I promise today’s post won’t be as dire as yesterday’s! I left you yesterday at rock bottom. Today we’ll start our journey forward. First, I’ll tell you this is terrifying. Writing yesterday’s post was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done because writing it all down makes it real. The good news is, it has been pretty stinkin’ real around here for about a year so I’m used to it!
So, what happened for me to evolve? Well, first, I had to get my head in the game. I had done a fantastic job of fooling myself into thinking I was in touch with our money. I was not. My husband? Just as bad as me. I married my soul mate-unfortunately in finances too.
First thing I did was take over all of it. I had been in charge of bills all of the years of our marriage until I decided to stay home with our kids. Then, I knew myself and if I wasn’t making a predictable income I couldn’t deal with how things went out or else I would stress too much. So-I checked out. I put The Husband in charge of paying bills and didn’t give it a second thought. He happily told me we were fine and never said no when I asked for money and I happily chose to believe him and continue to ask for money even though I suspected he should say no more often than he was.
God love him. He’s a provider and I took advantage of that big time. It made it quite easy then to blame him for a good while for all of our troubles, which of course was neither fair nor the truth. But at that point it was all such a house of cards what was one more lie?
So, back to first: I took over everything. And, God bless the man again-he let me. He transferred money for his train ticket every month and that was it. If he had work expenses he had to clear it with me first. He is brave and giant and strong for allowing this. He knew his limitations. He had not the time to get us right at home-he was busy securing our future at work. So he allowed me the power and and for that I am eternally grateful.
The second thing I did then after I took back the check book was to become intimately involved with the ginormous debt and the seemingly paltry income. You have to know yourself, so instead of trying to tackle some fancy spreadsheet or money management software, I pulled out my trusty notebook and pen. I wrote down every last ugly detail.
When I saw how much in the hole we were I started formulating a plan to get us out.
The first step in that plan-come to terms with my pride and get real. Like anything-I had to go all in or it wasn’t going to work. Getting out of debt and charting a proper financial course is not easy. It is not fun and it is often humiliating and painful. But if you try to do it any other way or make your own rules, like any good weight loss plan, it won’t work. So instead of skirting around trying to make small cuts or sneak my way into financial freedom, I went cold turkey.
I sought out credit counseling and learned how to create a proper budget that included EVERYTHING actual and possible. I called debtors and worked out plans. I called our mortgage bank and begged for mercy. I projected ahead to things like birthdays and Christmas and figured out what to sacrifice so my children wouldn’t have to. I also got real with what sacrifice is and accepted once and for all that kids can know about money decisions and that choosing to live frugally is not failing as a parent. I grew up without and I always swore my children never would. What I had to learn is that choosing how to spend your money is quite different than having no money to spend. Teaching my children there are limits is way better for them in the long run than making sure I give them everything they want-no matter the cost to myself or my husband.
We went to a cash only existence and for a few months (this is the third step) I wrote down every single penny that I spent-in my trusty notebook. Talk about real. For someone who thought she was responsible-we ate out-a lot. We never “went” to dinner so I didn’t think our eating out budget was too bad. But as the groceries got smaller and smaller I would find myself sick of noodle dishes and call for a taco salad or pizza. If it’s only $10 or $20, you think you’re fine. Well, when you write down all those tens and twenties for a while and realize if you added them up you could have eliminated one of your bills-damn. That’s all I got-damn.
As you can imagine, calling debtors, working out payment plans, shifting to cash only living and writing down spending can lead a person to reevaluate quite often. In the first 10 months I must have “budgeted” 50 times. I didn’t have a perfect system. But I had learned the hard way that if I waited for a system to come to me first, I would never begin. So I wrote in my notebook and I crossed stuff off and I wrote again. I listed income and expenses a thousand times. I had a file box where I kept everything financial and would go through and organize it a different way every month.
I am sure there are plans and books out there that can tell you how to do this more efficiently. Heck, I’m sure I’ve read those books! But (this is number four) I needed to DO, not read. I had to keep climbing forward-toward financial freedom, whether I had perfected each previous step or not. So, DO I did. I wrote, I paid, I calculated, I talked to advisers and I did it all over again and again. I talked to my husband. We made difficult decisions. I accepted that sometimes money is the driving factor and that is OK. A lot of people who are good with money make decisions based on money. I always promised myself money wouldn’t rule my life. In an effort not to let that happen, I actually put money in total control. I learned if I want to be in control, I have to accept finances are factors in decisions and that is fine. So I was proactive instead of reactive. I was on a mission.
During this time of Doing, I also cried more than ever. I banged my fists on desks. I hyperventilated more than once. I ached. I shivered. I wondered if I would ever see the light of day. For someone who was used to drifting, I have never FELT more in my life.
It was exhausting. Number five would be that:feeling. I accepted the sad. I accepted the hard. I took real ownership of my decisions and I then allowed myself also to celebrate the growth-no matter how small along the way. Most importantly, I planned ahead to keep us from sliding back.
I was present. I was conscious. I was not a victim of my life any more.
Make no mistake, we are not out of the woods. We are still dealing with the house in MD.We still do not have the savings we hope for in our future. We are still in debt and strategically planning every penny we spend. But I am changed. I am resourceful. I am creative. We have a more varied diet than noodles and cheese. I am better every day and my family and I are certain we have a bright future ahead. For no matter what life throws at us, we know we will survive. We have been at the bottom and we have proven we can evolve.
P.S. Looking for more parenting guidance and tips for self-care? Check out From Chaos to Calm a guided training to help you feel better in this tough season.