Why is Forgiving Financial Failures is So Difficult?
Some of the most profound struggles we can experience are the unseen. Emotions like regret, guilt and the inability to forgive are stubborn and painful. The mass of information available online espousing mindfulness, stress management, letting go of past regrets and self-forgiveness attests to the fact that people are struggling. This stuff is in demand precisely because people are in pain. It’s not easy to forgive others who have slighted you, but it’s even more difficult to forgive yourself for your own mistakes, especially when it comes to forgiving financial failures.
Regrets:? We All Have Them
I know I am not the only one who sometimes lies awake at night watching a never ending reel-to-reel of ?if only I had/hadn?t.? Some of them are really harsh. For example, ?if only I hadn?t been cruel to my mother as a teenager. Now she is dead and there is no turning back.? But I find that, with practice, I can learn to forgive myself for many of the foolish things I have done in the past that have hurt others and myself.
I know I am not the only one who sometimes lies awake at night watching a never ending reel -to-reel of ?if only I had/hadn?t.?
I know I am human and humans sometimes make grave mistakes. We acknowledge them, learn to forgive ourselves, and are often able to eventually move on over time. But financial mistakes such as ?if only I hadn?t been so irresponsible with my credit cards.? or ??if only I hadn?t taken out that student loan my last semester,? are much harder to get over. And there are valid reasons for this.
I find that the difference between personal regrets and financial regrets is that many personal regrets are only kept alive in our minds. If we learn to practice self-compassion, this can lead us to self-forgiveness. And this, in turn, can allow us to let go of the past. Our regrets fade and fall off of our radar as something that we have already dealt with. Time and distance allow us to mature beyond them.
The difference between personal and financial failures.
Of course, this is much easier to do when there is nothing around you to continually remind you of your wrong doings. If someone is in your face repeatedly reminding you of your past mistakes, it?s a hell of a lot harder to move on. And this leads us to the problem with financial regrets and why they are so hard to get over.
Financial regrets usually have to do with debt. And debt has this nasty characteristic of popping up every month when we have to make a damn payment. Many of us are already suffering daily in a very tangible way because of our past financial mistakes. And then, to add insult to injury, we end up re-living the pain of our financial failures each time we have to pay our bills. So it raises the question: ??How can we learn to forgive ourselves for our financial failures when they are always in our face???
Financial regrets usually have to do with debt. And debt has this nasty characteristic of popping up every month when we have to make a damn payment. How do we move on?
I know the feeling well. Sitting there each month, doling out your salary in chunks that barely put a dent in your credit card balances. The student loan balance that just seems to increase no matter how long you’ve been paying it. The feelings of desperation, frustration, shame, and regret. We tend to feel that we alone are financially suffocating while beating ourselves up for it. But here’s the thing, we are not alone.
You are not alone. Half the country is barely making it.
We try to say, ?what?s done is done.? We try to say, ?oh well, there is nothing I can do about it now.? But it doesn?t seem to lessen the pain we feel each month when our debts take a bite out of the salary we have traded hours of our life for. If this strikes a chord with you at all, I just want you to know that you are not alone. 50% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and just as many Americans are ?concerned, anxious or fearful about their current financial well-being? on a daily basis. Why are so many of us suffering from this?
We are forced to use the credit system to be able to obtain basic necessities. We really don?t have a choice.
We are virtually a nation of debtors, and it is somehow wrong. We have to have a good credit score to do anything in our modern economic system, from gaining employment to renting an apartment. And in order to build a good credit score, we have to get a credit card. We are literally trained to use credit – ie tobecome good debtors right out of the gate before many of us even understand what the terms APR and interest actually mean. We were just not taught about this in school. And once you?ve gotten sucked into the debt web, ?it?s a really hard trap to escape.
Car payments, mortgage payments, credit card payments, student loan payments. When wages haven?t increased in years but interest rates and the cost of living most definitely have, we end up struggling to stretch our earnings. We end up struggling for time. Time=money=chunks of our life. We truly are fighting for our life.
Depression and Anxiety are the most Common Illnesses in America
I sometimes wonder whether the explosion in the antidepressant pharmaceutical market isn?t related to the fact that living this way can make people depressed. Nearly 20% of the adults in America suffer from anxiety and/or depression. Why? We live in a first world country with conveniences people in developing or war-torn countries only dream of. What is wrong with us? Could it be that our financial system is contributing to depression and anxiety -? the most common illnesses in America? I think about this a lot.
We live in a first world country with conveniences people in developing or war torn countries only dream of. What is wrong with us?
We are trained to believe from a very young age that we are not enough.
Acceptance, the first step in any kind of forgiveness practice, is particularly difficult when we are bombarded with messages from all kinds of media that tell us we just aren?t enough unless we have ?this new thingy or that new thingy.? We can try reason it away, but the messages still get through whether or not we are paying attention to them. We are raised to be good consumers before we are even able to talk.?
But here’s the thing. We are no longer mammals in a forest that need to cling to each other to survive. Nor will we die if we are alone. How many FB friends we have, “likes’ we get, people who admire us for our house, car, or clothes… this is a shallow and fleeting type of happiness. It does not stick.
Just look at how media glorifies a celebrity one week only to vilify them the next. People are fickle. We are living in an age where we have to turn to ourselves for happiness first. We have to learn to believe that we are already enough. Think about it this way, people are drawn to innately happy people. If we are truly worried about acceptance and we learn how to take responsibility for our own happiness first, the rest will follow.?
Awareness opens the door for self-compassion
We really need to analyze?what types of messages are getting in and laying low in our subconscious. What we are experiencing from all platforms of media is, in effect, a type of war for our minds. The struggle is real, it really is. The messages we receive from media that tell us we need more, and the reminders of our own personal financial struggles every time we pay the bills can make up a strange type of circular hell.?
The messages we receive from media that tell us we need more, and the reminders of our own personal financial struggles every time we pay the bills can make up a strange type of circular hell.?
However, knowledge truly is power. So, I?m just gonna say it. Our financial system is ridiculous. Consumerism is out of control and unsustainable and most of us are deeply embedded in it, both financially and psychologically. The very fact that we have to go into debt to educate ourselves at the beginning of our adult lives speaks to this.?
Understanding this might help you be a bit kinder to yourself. If you keep this in mind, while it might not help you get out of debt faster, it may help lessen the sting of being in debt already and allow you to practice some self-compassion which can lead to self-forgiveness. And that is what we are after because the inability to forgive yourself is a barrier to your own happiness.?
Learn to believe that you are enough.
Realistically, it may take years for many of us to pay down debt. It’s a sad fact that some of us may not even outlive our debt. So, if we continue to keep our happiness pegged to our financial situation, what kind of life are we living??
I do not believe we were born simply to stress and worry ourselves sick about money. We have to learn how to reprogram our mode of self-reflection and stop judging ourselves based upon our how many debts or assets we have accumulated. And we have to learn to forgive our financial failures by practicing self-compassion.
If we continue to keep our happiness pegged to our financial situation,?what kind of life are we living?
Practicing self-compassion around financial mistakes means that we acknowledge that, in our capitalist society, the cards are stacked against us. Advertisers exploit our emotions — our need to ?fit in,? our fear of exile, our unending quest for ?the good life,” our desire for the perfect mate.?Once we understand this, we can work to squash this mindset. We can learn to believe that we are enough regardless of the car we drive, the house we live in, the phone model we upgrade to and the clothes we wear. This is an inside job and only you can do it.?
An Alternative View
There is a movement today of people who are practicing frugality and minimalism. Frugality turns the old ?keeping up with Joneses? on its head and says, quite frankly, ?I give zero f^cks about what others think about my lifestyle.? And when you think about it, this is a much healthier way to live. But it takes practice. You will notice some resistance from old belief systems, but this is normal and it will pass over time. When you encounter resistance, deconstruct it. Ask yourself why it is there. You will see that it is illogical.
Breaking down our inner fears.
I remember how embarrassed I used to be when I would drop my son off at school in a 1979 beat up Datsun. It made me cringe. Personally, I didn?t care what car I drove, but when waiting in the roundabout in front of his school amidst so many BMWs and Mercedes, I felt less than. And this feeling would double back on me in the form of regret. For if I hadn’t had that massive student loan payment, I would be in a nicer car. I remember carrying this feeling with me throughout the day. It affected me deeply, but it was only in my mind.
We don?t want people to look down on us. We are terrified of being deemed a ?scrounge or a loser.? These are words that were thrown at us in elementary school. As adults, we carry this garbage in our heads throughout our lives. My grandmother used to be horrified about what people would think if I wore jeans with holes in them. This stuff is handed down to us through generations of poverty-fear. It?s ironic, we are afraid to be seen as debtors so we become good consumers and stay in debt!
It?s ironic, we are afraid to be seen as debtors so we become good consumers and stay in debt!
My Wake Up Call
One year ago I began to suffer from chronic stomach problems and severe cluster headaches. I was working an extremely stressful job that paid me just enough to keep a certain lifestyle and manage my debts. Although I was terrified to let go of that job, I knew I had to change something. Stressing out over trying to maintain a certain lifestyle coupled with the haunting pain of my financial regrets was killing me. Something had to give.
For awhile I just didn?t know what to do. How was I going to survive? No matter what angle I looked at it from, it kept coming back to this:? Downgrade or die. And to be honest, in order to feel good about downsizing, I had to forgive myself for my financial failures at the same time. I couldn’t keep up the game of kicking myself for being in debt while simultaneously pretending that I was financially viable enough to sustain my lifestyle. It just didn’t make sense anymore.
I couldn’t keep up the game of kicking myself for being in debt while simultaneously pretending that I was financially viable enough to sustain my lifestyle. It just didn’t make sense anymore.
At first it was scary. It was a huge lifestyle and mindset change. But once I got used to living with less, I found it did not make a difference. I didn’t miss ‘things.” I felt that I had developed a secret insight into our inane consumerist patterns that gave me leverage and freedom. I still have debt but I need so much less. So, I don’t have to trade huge chunks of my life away toiling under duress because I think I am supposed to live a certain way.
I also discovered that nobody really gives a shit that my jacket is 10 years old. People are more concerned about whether you are kind to them than whether you look better than them. I no longer judge myself by the clothes I wear or the electronics I use. Think about it. Do you care if your friend has a brand new pair of boots? Do you really care? No, of course not. Nobody cares!?If anyone actually does treat you differently because of where you live, what you wear, or what you drive, they are not worth your time.
If anyone actually does treat you differently because of where you live, what you wear, or what you drive, they are not worth your time.
People are overly worried about how they themselves are perceived in terms of the material. This can cause them to continue to spend money they don’t have on products they don’t need and then feel bad about it – for an illusion. Can you see the insanity in this?
Try to keep an open mind. Ask yourself some honest questions. Is it really impossible to change your lifestyle? Perhaps you don?t need to live where you are living. Perhaps you don?t need to pay a huge full coverage insurance premium and a hefty car payment to drive the car you are in. You have to ask yourself what metrics you are using to judge yourself. Only you know the answer to these questions.?
1 – Learn to practice self-forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not a one-time event. It is a practice. Get help from outside sources if you need to. As I mentioned above, there are a ton of free resources, books, websites and forums available on this topic. You don’t need to spend a bunch of money for a therapist. Google is your friend. Know that you are not the only one suffering. This is an epidemic. A whole movement of people is trying to rid themselves of these nasty negative emotions. Again, you are not alone.?
When we are held prisoner by our own past actions, or the actions of others, our present life cannot be fully lived. The resentment, the partially experienced pain, the unwelcome inheritance?we carry from the past, all function to close our hearts and thereby narrow our worlds. – Sharon Salzberg, Loving Kindness
2 – Change the way you look at consumption
Learning to live with less is a process. It doesn?t happen overnight. Start by asking yourself if the things you think you can?t live without are actually worth the financial stress you are suffering. What would really happen if you let go of them? There is no ?right? lifestyle anymore. It’s all subjective.
For me, getting rid of things I didn’t use was the first step in learning that I could live with very little which had the knock-on effect of changing my spending habits. And I will just add this important fact:? sooner or later we will all have to change our consumerist lifestyle en masse because the planet simply cannot sustain it. So why not start now?
It takes a while to reach this level of anti-consumption, but if you keep it up, you?ll get there…You will suddenly realize why depression and health problems so often go along with debt problems. ?You learn about yourself because you?ve shed your skin of consumer culture. ?You?ve taken a step back and you can finally see yourself and everything around you much more clearly. ?You figure out what matters and what doesn?t. ?And, you learn this much earlier than most people which means you have the rest of your life to be happy.? – Mr. Money Mustache
No matter how far in debt you are, you are not powerless.
You have the power to forgive yourself. You have the power to need less, downsize and live more frugally. It is possible. You can improve your quality of life whether you have debt or not. Don?t let your debt define you. Reclaim your mind from the status quo and detach your self-worth from the claws of our economic system. In the end, we aren’t going to care about the things we owned, we are going to care about the time we have left to live. Don’t wait until the end.?
Money Stories:? There were very few things Eleni couldn’t handle. Her mother’s untimely death, the loss of a business, her husband’s injuries, and a special needs son. But managing consumer debt anxiety almost took her down. Then cancer called and changed everything. Adapted from an interview with Eleni Ross.
My financial education was the school of hard knocks…
I don?t remember ever receiving any education in personal finance in high school. I majored in Anthropology in college and frankly, I never thought of taking economics classes because I felt that they were tedious and boring. Everything I?ve learned about personal finance was through the school of hard knocks, just by going through it and screwing up.
I first became aware of personal finances and having a bank account when I was a senior in high school. I had my first job at the dime store in the town where I lived. They paid you in checks, so I had to open a bank account to cash them. After a while, I started getting offers for credit cards in the mail. I think my first credit cards were a Macy’s and a Chevron card.?By the time I entered college, I had a Visa. But I didn?t use it very much. I might buy a pair of shoes, and then pay it off when the bill came.?
My mom was diagnosed with colon cancer when I was 16 years old. And although she had radiation, it came back and moved to her liver. So, by the time I was college age, mom was undergoing chemotherapy every week. I didn?t want go away to college because I wanted to be there with Mom to support her. So I lived at home and drove to UC Berkeley everyday in a car my mom owned. She paid the insurance and I paid my own gas. I never worried about money then.
Mom left me a small trust and a paid off house…
I was still in college when my mom passed away. I remember that she died in June, right after finals. When Mom died, she left me the house and a bit of money in a trust. There wasn?t a lot of money, but there was enough for me to finish college. And the house was paid for. My uncle was the executor and he would just dole out a bit of money if I needed it.? This is why I didn?t really worry about money then, either.
…but I had no education in personal finance.
After returning to college the next semester, I met my future husband. We fell in love and began living together. He was an auto-mechanic and wasn?t making very much money at that time. After a few months, we actually started to run out of money. ?That’s when I started using credit cards to fill in the gaps.
We started using our credit cards as a type of income.
We started using our credit cards as a type of income. We?d use them to get gas, we?d use them to get groceries, and eventually, by the time I graduated from college, we were carrying some pretty big credit card balances.
After we got married, we decided we needed to fix the house. The house was in significant disrepair. The roof was leaking and the bathrooms and kitchen needed to be redone. We figured we could take a loan out on the house, do some repairs and upgrades, and get a little extra to pay off our credit card balances at the same time.
Our house became an ATM
We live in a very affluent area. Everyone around us drove expensive cars and had expensive toys. To be honest, that lifestyle sort of rubbed off on us. I think it was when we decided to buy a really expensive car that things started to get out of control. The payments on that car were about $500 a month, and the insurance was ridiculously high. But we didn?t really see it for what it was because, by then, we had learned how to take a line of credit on the house. This was in 1999, and it was the beginning of a long spiral.
We wanted to fit in with our environment. We wanted to be like everyone else…We were young and naive, and we just couldn’t see over the horizon. We couldn’t see what was coming.
Looking back, I can see how we began to use the house as an ATM. We?d rack up the credit card debt, and then we?d refinance again. We?d get a line of credit, pay off our car loan. We’d buy a new car and do it again. This became a pattern. But the reality is, we just didn?t need a fancy Mercedes Benz or a brand new BMW every few years.
Keeping up with the Joneses was a trap.
I believe now that we felt really pushed to keep up with the Joneses and be like everyone around us. But we just didn?t get that we didn?t have the money for that. Property values were skyrocketing at the time and it was super easy to get refinancing. Like many people during this time, we would use home appreciation value to justify these purchases. We were young and naive, and we just couldn’t see over the horizon. We couldn’t see what was coming.
For a while, things were ok. The payments weren?t astronomical and we were both working decent full-time jobs. I was working for an auto body shop when I got pregnant with our son.
Our son was born slightly autistic, and I didn?t want my son to be raised by babysitters. I wanted to be there with him everyday. So I decided to quit my job and go freelance as an independent auto-appraiser so I could raise my son myself. The downside was that my pay was no longer consistent. That’s when things started to get out of control.
I started using credit cards as an income patch to cover our monthly expenses when my pay came up short. I’d refinance the house again to try and manage the credit card balances. But this time, I actually kept it a secret from my husband. I was afraid to talk about our financial problems because I wanted him to feel that everything was ok. I didn?t want my husband to worry and I wanted to be able to raise my son myself.
I was afraid to talk about our financial problems because I wanted him to feel that everything was ok.?
But the truth is, it just wasn?t sustainable and I knew this. My income was inconsistent and the credit card interest rates were climbing through the roof. I was ashamed that couldn’t make it work, but not telling my husband was the biggest mistake I made. Not talking about money made everything worse.?
Eventually, our financial situation forced me to give in and get a full-time job at a high end auto body shop. While I was making an excellent salary, it was an incredibly stressful position, and I had already screwed us with the high interest debt. So not only were we still struggling financially, I had a lot of debt anxiety and was totally stressed out everyday.
I decided to hire one of those sketchy credit settlement companies because I just couldn?t refinance the house anymore.
I also decided to hire one of those sketchy credit card settlement companies to handle the credit card debt because I just couldn?t handle it anymore. The stress of the job, the debt anxiety, and the threatening phone calls from collectors – it was taking a toll on me. When the credit settlement company told me to stop making payments on my credit card bills and pay them instead, the phone calls finally stopped, but my credit score went into the toilet.
Meanwhile, my husband decided to start his own auto repair business. We knew things would be tight at first, but we had a good business plan. There were some months in the beginning where he didn?t bring in any money at all, and our mortgage began to fall behind. I became scared that the bank was going to foreclose on our house.
This was in 2008, right when the subprime mortgage crisis was exploding, and, of course, I had a crappy subprime mortgage. On top of that, we discovered that our business partner was not only ignoring the bills, but was also actually stealing money from the business! We had to hire an attorney and kick him out. This definitely set us back.?
Finally, my husband’s hard work paid off and the business started to pick up.
For the next two years we were hurting badly. I remember my son even had holes in his shoes. I hated my job, but I was stuck there because we had nothing else. I began to experience constant anxiety. Everything was slowly falling behind but we hung in there. Finally, my husband?s hard work paid off and the business started to pick up. Things were going really well. At last I felt that everything was going to be ok.
A car came out of nowhere.
In 2010, just when our luck was turning, my husband was struck by a car making an illegal U-turn. The car hit his motorcycle and broke his foot. He couldn?t put any weight on his foot. He had to put his leg on a chair and try to finish the cars he had in the shop. He also had to hire someone to help him. As a result, he couldn?t take in any more new business.
Just when we thought we were starting to pull out of financial hell, my husband?s injury brought us right back down. We decided we would have to close the business after all, and when the business lease came up for renewal, we let it go.
Just when we thought we were starting to pull out of financial hell, my husband?s injury brought us right back down again.
Eventually, my husband?s foot recovered and he got a job at a shop as an auto mechanic. But the injury to my husband?s foot had weakened his strength due to inactivity. And shortly thereafter, he blew two discs in his back at work. He was in incredible pain and had to go on disability again. We were back in the struggle to try and cover our mortgage.
Close to the brink: the threat of losing our home.
This is when I tried to do loan modifications with my mortgage company. First I was told that we made too much money. Then they?d say I didn?t make enough money. I thought that my husband?s disability might make a difference, but the bank always came up with a different excuse as to why they couldn?t approve us. I think I tried to modify the loan about 6 times during this period.
Our subprime mortgage had originally been with Wachovia, but it changed hands about 3 times within in a year or so, eventually ending up at Wells Fargo. It seemed that I just couldn?t get anywhere with it. It was crazy. I was always asking, ?Who am I paying now?? By this time it was 2011. And we were finally warned of foreclose.
By now it was 2011. And we were finally warned of foreclose.
Still, I kept looking for ways out. Our son?s school district had a great program for special needs kids. He even had an aid that attended all of his classes with him to keep him on task. I didn?t want to disrupt his life. I needed to keep my son in that school district. So, even though there was equity in the house that could have dug us out if we sold, I refused to give up trying to save it.
It was Christmas 2011 when I received the phone call that turned everything upside down. My routine annual physical and mammogram resulted in a phone call. I was told I needed to return for an ultrasound, then again for a biopsy. Two days after Christmas, the hospital called me at work, and all I heard was, ?Bla, bla, bla, you have cancer.?
I remember locking myself in the bathroom at work and completely falling apart. Everything stopped. In that moment, sobbing uncontrollably, I just didn?t care about money anymore. I couldn’t even think. I had to have my husband pick me up from work because I was too upset to drive home.?
Two days after Christmas, they called me at work, and all I heard was, ?Bla, bla, bla, you have cancer.?
How cancer saved my life.
Ironically, I still say that cancer saved my life. By the time I got that phone call, I had gained 70 pounds, was stressed out of mind, and my blood pressure was through the roof. If cancer didn’t stop me, something worse may have.?The constant pressure to chase the dollar, to move money around to cover this and that liability, the overwhelming debt anxiety, was slowly killing me. But when I got cancer, all of this just stopped. It was a wake up call. I just let the debt anxiety go.
Because my husband was also on disability for his back at the same time, he was able to stay home and support me through the cancer, which helped me tremendously. It turned out that although I had to have a mastectomy, I didn?t need radiation or chemo. I actually recovered from the cancer in 5 months, and I am still cancer free today.
When I got cancer, all of this just stopped. It was a wake up call. I just let the debt anxiety go.
Learning to let go.
After I had fully recovered, the thought of returning to that high-stress job overwhelmed with me anxiety. This time, I just wasn’t having it. I told my company I wasn?t ready to come back, and they insisted that I get a doctor to justify the extension.
When I talked to the doctor about my anxiety, the doctor told me to take antidepressants and get back to work. But I didn?t want to take antidepressants. So, I started seeing a psychologist instead. I told my psychologist, ?I just don?t want to do this anymore!? He responded, ?Then, don?t.? So, I went in and quit my job.
The doctor told me to take antidepressants and get back to work.?
Now, I knew this was a risk. But I had talked to my husband about it, and he was very supportive of my decision to quit that job. I had been living with debt anxiety and trying to save our house for years. But cancer made me realize, ?You know what? You only get one life!?
I hadn?t been spending enough time with my family and everything felt wrong. What’s more, I started noticing this in other people’s lives as well. I could see that there were a lot of people in our area who drove fancy cars and seemed to have tons of money – ?but who were absolutely miserable. Joneses or not, I knew I didn’t want any part of this anymore.
At this point, I was at constant risk of foreclosure, had no job, no income, no credit, a husband on disability, a special needs child…and only one boob! We finally surrendered and filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy so we could at least save the house. We were able to make the Chapter 13 payments for awhile and were temporarily saved from foreclosure. But one month, we just didn?t have the money and we missed a payment. The Chapter 13 protection was dropped, and the foreclosure game began again.
I could see that there were a lot of people in our area who drove fancy cars and seemed to have tons of money – ?but who were absolutely miserable. Joneses or not, I knew I didn’t want any part of this anymore.
A silver lining through the struggle
A few months later, my husband?s back recovered and he was able to get back to work. At the same time, I also found a job with a much better work/life balance. I was making about 30% less in salary, but I had full benefits again and a company car, so it sort of made up for it.
While we were now finally both making a steady incomes again, I was still constantly filing for loan modifications to delay foreclosure. I think overall I must have made around 12 attempts over 3 years to modify the loan to save the house.?The truth is, the bank simply wouldn?t let us make payments. I told them I just wanted to reset the mortgage and start paying, but they just wouldn?t take our money. It was maddening. They wouldn?t let us put it on the back end. They demanded all the back payments in full. Something like $75,000. We just didn?t have it.
For the entire year of 2013, we lived like squatters in our own house. We never knew when the rug would be pulled out from underneath us, but it just never happened. There was nothing we could do, but wait and find out. And the waiting was brutal.?
They were going to auction the house in 90 days.
Then, in 2014, we came home one day, and there was the foreclosure notice posted right on our front door. Our biggest fear, realized. They were going to auction the house in 90 days. We had to make a move. We contacted a real estate agent we knew to help us sell the house before it was auctioned, because we didn?t know what else we could do.
How we finally saved our house
The real estate agent told me to try for one more loan modification to buy us more time to sell the house by pushing the foreclosure date. Of course, I wasn?t expecting anything, I was just going through the motions again. But when I got the phone call from the loan modification officer, he said,?Congratulations, you?ve been approved!? I was absolutely floored. Just when I’d finally accepted that I’d have to let go of the house, it was saved.
I got the phone call from the loan modification officer, he said,?Congratulations, you?ve been approved!?
Though we?ve managed to save the house, the payments are outrageous. But my son is almost out of high school. We will eventually downsize and move to a less expensive area. I’ve learned some valuable lessons throughout this journey.
I now realize that I’ve always looked at credit as available income. And it?s absolutely not.
The biggest lesson I?ve learned was to live without credit. If I can?t afford something today, I just don?t buy it. I now realize that somehow I?d always looked at credit as available income. And it?s absolutely not.
1. Things are not important.
I?ve also learned not to care what kind of car I drive, or whether I am able to buy the things that the people around me buy. Things are not important. Getting cancer and surviving wiped all of that nonsense away. All that is important is my health, my family, and that we are going to be ok no matter what because we are together.
2. People need to talk about money problems.
Everybody has money problems. Even people with money have money problems. But people don?t talk about it. You could even say that people with more money have even more money problems.?
3. Some decisions are in your control. Some are not.
People don?t want to talk about money because they?re ashamed. But they shouldn?t be because, well, shit happens. You make some bad decisions. Things come up. Situations change. And some things you just can?t control.?
You can?t control getting cancer. You can?t control having an autistic child. You can?t control a Prius making a U-turn around a blind corner when you?re coming around on your motorcycle.? But you can control whether or not you buy an expensive car just to try to fit in. And this is the stuff we need to talk about.
4. Take control of your money before a crisis hits.
Unfortunately, for many of us, we are somewhat blind to our financial mistakes until a crisis hits.?
Unfortunately, for many of us, we are somewhat blind to our financial mistakes until a crisis hits. We go along, trying to keep up with the world, living overextended lives and trying to manage our debt anxiety. We need to get over this money shame because, seriously, I believe it has the power to ruin your life.
5. Gratitude is powerful. Realize how lucky you are.
Today, I am not ashamed to share my story, because I hope that others can learn from it. I didn’t know anything about personal finance before I began this journey. Now I do. But everything that has happened to me has made me realize how lucky I am – to have my health, to have my family, to have my life. Those are the important things. And they have nothing to do with what kind of car I drive.
– Eleni Ross
WellWallet Money Stories is ?a place where real people share their stories of financial struggle, loss, perseverance, and triumph. If you have a money story that needs to be told, please submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will never publish your name without your permission. You can use a pen name or choose to remain anonymous. Or you can submit photos and go fully candid. It’s up to you. We all have money stories, and we need to talk about them. It is through sharing our stories that we heal, grow and learn from each other.
Being a rebel isn?t easy. In fact, it?s downright hard.
I was born with an extreme distaste for anything related to schedules, authority, discipline, cultural institutions, expectations, and most of all, responsibility. I?ve always wanted freedom more than anything else, and I always figured, hey, that?s okay. The world needs every type of person, so I can fill that role. Little did I know what I was up against.
The source of all things
I was born into a seriously wacky family in the early 1970?s. Two hippie parents who did lots of drugs and dressed like Cher and Jim Morrison. My Dad took off when I was 3 because he is afflicted with the same disease that I have: rebel disease (otherwise known as a great fear of responsibility). So, I was raised by and large by my mother?s family. A huge Slavic and Italian Catholic family whose motto seems to be, ?If you?re not outdoing the Joneses, you?re doing something wrong.? They?re all very materialistic, and though super successful in their respective fields, they tend to spend way more than they make. Designer everything, big houses and fancy cars.
There?s a strange entitlement to the way they live. So much so, that one aunt has been left homeless for the last year due to her spending. Yet she still gets her hair done in salons and buys Starbucks coffee daily. 90% of them have been addicted to drugs and alcohol at some point in their lives. My mother?s best financial advice to me was, ?Marry rich!!!!!?, repeated almost daily. Thanks, mom.
Even though I had these crazy spenders teaching me financial ruin by example, luckily I also have my father?s Jewish side to thank for my natural inclination when it comes to money. Somehow my mind just automatically tracks every dollar coming in and out and I don?t even try! Yay to genetics!
My rebelliousness started to show when I decided to skip class in middle school. I felt like a trapped animal in school, so I?d just go to the churchyard and look at the grave stones for a period to get some fresh air. My grades were terrible. And since my mom had this ingenious plan that I would ?marry rich? someday, she didn?t seem all that bothered by it.
During middle school, I started making art and decided that would be my future. I mean HELLO, it was perfect. Artists didn?t have to go to academic colleges and have jobs. Yuck!
My high school boyfriend encouraged me to audition for the magnet arts school he attended, hoping to score me a future. True to the genetics passed down by my crazy Slavic/Italian family, when I was interested in something, I could excel in that area. So, I got in and worked my butt off. I got scholarships to my dream art school for college and attended.
College was ROUGH. My Dad was supposed to pay for my college education but had only saved for a state school. His exact words were, ?I didn?t save for you to go to HARVARD!?. Thanks, Dad. Not that I was going to Harvard, but it was an expensive private school, so I took out loans and was left with very little money to live on. I lived in an unheated basement in a house in Baltimore. I remember being so hungry, I would steal morsels of food from the refrigerator and pray that my roommates wouldn?t notice. I made money by working at the school library, waiting tables, and selling marijuana. But I was still so broke.
Living the high life
After graduating, I was going to be an artist of course, and sell paintings for thousands of dollars and live a bohemian life. It sounded like a great financial plan to me. I hadn?t factored in the general irrelevance of art to American culture at large, and the tiny percentage of artists who actually get noticed by the art world.
I moved to Manhattan, got a job as a cocktail waitress, and started making incredible money. I was strategic about working at the trendy, celebrity filled hotels and clubs. Many nights I would go home with $1,000, all made in one night! I rented a painting studio in Brooklyn.
Then, it happened. I was at work and saw this guy. I remarked to my fellow waitress that I was going to marry him. And I did. He was a rock star. Well, he looked like a rock star anyway. He was dressed in a beautiful Armani suit and his hair was bleached blonde and longish and crazy. It was love at first site.
At 23 I had it all. My partner-in-crime musician husband (who made $10 an hour at a bicycle shop), a 3-bedroom apartment with Jacuzzi bathtub, music and art studio, right by the Empire State building. I was painting on my time off. I was off work and sleeping when all the other suckers in town were going to work bleary eyed. I treated my husband to extravagant meals at the best New York restaurants. We?d dress up and go to the fanciest hotel bars like the King Cole bar at the St. Regis and pretend we were famous. My husband?s band had shows in the best downtown clubs. We were doing tons of drugs. Weed, ecstasy, coke, and my favorite, heroin. I was always careful to ?chip? heroin. Basically, that meant to binge once a month to avoid getting addicted. No problem! I had been doing that through college, I was too smart to be a junkie. We were outdoing the Joneses in every way and living my dream rebel life. And I was financing it ALL. Even the $5,000 I had managed to save to buy a house with someday, I lent to my husband for the printing of his first album.
Losing it all
But, as the restaurant business goes, mine was falling out of favor with the celebrities after a few years of glory. My income dropped significantly and we were forced to move way uptown into a much smaller apartment. Then 9/11 happened and we got into a major depressive funk. My husband decided to ignore my rule of not calling the drug dealer when you run out of heroin, and we ended up with a never-ending supply of it in the house. We had both become addicted.
The one lucky part of this time was that I was ?discovered? by an art director who worked at one of the biggest magazines in the country. She was a customer at the bike shop and loved the flyers I had designed for my husband?s band. She hired me to be her assistant and taught me the basics of graphic design. I was working in the famous Time & Life building. It was extremely uncomfortable for me to be in a corporate atmosphere. But hey, at least I could feel good knowing that I was a heroin addict and therefore not that uncool! I did very well hiding my addiction. At this point, waiting tables was no longer an option. I had a full-scale panic attack when I returned to my nightclub job after September 11th. I just couldn?t do it anymore.
Soon we were in dire financial straights. I was paying for food with a credit card and cash for heroin. We were running out of money and something had to give. I made my husband see a doctor who gave us withdrawal medication and we kicked our heroin habit and moved up to the country to a sad looking house that we could actually afford.
My husband continued to spend just as my mom?s family does. Eventually, I got tired of being destitute and kicked him out. During that time I borrowed a down-payment on a house from my parents and purchased a home in the Hudson Valley. After a year, my ex-husband was promoted to manager of the bike shop and was making good money, so stupidly, I took him back. But within a few months he filled our garage with motorcycles and leased an Audi without my consent. He also became an abusive alcoholic which is why I finally left him for good.
My life was in financial shambles at that point. I was over $20,000 in debt. I had rented out my house and moved to yet another basement in a house that was very sad. I continued to work as a graphic designer and took a full time job at a huge newsstand title as an art director, so I was digging my way out slowly.
My self-esteem was so down in the dumps that I dated one loser after another and they all treated me like crap and used me. I started drinking heavily and would find myself on many occasions alone in my house on the bathroom floor crying over the fact that I was near 40 and alone and basically broke. One too many of these situations and I had hit a rock bottom of sorts and realized that I?d better get it together and start making smart decisions.
Finding my way back
Cue my old friend from college who contacted me on LinkedIn and started talking to me. This guy was the exact opposite of me. He was ?normal?. He had a good, steady job straight out of an Ivy League university and had money saved! He was nice to me. He was more than nice to me, he cared about me.
To my mom?s great glee, during this time I was dating a multi-millionaire hedge fund guy. I mean MULTI, like close to billionaire, and he was somewhat famous in New York. But after a couple of dates it was clear that he was just like all the other guys I had dated and was waving all kinds of red flags that I recognized all too well.
Also during this time, I was about to have surgery to have my gallbladder removed. I emailed 3 guys: my ex-husband, the multi-millionaire and the old college friend, to let them all know about my surgery. From my ex-husband: basically nothing. From the multi-millionaire: ?call me when you?re feeling better?, from the college friend: ?I googled this and it looks like it isn?t too bad of a procedure, will someone be there with you??.
I was in love. I dumped the multi-millionaire and ended up marrying the college friend. This was the first non-rebel decision of my life and probably the best one ever.
We married and moved to Paris for his job. He helped me pay my parents back all the money I owed for my house. We rented my house out and traveled the world. Even though we both made good money (I had started a graphic design business from home), we weren?t rolling in it. But because we had no expenses due to our expat status, we saved an incredible amount of money. We?ve traveled the world and stayed in the most amazing 5 star hotels and lived in the most beautiful homes paid for by his company. It?s almost the rock star life, but without the drama!
So this is the happy ending, right??? No.
Looking over the cliff again
The rebel girl returned and now in the form of an alcoholic. I hid it really well. I had very few consequences and drank often in the middle of the night so my husband wouldn?t see me drunk. When he?d go away on trips, I would be drinking from morning until night. When I drank around my husband I became nasty.
I realized that I had to do the next right thing and quit drinking. I had to sit my rebel side down and have a long talk with her. Look, I said, we can?t go on like this. We must find moderation or we are going to end up broke and alone, again. So she agreed to go to AA. We have managed to find a balance by working at home and on our own schedule and terms, but also making each day totally different from the last to keep us happy and feeling free. I?ve learned that no is a complete sentence and that acceptance is the key to happiness, not wanting what you don?t have.
The next right thing
I now have a hefty retirement fund (what?!) and we have a second home and invest in the stock market (whaaaaat?!). We are technically millionaires (not like that other guy, but technically). We?ve done it by saving, saving, saving and budgeting and always spending less than we make. I?ve learned all of this from my current husband. I drive a 6 year old used Volkswagen (that I love) and we have a modest house in a nice part of our city. It?s exhilarating knowing that I will be okay for retirement and can live within my means and still have wealth.
I suppose the point of my story is that even a rebel can find financial stability by realizing that balance and moderation are key. It applies to everyone and everything. As I?ve learned in AA, doing ?the next right thing? takes you to great places, always. And being a ?rock star? isn?t all that it?s cracked up to be.
Kate Jett is a pen name for a creative professional living a new life in the northeast. The stories are real. The names have been changed.