When I graduated, the economy in my hometown had just imploded. I’d studied what I loved instead of what made for a good resume. I came home to my parents’ house, a broken heart and almost 42,000 in student debt. My first job was mucking buckets and lugging arrangements at a florist, and then an internship at an office, doing what I have done since. Both were earned in large part because of privilege and connections. And at $8/hr., I was looking at 5,250 hours of work to pay back my loan. Without taxes or living expenses. More than 131 weeks at 40 hours a week.
The impossibility of it didn’t help my general fuck it mentality about money and even though I went from hourly to salary very quickly, my salary (starting at $28k) wouldn’t surpass my year’s tuition for several years. So.
I racked up tens of thousands of dollars of credit card debt. On lunches and clothes. On life changing trips abroad. On stupid things and fees designed to take advantage of people like me. On bachelorette parties and bad decisions.
It was my secret shame, shared only with my sister. My friends were much more affluent than I, in school and then as they landed high-paying jobs that paid forward for life and savings, while my meager earnings went down a dark hole.
In my late 20s, I learned about personal finance in great detail and my debt started to give me real anxiety. As I neared 30, I was leapfrogging ahead in my career, and revealed my money mess in a relationship for the first time. To my now husband.
He said, “Seems you may have needed the travel and the clothes and experiences to establish yourself as a peer to clients. But now you are there. So you can stop.”
The recognition was a huge gift, and for the first time I saw my debt as something I could actually leave behind.
Through giant raises, a series of bonuses and tighter reins on my spending, I paid off school and my credit cards by 32. Mine was never the story of extreme frugality or of perfect control, but rather of the dogged pursuit to get paid. That continued through marriage, which brought with it two kids, and through the birth of two of my own.
When I was earning a multiple of what I thought I’d top out at, salary-wise, I also hated my job with a soul numbing pull. With four kids and a new mortgage, I laid myself off to create a career that would let me better balance among my needs: for self, for family and for money (plus a seemingly endless list of other buckets).
I am about a year into the venture, buoyed financially by a husband whose earning surpasses what I left behind. We overspend and under plan and have together weathered years where we live (big) paycheck to paycheck, with our cash meted out in envelopes, as well as years we’ve played fast and loose and fancy.
A decade since he helped me release my debt despair, and 6 years after paying off my final card, I am working to understand what financial independence looks like with so many dependents. And to earn and spend in ways that best support the world I want to inhabit. All while trying to raise kids who are the Opposite of Spoiled, even as I recognize how many of my deeply held values and fears and strengths come from being raised broke.
This is my money journey.