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The Indebted and the Irresponsible

November 30th, 2014 at 02:05 pm

It was around my 28th birthday when I woke up in the wee hours of the morning soaked in sweat. Absolutely nothing was going on, but I was filled with dread and it didn't take long to figure out why. My life was a complete and utter mess. Two years prior I'd been laid off from the first full time job I had that felt as if I was starting a career with advancement opportunities. I was able to afford a tiny apartment alone, making my debt payments with ease, had health insurance, and living comfortably within my means. I had made some financial mistakes with credit cards and a private loan (no not a student loan) during my college years, but was happily getting on track. In hindsight I should have started saving as well. Then came my pink slip, immediately followed by the Great Recession. *sigh*

The next two years became a whirlwind of job hunting, inconsistent temp work, crappy seasonal/part time jobs, food closets, utility shut offs, no car insurance, and unemployment checks. It wasn't long before I got behind on bills, missed debt payments, and it didn't seem to matter how frugal I tried to be there was never enough money. I tried to reason with the collectors, but they refused to work with me. I had proof that I was living below the poverty line and zero assets and they didn't care. The last debtor I called was my student loan and I was in tears expecting yet another refusal to help. The kind woman I spoke to helped me put my loan in forbearance and told me I should have called as soon as I got my pink slip because they would have helped me. Thankfully I was not in default and they hadn't reported the late payments to my credit reports. This may sound silly, but I was relieved to still have one account in good standing.

So there I was at 28 lying awake wondering what to do next. I had a degree and plenty of work experience, but jobs were scarce. I couldn't rely on my always strapped family and didn't qualify for most social services because I made too much money or didn't have kids. *sigh* At some point I think I just went into extreme survival mode and literally focused on what I absolutely had to. I stopped opening the mail, stopped answering the phone, stopped making debt payments, and began juggling bills. I turned to payday loans to help make ends meet, but if my temp assignment ended suddenly I couldn't repay on time and accrued penalty fees plus the nsf fees at my bank. Eventually the bank closed my checking account and I couldn't blame them. This then meant paying check cashing and money order fees which ate into my already too low income.

I continued to barely keep my head above water until I realized I just couldn't keep doing it. The economy hadn't improved much for the type of work I'd always done and I hated it anyway. I was sick of not having health benefits, sick of the collectors, and just flat out sick of being broke. I had to figure out what I really wanted to do and make it work. During my figure it out phase I opened another checking account and got in the payday loan trap again (I'd discovered online ones by this point). Then I opened a couple of credit cards thinking I understood how they worked (I didn't) and would be able to use those instead of payday loans. Temp work had gotten steadier, I hadn't used payday loans in months, and I finally felt like things were looking up. I organized my debts in age order and tackled them one at a time, newest first. In hindsight I realize that was not the best system, but at the time I felt great about doing something.

Fast forward to age 30 and my car (yes one of the debtors that wouldn't work with me previously and I still hadn't dealt with yet) took a crap and my apartment became a health hazard so I had to move suddenly. Around this time I also stumbled upon my dream career, which would mean returning to school. I managed to weather the bumps and temp work remained steady so I decided to begin putting my return to school plan into action.

Yes I know some of you are thinking I had no business going back to school when I had debts to deal with and yes I had that same thought many times. The thing is I wasn't going to get more financially stable with the path I was on and a permanent full time job hadn't come since my lay off a few years before. The job prospects were better in the career I wanted to change into, it was a 2 year program, and I'd be a million times happier. Yes I'd have to take out more student loans, but I'd be able to work full time throughout. There was also this strong sense (I couldn't explain it, I just knew) that this was the right move to make. So I took the risk and went back to school.

I loved being in school and couldn't wait to graduate and land a new job. I opted to only borrow federal loans (just like I did the one year in undergrad I borrowed) and only the amount needed to cover tuition and fees. Everything else I financed through my hodgepodge of temping, unemployment, and seasonal/part time gigs. Family surprised me by stepping up and helping with groceries, gas money, and even a gently used car.

Then things took a turn yet again when my temp assignment ended suddenly and my unemployment claim was "pending" longer than normal with no acceptable explanation. A payday loan wasn't going to work so I went for a title loan on the car I was just given. Yes yes I know. That was stupid and I shouldn't have done it, but at the time it was the best of a handful of horrible options. I went on to max out my credit cards and had yet another checking account closed due to nsf funds. I also got tax forms regarding my other car being charged off. So yeah things were pretty bad.

It would be a few months before unemployment paid me and I landed a new temp job. I was back in extreme survival mode and focusing on finishing school, repaying my title loan, and covering basic necessities but there wasn't enough money. I went on like this for a year before I felt I couldn't keep up anymore. The thought of dropping out of school and not making it into my new career was heartbreaking, but I was drowning and flat out exhausted.

It was 2013, about two weeks before Christmas, and yet another temp job ended suddenly. I was prepared to admit defeat when something amazing happened. I got a job! A permanent full time job with free medical! And it was in my new career that I was going to school for! The pay wasn't great, but I was so grateful to get off the temp wheel and do something I enjoyed that I figured I could use it as a stepping stone. I started in January and they accommodated my school schedule too.

2014 turned out to be the year the tides changed for me in so many ways. I started to get caught up on bills, decided to educate myself about finances, and took a second job. I opened a new checking account and this time didn't even order checks to keep me from turning to payday loans. What a relief to stop paying check cashing fees, although I still paid money order fees. I was just doing things one step at a time and reminding myself that things were going to get better when I was done with school.

Once I finished school (woohoo!) I did the one thing I wish someone had told me to do in undergrad.... research salaries so you know if you're being underpaid. Once I learned what an appropriate salary range was for my education and experience I tailored my job search and refused to settle. I was already in a low paying job and had spent the decade before in them. I had earned and deserved better.

That determination paid off because I landed a permanent full time job in my field that pays well above the expected salary range. On top of that I still have my second job, which means I am in a great position not just to get caught up but ahead. Even though the year is ending I feel this is the perfect time for me to lay the groundwork for an amazing 2015. I'll only be 33 next year so all is definitely not lost. I've got a few things in the works, am doing lots of research, and getting organized so I'll share more about that in future entries.

11 Responses to “The Indebted and the Irresponsible”

  1. Petunia 100 Says:

    I'm glad to see you decided to start a blog!

    Your story is very interesting. It is good to analyze past mistakes in order to learn from them, but you don't get to browbeat yourself. Smile Onward and upward.

    You've gotten yourself into a much better position already, with a better paying job doing something you like, and a second job to boot. You can accomplish anything you decide you want to accomplish.

    I look forward to reading about your journey.

  2. creditcardfree Says:

    Welcome to the blogs on SA! I look forward to reading your posts.

  3. PatientSaver Says:

    One other "truth" about salaries that people don't mention. Whenever possible, choose to work for a large company as opposed to a small one. The pay and benefits are almost always better at a large company. No one ever told me that and it took me years to figure that out.

  4. snafu Says:

    Welcome to SA. Wow! a difficult backstory but you've the positive outlook that will make you succeed. If we can help with suggestions or ideas, you merely need to ask. Delighted to cheer you on with every step. Will you 'snowball' debt going forward? Hope you'll continue this blog

  5. Kiki Says:

    Welcome to the blogs!

  6. LittleMissSplendid Says:

    Thanks for the support and warm welcome everyone! Suggestions are welcome since the whole point of being here is to learn and for accountability. Otherwise I'd just keep beating myself up and get nothing done. Onward and upward =)

    PatientSaver.... I had to chuckle at choosing the larger company. I knew that right out of college, but I struggled with how so many large companies treated employees (and clients!) like numbers. I was adamant that a small to medium company was the way to go until the Great Recession and I saw them lay people (including me!) off in droves just like large companies. While temping I also came across large companies that treated their employees and clients well, which was helpful so I began to open my mind to other options. My new job is with a large company with an excellent reputation so we'll see how it goes.

    snafu..... Because of the types of debt (and I'm still reviewing my credit reports and old mail for a complete picture) and the extra income I have I'm trying to "avalanche" first and then may transition to a "snowball" for the new year. I'll probably make that the topic of my next entry since I'll probably iron out the details in the next few days.

  7. MonkeyMama Says:

    Welcome to the blogs! I love the Little Miss Splendid. Big Grin

  8. Bluebird Says:


  9. ceejay74 Says:

    Welcome! I was just about to turn 33 when I started getting my finances on track. I've still got a ways to go but am in MUCH better shape than I was then.

  10. FrugalTexan75 Says:

    Wow! You sure have survived (and overcame!) a lot financially and personally. I am looking forward to reading more of your blog.

  11. LivingAlmostLarge Says:

    Congrats and good lucK!

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