of time, so is water, but I do not budge. Any spare change, cash, tutoring jobs, holiday money, I put in there. I do this for three years.
Fast forward to nearly kindergarten. The landlord stops me and asks me for my phone number. I give it to her and she says, “I have been trying to reach you, but _______ gave me a different number.” I tell her that I am not sure, but this is the only number I have had for years. Rent is due and it is behind by 3 months. What? I am again flabbergasted and scared. I have a child. My mother has since passed away. My dad is living in a retirement home near me. I have no one to turn to. I am done. I confront my husband. Yes, it’s true AND he has taken out title loans on BOTH the cars. And we are months behind in all bills. I tell him he has to leave. I plan a small weekend getaway with my dad and son and I tell my dad. I ask my dad if he would mind moving in with me until I can get things taken care of and get back on my feet. My dad does not hesitate. He moves in. both my dad and me are pretty miserable. My dad loved where he was staying. I now have a 5-year-old and a grown adult to care for. I am at the end of my rope.
I am at the beginning of my rope. I tie a know and start over.
With the advice of my sister and her husband, I start gaining ground. I pay off bills that were in both my estranged husband’s and my name. I pay off accounts he opened in my name. I put a freeze on my son’s credit. I put alerts on mine. When I create the divorce agreement (with TONS of input and assistance from my brother-in-law), i pay particular attention to the financial obligations area and fight for every last bill to be covered by him that he created (I was awarded this, but he did not follow through and instead of knocking down my credit more, I decided to start dealing with it). Piece by piece I start cleaning things up. I still am saddled with tremendous student loan debt, but I file for an Income Based Repayment (IBR) Plan and receive it, so it is manageable, still massive burden, but manageable).
Fast forward to car breakdown. I am driving my ex-grandmother-in-law’s 1999 Buick Century (I call her Zeus – yes, HER!). My son is in two travel sports and starting a third. We travel a lot. Zeus is rocking and rolling, until she is not. Rear gasket valve or something is shot. I need to replace it to the tune of $1000. I am flabbergasted and scared, BUT I have savings. I get it done and the alternator goes to the tune of $120. I still have savings, so I am good. It feels so good to be able to say that! Now, Zeus is 17 years old and has nearly 200,000 miles on her. She is an old girl and it is time for her to be with someone who is not so demanding, so I start car hunting (this is a post unto it’s own!). I speak with my credit union, the one that I took my secret account out with years ago. The man on the other end says, “You have really great credit!” I literally cried. My credit is now considered better than most people. Far better.
I got a new car. She is gorgeous and her name is Athena. My son insisted that she have a “boy name” as well, so Aries when I am mad at her :). She has a sun roof 🙂
I have to say, I have no idea what i would have done had a not had a professional job. My heart aches for people who are trapped in relationships that are unhealthy and, sometimes, dangerous because they have no answer about how to survive. I have a professional career. I have the intelligence and the capacity to know where to seek help and I was stuck. I was trapped for years.
I am not now. Now I have everything to look forward to and I do not have to worry about where anything is coming from. There is no mystery and there will not be for my son. He has a savings account and he has an after school job. He is required to put ⅓ in savings and the rest he spends on Pokemon, though I speak with him often about spending wisely. We talk about affording college and his activities and what needs to be sacrificed for other things. We have a vacation money jar that we are always sneaking money into. He knows that credit cards is money borrowed and that you pay extra for having borrowed it. He will be financially literate. He will not be stuck in a trap like I was. He will not have to claw out. He will have to sacrifice, but that is a part of life. He will know why he is sacrificing and he will understand that there are things we save for and there are times we have to borrow, but when that happens, we pay it off as quickly as possible!!