Organizing Paperwork and Debt

I have avoided opening mail for years. I knew that most likely it would be a letter saying that I owed money to so and so and it was this many months overdue it was. Letters from creditors that yet another account had gone to collections just taunting my credit score to drop even lower. Money was an emotional thing for me. I grew up seeing both my parents struggle with money, never feeling comfortable or being able to meet their financial dreams. Being in debt and not paying my bills made me feel like a bad person. I didn’t want to end up like my parents. What was wrong with me? How did my financial situation get to be how it is? There were many reasons. There were times where I took on a debt I shouldn’t have. There were times I simply didn’t have enough money to pay bills and eat food. There were times when I did have enough money to pay bills and eat food, but knew there would be a time soon enough where I wouldn’t have enough money so I “lived it up” while I had the chance. I was immature and my priorities weren’t in the right place. I didn’t trust myself. I felt my financial situation was so hopeless and I didn’t have enough control to make it any better. Getting through college and being in a long term relationship was enough for me to handle that, emotionally, I couldn’t really focus on being financially responsible. I was trying so hard to create a good life and could only handle so much. I was fragile back then. Couldn’t really see too far into the future. There were so many times I tried to sit down, organize all my paperwork and debt. I would get so easily frustrated, feel hopeless, and two days letter the unopened mail would start piling up again. My phone would ring at least a few times a day, receiving calls from various creditors. I was in denial, thinking it would somehow magically improve without me changing a thing. One day I’d just make more money and everything would work out. For years and years, throughout college and the first 5 years after, I lived like this.

Slowly, however, I started to take control. I knew I didn’t want to live like that forever, and money and I started to work on our relationship. I got my student loan accounts under control, this was about a year and 1/2 long process. I started being better about not accepting more debt. I said no to some very cute pairs of shoes and delicious take-out meals to reduce my cost of living. I got more consistent paying our monthly bills. I even started saving (gasp). 

This past week I decided that money and I had a good enough relationship that I could tackle the paperwork pile, organize my debt (how much do I really owe!), and get a system that will allow me to stay on top of it. I open and sorted paperwork for hours. I labeled, filed, and shredded. I noticed some of the mail I was opening was debt I had already paid off so that was quite encouraging. Four debt accounts actually were already paid off! It felt so freeing to be able to look at my financial situation honestly and feel hopeful about it, not just hopeful but confident that it is totally doable to improve. I felt much better about myself, proud of what I had worked hard to grow into. It feels good to have things in order, it feels less emotionally chaotic. I am mature enough to understand that paying down debt now and living more frugally now will benefit us later. I know I have the power and trust myself more and more each month to make the right decisions. Of course things haven’t been perfect and I’ve made a few mistakes, but I can easily forgive my slips and move on. I focus and trying harder the next month, seeing that I am continually making progress. I can now see the longevity of life and how today’s choices will impact me in the future (I’ve read that a million times on posters, but I guess I had to live a little to really understand the meaning and impact). My two largest financial dreams is to pay off all debt, yes even student loans which will probably be in 40 years, and to buy a house for my family. I have some regrets knowing that if I was smarter when I was younger, these two goals would be more in reach than they are today, but I have hope for the future and am trying to do my best each day to be proactive, make good choices, and think about the big picture. 




Money, money, money. . . MONEY!!!

I hope you can hear the OJ’s song “For the love of money” when you read my title 🙂 You can watch them here Anyway, back to my issues. I have emotional issues with money. The thought of paying the power bill stresses me out even though we can totally afford it. I think, like all my other mental gunk, that it stems from my childhood. Don’t all of our adult problems?! I grew up poor. I saw my family make silly mistakes. Bankruptcies, foreclosures, repossessions,  collection calls, going to bed hungry, not being able to be on the soccer team, all of these things were a part of my life growing up. Because of this I vowed to try harder, go to college, and be able to support myself as an adult. I got my first job before I turned 16 so that I could start working as soon as I was legal. I spent ages 16-17 living with my father, then a friend, then my mother. My parents did the best they could, but I wasn’t supported by my parents in the way that I needed and felt that I was solely responsible for my life, both at that moment and in the future. As a high-schooler, I paid for my own gas and groceries. I diligently applied for scholarships and received the most scholarships of anyone in my graduating class. Life was chaotic for me in those years and I was being asked to be an adult at a young age, but I was going to break the cycle and get out no matter what!

My husband and I moved in together when I was only 17. We had zero help from our families and were completely on our own to pay all of our living expenses and my college tuition. I was a full-time college student and full-time pre-school teacher. He was a full-time golf course worker. We both worked hard in our younger years, but because of bad role modeling and immaturity we made a few small mistakes with our money; little credit cards that we shouldn’t have got, buying too many candle holders from Target, forgetting to pay our cable bill and having it turned off, and going out much too often! Each time we slipped up, I was transported back to my youth where money was an emotional thing. Getting my cable turned off made me feel like a bad person. Having to take out student loans to pay for college made me feel like a bad person. Buying that candle holder instead of saving made me feel like a bad person. Over the years I worked on my emotional ties with money. I tried to learn to allow myself to make mistakes. I attempted to put my financial situation in perspective with my past and the responsibility I had to take on early in life, but it was still hard. I was surrounded my peers who were given so much that I either didn’t have, or had to work my ass off for. I struggled not to believe that my life being so hard wasn’t somehow intrinsically tied to my self worth. 4 years later, with lots of hard work  and tears, I graduated from the University of Washington with honors, no repossessions, no evictions, no bankruptcies!!

When I graduated college, I felt that our financial struggles were over!! I graduated college with little debt other than a gigantic pile of student loans. But sucky for me, I graduated right as the economy crashed. I wasn’t able to get a job right out of school. I ended up selling shitty shit (i.e. hair accessories, balsamic vinegar  hair removal products) at country fairs and women shows. I also worked as a substitute teacher. While I was making money, it definitely wasn’t a consistent source of income and we were barely surviving. Financial emotional meltdown again!! I didn’t work so hard for all those years to sell shitty-shit!! Again, I struggled with not tying my financial situation to my self worth. Didn’t I deserve a break for goodness sake?

After 6 months, I got a full-time teaching job and finances were stable for once. We could pay our bills, save, and put some aside. Isn’t it funny how when things are going good, you think your issues are solved? I thought I was over my money emotions, but I wasn’t. I didn’t learn this however until two months ago when my husband lost his job. I tumbled again into emotional despair and the feeling of inadequacy. Just when we were able to move out of our shitty 1st apartment that we had lived in for 7 years. Just when we were able to start saving. Just when we were able to live the life that everyone else was just given. I had intense fear that everything we had worked so hard for would be snatched away. Thankfully, he got a new job three weeks later and had already been a full-time college student for a year and a half. We’ve had to make a few small adjustments to our budget and financially we are okay. Emotionally, I still need to work on not allowing money to determine my self worth. I need to let go of the fear that comes with the the un-known and change. I need to remember that all the people in my life love me no matter the balance of my checking account, that I am a fabulous person who didn’t deserve any of these challenges. One of my favorite quotes from my husband is, “Even if we have to sell pencils out of a cardboard box, I will always love you.” I need to remember that.