A Spenders Financial Journey
I’ve read that our ideas about money are formed in childhood and can shape how we deal with our financial journey well into adulthood; I know this was certainly the case with me. I was raised in a single parent home for a big part of my childhood and money was always a very scarce resource in our house.
Growing up, I believed money was a wild and unpredictable thing that would come and go with a will of its own. Maybe the magical money fairy would grant us enough to pay our bills this month or maybe not…
Looking back, I don’t think our family was on the verge of financial ruin, I believe it was more the emotional response to our situation that helped create my chaotic ideas about money. I both loved and hated money and I had no idea this wasn’t a reasonable response to a socially agreed upon method to transact goods.
Money Came and Money Went
Fast forward a few years and I am entering college: I am armed with two credit cards, student loans, and a vague idea of what I want to do with my life. Like many stories I’ve read about, I had no concept of what it meant to have this student loan money. Like magic, thousands of dollars would be deposited into my account in September and January and then I’d somehow pay my tuition and books and then live off the rest.
I won‘t get into the details of my earlier years in school but suffice to say that I changed majors twice before deciding on my Bachelor of Arts. Money came, money went, and my debt mounted in my first four years.
It wasn’t until I entered my fourth year of school that it started dawning on me that I would need to pay this money back. At the time of this little Aha! moment, I owed forty thousand dollars to student loans and I had maxed out my two student credit cards that I had already defaulted on – payments-wise. Not cool.
Starting To Save Money
Some things started to click:
In my final two years, I worked really hard to get through school with as minimal debt as possible. I was lucky enough to land jobs on campus that were really flexible. I was able to work more hours because I didn’t have to travel to a job. That summer, I was offered a position with the government which enabled me to save the money for next year’s tuition.
The final two years of school were taken part-time when I continued working for the government (cooperative work experience through school – but paid!). I only relied on student loans for my tuition for those final years (about $5000 a year) but I still owed a whopping $50,000 and change at the end of my studies.
In addition to the work, I moved in with a room-mate to keep expenses low and budgeted my money better. I was eligible for a number of social programs that helped me save money because I had a child and I made sure to take advantage of them.
My Journey Towards Financial Freedom
When things really started to click:
I graduated soon after that, got married, got unmarried and moved back to my home town. When I arrived back in my home-town five years had lapsed and I found myself with $500, a kid, and a couple of suitcases.
At this point, I couldn’t afford to fool around anymore because the only one that was going to pick up the financial pieces was me. I couldn’t afford for money to remain this mysterious force that could move in and out of my life, completely outside of my control. Here’s what I’ve learned since then.
Ways To Save Money
The strategies I have used were really two-prong:
Get as much mileage out of my limited resources as possible:
- Mystery shopping funded my social life: This really can be a boon if you are trying to save money in other areas of your life. In exchange for about 45 minutes of work to fill out a questionnaire afterwards, I could go out with my friends for a nice dinner at a restaurant I would never be able to afford, otherwise.
- Points, points, points: If there’s a points program, I am part of it. One year, Shopper Drug Mart had a promotion that gave you double Optimum Points if you filled prescriptions with them. I have some prescriptions that needed to be filled regularly and I had a benefits program through work that covered them for me. Some months later, I had $100 worth of points at Shoppers that I could use for Christmas shopping – all for doing something I had to do anyway.
- Plan Ahead: I tried to look at my year in January and look at the months that are going to be expensive for me. Celebrations, holidays, summer months (to fund summer camp for my daughter), car maintenance and other expenses tend to add up so I tried to set aside certain funds every paycheck to account for expensive months.
- Multi-task, if you can: For instance, I didn’t have a lot of money to take my daughter places when I was single. One day, I took her to pick strawberries at a strawberry farm and then we came home and made jam. We made an extra big batch so she had some to take to grandma but then I saved the rest for Christmas so I could put them in gift baskets I was planning on putting together as gifts. We had a fun day and I also started on my baskets early. Two’fer one!
- Contesting: There are online contest sites that are a great way to win stuff that you can use in a lot of different ways. Basically, I devoted 45 minutes of my day –everyday – to entering contests and waited for the goodness to roll in. I haven’t been as consistent with this as I’ve wanted to be over the years but I’ve won gift cards to nice restaurants, limo rides, tickets to concerts and baseball games and other things that really added to my life.
- The library: I am a huge movie and book fan and, unfortunately, these are expensive pastimes. The library was a blessing because I was able to indulge in some of my greatest passions – but for free – and this really saved my sanity.
Manage and Maximize My Resources
- I started a money group (a la Smart Cookies) to help keep me accountable and help me generate ideas for saving and/or making money. This didn’t last as long as I would have hoped but it was a great source of inspiration and strength for me in my weaker moments.
- I tracked my spending every month – down to the last penny – for many months. Doing this was a real eye opener, at first, and helped me curb my unnecessary spending. Then, it kept me honest and on-track with my budget.
- I evaluated my “fixed expenses” on a yearly basis. For auto insurance, I would call around and get different quotes to ensure I was still getting the best possible deal at renewal time. I would look at my cable and internet and review whether the plans I was on were still the best fit for me. Companies always come out with offers and options for cell phones, internet and television and it’s good to stay on top of them and negotiate a deal if you can. It’s kind of like spring financial cleaning.
- I had a bunch of side hustles to make extra money like working every second Saturday administrating an (English as a Second Language) ESL exam, working an extra shift at a youth drop-in centre, and even at a coffee shop for a short time. The extra income was dedicated towards certain debt payments or bills so I could make progress. If I was putting in the extra time, I wanted to make sure there was a strategic benefit.
Despite all of this work, I still remained financially vulnerable when “things came up”. I didn’t have the option of a credit card to pay for unexpected expenses so a couple hundred dollars could really set me back month or two.
I didn’t really know how to be kind myself in these moments – I figured that I had done something wrong and that I could have avoided these if I only tried harder. Perhaps I could have avoided these events, but only if I could have predicted the future and had dangerous reality-altering powers. Not so.
I still owe money; this story does not end with me debt free and living in a mansion somewhere – reaping the fruits of my labour. However, my personal finance skills have improved and I have paid off over half my debt in three years and eight months. I plan on paying off the rest of it even faster in hopes of a spenders financial journey with a happy ending.
If you messed up with money how are you going about making it right?
Contribution Post By: My name is Lindsey and I started my own personal finance blog about a month ago at centsandsensibility.ca. I have to say it’s been a great adventure so far and I’m learning a lot as I go along my journey to becoming debt free! I live in Alberta with my husband and teenage daughter and I like to read, write and learn new things.
Mr.CBB Says: Thanks for sharing your inspirational story with us today Lindsey. I was earlier talking about how important it is to take baby steps towards debt freedom.
Money is only a tool but one that can set people apart from each other, imparts an evil on some through want and jealousy, one that tear’s relationships apart and one that helps people live a comfortable life if managed well.
We often only visualize the end picture in our mind, the money, cars and “stuff” but fail to see the beauty in small gains along the way. It’s these large visions of “having it all” and wanting it now that set people back.
Being realistic is the better way to go and it’s also much more fun to reach milestones than it is to reach nothing at all by giving up.
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Photo: Purchased from Crystal Graphics by Lindsey
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