Starting Over

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It seems I’ve talked a lot about that on this here blog but here I am, yet again, with a report of having to start over.

Life became a bit more than I could handle and I found myself having to make what felt like dire decisions to just get to the next day. In a period of five weeks:

  • Broke my foot (this cost me over $600 out of pocket);
  • Lost my apartment (cost me over $2,300);
  • Finagled a last minute move that was crazy expensive (cost me over $200); and
  • Spent over what I would have normally spent to get to work ($30 a day or $150 a week).

I was making $14 an hour and I thought that spending money I didn’t have to spend was the worst of it. For a while, it was. Then I took a trip to Hawaii (that had been paid for the year before) and lost my personal identification and bank cards. Oh joy! That was surely going to be the worst of it?

Not. At. All.

It seemed as though collectors and creditors knew I was in dire straits and called for every single dollar they’ve ever leant me to be paid back. By this point, I was living with my Mom and had to enlist her help in this. The final verdict? She wouldn’t be able to help me.

And this is where I find myself today – steeped in embarrassment at my financial state and wondering IF it ever actually gets better for the poor folks who were born poor?

It might not but after some deep soul searching, I’ve recommitted to the idea of starting over, really starting over, so that I can eventually own my name. My debt has become a noose around my neck and while I know that money doesn’t buy happiness, it would certainly allow me to afford the scissors to cut myself loose.

We shall see!

Confession: I Hate the Term “I Fell On Hard Times”

I have sat on this information for quite a while — since 2005 or 2006 actually. Before I get into this post, I’ll share that I have disabled the comments (don’t need any extra shit and lot of y’all aren’t as nice as you think you are).

Since March 2013, I’ve been debating on something really heavily – filing bankruptcy. Since January 14, 2014 at 7:44pm (CST), I’ve been crying my face off while telling myself that jumping from the Crescent City Connection won’t end my problems (because knowing my luck, I would somehow survive even though it’s so high up and I can’t swim).

Why would something make me cry this hard and contemplate ending my life though? Like many other people, I fell on hard times (but I hate this and I’ll explain why).

As of January 14, 2014 at 7:44pm (CST), I am the Co-Signer of two student loans that have since gone into default. I could buyout my portion and some of my freedom back for a mere $8,000 (the collections agency’s words, not mine…certainly not mine) if I act fast and do it before Friday.

Except it is the middle of the week and:

  • I am sleeping on a Cousin’s couch after having been put out of the place I was staying because I wasn’t bringing any money in. Honestly, I feel that my time here has run short and since I’m not a “Priority Group” within the Homeless Population, I don’t have a bed in anyone’s shelter.
  • I have applied and applied and applied to all kinds of jobs that I can think of. Here’s the latest sting in my life – I did a tiny experiment to see if people would hire me if they thought I had a record. Do you know I got two call backs? Apparently, companies get tax credits (or breaks) for hiring a percentage of this population and even if you’re overqualified, they’ll consider you if you’ve been to jail. Those two organizations have since put me on a “Do Not Hire” list…not that they were going to hire me to begin with.
  • In addition to the TWO student loans that have defaulted, I have my own loans to worry about. I’ve been making good faith payments to my companies of like $10, $20, or $40 when the money comes my way. Yet, even though they know I’m homeless, with a struggling business and no part-time job money, they insist on telling me how stupid I am for having gone to school, got two degrees and then unfortunately, have been unable to find a job in a market where jobs tend to go to people hiring folks know and not necessarily who can do the best job.
  • I am questioning if I actually made the right decision to leave a job that physically, mentally and emotionally made me sick because there was a steady paycheck even though my hair was falling out because everyone else has said that it was quite dumb.

With all that being said, I just want to say quickly that I hate the term “I fell on hard times.” Why? Because no one falls on that and if a person says that to you in a conversation, it means that you are actually an insensitive person who comes across as incapable of showing empathy because you would “never” find yourself in that situation.

Hindsight is ALWAYS 20/20 and that’s what people don’t want to admit. But you know what else people don’t want to talk about?

The emotional toll it takes on you. It’s emotionally taxing to keep the secret because you are embarrassed. You aren’t freed by sharing this because people judge you and tell you that “you should have just used a budget” and “well that wasn’t very smart and instead of helping you and not criticizing you, I’m going to tear you down more.” You don’t feel better when you admit it to yourself either. In my case, whenever I’m adult enough to answer my phone and not send my bill collectors to voicemail, I have arm and leg pain AND a migraine and chest pains for at least 24 hours. Seriously.

As I shared in another post, had I known back in 2004 that I would be facing this mountain of bullshit in January of 2014, I’d have dropped out and…well…I don’t know what I would have done. But I’d rather live a mediocre existence barely making ends meet THAN have to deal with other people pointing out how my own personal decision-making skills and not a flawed system is the reason I’m in this.

I didn’t fall on hard times. Like everyone else, this shit hit me like a f***ing ton of bricks.

NOTE: I disabled comments because I don’t want to read other strangers who have made questionable ass decisions in present day foolishness say how “stupid” that was of me. Sallie Mae has that on lock.

My Most Expensive Financial Mistake Ever

Many people tell you that you should postpone going after your dream if it’s an unconventional way to support yourself financially. Those who love you, usually older relatives that have succumbed to the demands of everyday life, will point out the majority of people that don’t make it when following a wacky dream similar to yours (this is especially true if the road is one of creativity like artist). Yet, on January 8, 2014, I sat ruminating on some things and it occurred to me that living safely netted me my most expensive financial mistake ever.

You are probably wondering what this mistake is but if you are like so many other people in the United States, especially hard-pressed and out-of-work Millennials, then you already have an idea of what I’m going to say.

My most expensive financial mistake ever is that I went to college*.

To my knowledge, I owe roughly $104,000 in student loans (I rounded up but only slightly). Thinking about my degrees (B.S. in Psychology and M.A. in Urban Education Policy), I’m grateful for the training and the amazing professors I studied under. However, 17-year-old me would make a completely different decision about life if she knew what I know now.

That’s a hard and frustrating pill to swallow.

I’m not upset about the limited advice that family members shared with me when I pondered whether I should go to college. After all, that next step is the logical step when you are talking about a person who had been on someone’s Honor Roll since kindergarten and excelled almost effortlessly when it came to academics (Physics does not count as Physics is Satan himself in some academic form). Why would an A-student want to be an artist or a dancer? Because that’s what she spent her free time doing.

And that’s the realization that hit me like a ton of bricks.

I feel (somewhat) hindered by what society deems as acceptable and I feel exposed admitting that I am a perfectionist who seeks the support and approval of others – part of why I’m in this hot shit right now. But the great thing about being exposed is that once you let go of the shame from your confession, you can move on.

In my case though, it’s too bad I can’t readily relieve myself of this chain I’m attached to.

With that being said, I made a personal vow to myself. From this day forward, I will focus on living my joy while sharing all of my Life Fails so that others don’t have to suffer like I did. I don’t know if Sallie Mae would consider this a job but they probably don’t care seeing as I can’t tell them how much I can contribute toward that late payment. It is my hope, as always, that those of you who read this blog take something from this painfully transparent post (don’t tell my Mom though, let me…thanks.) and apply it to your life. Life is for the living and you shouldn’t have to waste your time holed up in a cubicle or chained to a desk while wearing some “approved in the dress code outfit” to make a wage that will pitifully cover your living expenses.

Seriously.

The moral: Do what you want. Live in joy. The money will follow and you won’t find yourself on someone’s couch wondering where the hell you went wrong. The end.

*I want to say that I’m extremely grateful for every soul that I have ever come into contact with as a result of following a traditional course of study. Some of my closest friends and strongest supporters are in my life because of this. I hope that none of you read this as an expression that I could do without you because that couldn’t be further from the truth. I just wish I hadn’t wasted so much time doing something that I know in my heart of hearts doesn’t fill me with joy – which is hoping to share the “correct” answer in a lecture hall to receive some arbitrary mark of satisfactorily mastering material that some dead, white guys agreed on.

Finding Optimism in Financial Adversity

As of the writing of this post, I am still unemployed and legally homeless (I am gratefully staying with a relative). The final quarter of 2013 has been challenging to say the least and many days, it is a little hard to find optimism.

I remember reading once upon a time that the way to find more to be happy about is to be happy about what you have. For the most part, that is definitely true. But when you have days upon weeks upon months of challenges, it’s hard to be the picture of optimism.

It is especially tough when you felt like you did the absolute best for yourself by leaving your security net (of a job that didn’t really serve you well).

However, I do have a few things to be grateful for and that’s what I remain optimistic about. Here are my nuggets of gratitude:

  1. My business, Professional By Design NOLA, seems to be picking up at a steady pace which is AWESOME! I decided to focus on it full-time (while getting another full-time job as a second option) and I think that may be the best decision.
  2. The temp agency that I worked through in 2011 told me that I can come back fairly easily. This means that I’ll at least have a little bit of money coming in.
  3. A few people have asked me for some advice consulting wise which means that the people I’ve helped in the past have been saying good things. Also good.
  4. I have some of my Professional Self-Esteem back after an amazing opportunity to interview in another city. Although it didn’t work out, I’m going to remind myself that it means that my skill set is valuable (which is something I was struggling with).

So that’s it! Four things that have kept me pretty optimistic in the face of financial adversity. I hope to report soon that I have a second full-time job.

 

 

My Financial “Miss Celie” Moment (#31WriteNow)

I find something very interesting happening as I write the “Building Blocks for Building Wealth”™ series. Well, not interesting because the more I think about it, the more I expect that to happen. What I mean is that I don’t post about a rule until I feel comfortable posting about it.

And I don’t feel comfortable until I DO it.

With that being said, one the next steps is to “Realistically Examine Your Habits.” By that I mean, take a sobering look at the things you do financially. I’ve written before about habits with money, especially bad ones, stem from something emotional. If you are like me, you’ve had lots of time to practice HIDING those emotions and so you probably don’t know the root cause of your money beliefs.

Today I decided to come face-to-face with one of mine — I don’t open my mail.

Largely, I get reminders of bills and their due dates. When something majorly traumatic happens in my life, those reminders escalate into notices of “Hey! Girl you know you forgot to pay your bill???” and if something absolutely crazy happens, then those turn into shut off notices. Now what does this have to do with a Miss Celie Moment.

If you’ve ever seen The Color Purple*, then you know that there is a pivotal moment for the main character Celie Harris Johnson. During the holidays, Miss Celie is preparing a meal for a large group and Shug (one of my absolute favorite characters ever) happens upon a letter from Celie’s sister, Nettie. Now, Nettie is in Africa and has been for some time after being forced to leave the Mr’s house because of “personal differences**”. As Celie prepares the meal, Shug tells her that she has something to show her and they find an empty room in the house where Celie finally sees the letter. Shug realizes that there have to be more letters because Nettie and Celie were absolutely close…and lo-and-behold, after searching through Mr’s personal belongings, they find them. Shug tells Celie, “Put them in order by date” so she can read them. It is in this moment that Celie faces a truth that she must have either felt foolish for holding in her heart OR it dashes whatever craziness she made up about why her sister (Nettie) never wrote her.

So what does this have to do with me? Remember I said I don’t open my mail?

Well….yesterday I was cleaning up and came across a huge stack of mail. I mean, some things go as far back as April when I had my surgery. The other thing that happened was that I had to face the realization that I worked over 40 hours a week at a job and couldn’t even take care of myself during an extended absence from work. Craziness. Bananas. Downright wrong.

Since April, I’ve been on a silent campaign of not opening jack squat and yesterday it really bit me in the ass (excuse my language). When I took my extended leave from work, I removed all of the auto-payments for loans and utilities from my bank account. I needed to control the payments that hit the account so it wouldn’t overdraft. And I did. But I never remembered to actually pay the bills. The end result:

  • 3 months behind on electricity
  • 2 months behind on phone bill
  • 3 months behind on 4 of 5 of my student loan groups

I’d put numbers to those things…but I don’t want to cry.

The thing I realized while putting my mail in order is that I had a habit of “out of sight, out of mind.” Financially, that’s a dangerous habit and it’s scary to face that part of myself. Fiscally irresponsible isn’t something I’d ever call myself, but that stack of mail tells me that’s exactly what I am. What’s even more stressful is that I’m like many other Black women (well, women of color in particular) in that my income doesn’t just support Me. To me, I realize that I’ve been unfair to others who rely on me which makes me selfish in the wrong way.

So during yesterday’s Miss Celie Moment, I learned a lot about myself. Now I think I can move forward somewhat on getting cracking on these financial goals.

Have you ever experienced a Financial Miss Celie Moment? If so, what was it? Don’t be shy, just share it below.

*It is a great cinematic piece. You should see it. No really. See it if you haven’t already.

**I don’t want to go into why she left. But see the movie…if you haven’t already.