I won the debt, divorce, drinking and drugs jackpot because I wanted to take back what I gave away, me. My name is Cindy and in 2008, I decided to change my life and today I’m going to share with you my most compelling years in hopes of motivating others who believe there is no way out. I went from a single mom of 2 boys with a drug and alcohol addiction with no job and $10,000 in debt to debt free in less than 5 years.
How I Changed My Life
It all started when I was in a toxic relationship while living in the Southern United States. I quickly became addicted to alcohol and prescription drugs and driven into a life that seemed like it had no end in sight.
We had every earthly possession that two people could want and a thriving real estate business, but it was never enough. We were toxic for each other. I didn’t have the strength or self-esteem to break away.
He told me over and over I would never make it on my own. I felt trapped yet I kept telling myself I need to change my life. I needed a quick escape of the life I hated.
How can I change my life?
I left the house with my children; the dog and the clothes on our backs got into my car and drove away without looking back. My children’s father and I had been successful in developing real estate, but there was no money when I left. He had all the assets in his name only. I was totally broke.
We did have a small mobile home a 1973 12×50 that sat on its own land that we had paid cash for. The mobile home was in my name and that is where we were going to start our life over as a family.
I turned to my mother for assistance and after sleeping on my mother’s fold out sofa with the children and the dog for 8 weeks and detoxing, I moved in. During that time I found a job at a local fast food restaurant and started counselling for my addictions.
Times were slim, there was no money in the bank and no one left to turn to for help. My lawyer bills were $4000 for the first round to get the ball rolling with our divorce and custody hearings.
My ex-husband thought since I was an addict that I would lose custody or that I would come running back to him with open arms. I didn’t, and he wasn’t too pleased about that.
I had excellent credit at the time with absolutely no clue how I was going to pay all of that money back. I charged all the costs of the proceedings and fees on my Capital One credit card.
We had no clothes, no food, no furniture, no Christmas presents, not even a Christmas tree. It was somber at best in our surroundings but we made do with what we were given.
We were locked in a secret world and not sure where we could turn for help. The taxes had never been paid on my little trailer since we purchased it, so another $1200 went on the Discover credit card to settle the score with the tax man.
The bills kept piling up and I kept working as much as I could to make the money last until the end of the month. In no time my car blew it’s radiator so another $800 went on the Bank of America credit card.
It seemed like I had more credit than I had cash coming in but it was the only way that I could think of at the time to keep my family together and all the bills paid with a roof over our heads and food on the table.
I quit my job at the fast food place and went to work at a lunch truck company. It made more sense because the food truck offered great hours which made it easier for picking the kids up from school. It also meant I didn’t have to work nights any longer and could spend time with my family.
We got by paying the bills but the even the minimum payments were often late. The lights stayed on, but there was nothing fancy about our life. You wouldn’t have found any internet, no cable, no frills. We had to create our own free entertainment for the family but it also brought us closer together.
Groceries and Meals
There was help with food from the church and from the lunch truck company I worked for. When my shift ended on the food truck if there was any food that was left over from the construction sites my boss let me take it home.
It wasn’t always the best of food but it was food that was hot and would provide nourishment for me and the kids such as like tins of meatloaf and mashed potatoes with gravy or chili macaroni.
She was a kind lady and knew I was struggling to feed my family. It’s times like that when you can look back and think there was an angel looking over you.
Once a month a lady at the church we belonged to bought us a basket from the food share program co-op. It had usually a large roast or a turkey, some fresh vegetables such as carrots or potatoes and some canned items along with pasta and rice.
I would use every bit of the food up and let nothing waste. I would prepare hot meals and soups in the crock-pot which was kindly donated to me from one of the ladies at the church.I stretched that basket of food as far as I could make it and we sometimes ate for a whole week on the one basket
Someone always wanted money from me and I never dreamed divorce would cost as much as it did for me. Round 2 from the lawyer was $2500, charged on Capital One credit card again. At this point I still had No child support, no food stamps, no Medicaid, no nothing.
I was merely living a life for my children and holding on to a string of hope dropped from heaven in hopes someone would hear or something magical would happen for us.
We were scraping by day-to-day on my tips from the lunch truck, I continued to use my credit cards to survive but kept optimistic that something would change for the good.
The children had dentist bills, doctor bills and needed glasses. I had so much guilt over my debt but zero choice in what to do. I was earning $130 per week as my wage plus $50 in tips which I normally used to fill up my gas tank.
It was now 2009 and I was drowning as my debt grew astonishingly close to $10,000. I couldn’t believe it but I also knew that I would pay back every penny of it once I could find more work or a side income that would help me get ahead in life
At The Right Place At The Right Time
One of my stops on the lunch truck each day was at a crafting facility. It was a small place and the staff engaged as if they were all a happy family. I struck up a friendship with many of the workers and I started hanging out there after work on occasion.
I‘d like to consider myself quite crafty, so I started doing some painting and crafting with them on my own time. It was a great way to get my mind off my financial and emotional troubles doing something I love while enhancing my skills.
They asked me if I wanted to do some piece work on the side and I was so happy that I gladly accepted the offer. I was in business! I tucked every cent of extra income that I earned away for emergency saving and to give my kids a small Christmas, credit card free!
I do some of the hand painting of the crafts at home. I sat down with my boss a few afternoons and he taught me how to paint crafts as I had never painted before in my life. I learned how to paint flowers, faces, hearts etc.
I make felt cut-outs at home and then glue them together. There is a pattern to trace, then they are cut out and glued such as butterfly wings and dragon wings etc. I am paid $0.25 per piece and the company I work for provides the materials.
When I bring my pieces back to the shop they are assembled into the final product. The hand painting and the felt cut-out with gluing are tedious at times, but I have freedom at home to listen to the radio or YouTube so I don’t mind.
Paying My Bills
Fast forward one year and I started working at the crafting facility full-time. Being rich means different things to different people. My first cheque at minimum wage $7.75/ hr working 40 hours I thought I was rich. My bills were always paid on time and my car never ran on empty.
This was a dream come true for me yet I’d never forget those early days of detoxing on my mom’s couch. I’ve come a long way and I didn’t want to stop yet. I wanted to be as successful as I could because I knew I was worth it. I had the drive and the motivation to take my skills to the next level, and I did.
I continued the piece work on the side in addition to my 40 hours in order to bring in some extra income. Every bit of money helps and I was going to make sure there were no missed opportunities.
In no time the late charges started to disappear from my bills, a feeling that is hard to describe to someone unless they’ve been in the same situation. Minimum payments were made, lights were on and the family really was starting to come together now.
We could afford to go to the grocery store and buy food, put gas in the tank and pay for all the medical bills. We received a hand me down computer from a friend and soon after hooked up to the world as we know, the internet.
It was now 2010 and counselling was going well for me and I’ve come along way in my journey with my drug and alcohol addiction. I was now 2 years sober at this point and had no desire to ever pick up a drink let alone drugs.
The debt was soon going to be a misery of my past. I had my head above water, but barely. I was always optimistic though, you have to be in order to survive.
Debt Repayment Guilt
The guilt over the amount of debt that I had accumulated was so overwhelming, even after I was able to stop charging the credit cards up.
I would look at my balances and be so ashamed at myself that I didn’t want to think about it. I started to feel like I was in a debt depression. I didn’t know how to deal with debt and I prayed for help in paying off that debt.
The Debt Philosophy
One night, playing around on the internet, I came across Dave Ramsey and his debt philosophy. I devoured all the information he provided late into the night. I checked out his books the next day free from the library.
I spent the weekend reading and soaking up as much as the information as I could. I learned I had to let go of the emotion attached to my debt if I was ever going to pay it off. I had survival debt. I wasn’t spoiled and I certainly didn’t spend it on frivolous things. I developed a plan!
I put Dave Ramsey’s advice into action.
I had a piece of land that was in my name that I didn’t want. I sold that immediately and put the money onto my Capital One credit card. Oh man! That felt so good!
Once I sold that land, it allowed me to qualify for a tax credit the following year. I put all that extra money towards my lowest credit card debt, the Bank of America, and paid it off.
The Dave Ramsey snowball effect had begun and I felt amazing.
I maintained the gazelle like focus.
Gazelle like focus is a term from Dave Ramseys book. It means to never take your eyes off the prize, like a lion hunting a gazelle. I worked at it, hard. I used every spare cent and every ounce of creativity to pay off my debt.
You need to work as hard to get out of debt as a gazelle works to run from a cheetah-Dave Ramsey
It was a real driving force for me and motivated me to get a move on. I just love the phrase because I could see the lioness in the grass hunting her prey, fierce and hungry. That was me.
I read all the information I could find on reducing spending. I carefully evaluated my food budget, planning every meal down to the cent. I purchased a small freezer from Craigslist and shopped the sales for meats.
I continued to use the crock-pot that I received from the church twice a week or more. I scoured the second-hand thrift stores for my children’s back to school clothes and not only did I save a bundle I was able to give them what they deserved without feeling any guilt.
I replaced the ducts under the trailer and lowered my electric bill. I hung clothes out on the clothes line to save on electricity bills as well. We only ate out one time in two years at a restaurant an that was on my son’s birthday.
I had a yard sale when my children outgrew their clothes and sold the items to use that money to put down on my debts. I put every spare dollar on my debt and watched my Discover Credit Card balance drop.
Tax time came the next year and the Discover Credit Card was paid off in full. I was down to the big balance, over $5000 on the Capital One Credit Card at 27% interest.
2011 Three Years Sober and A Plan
That year my company attended a trade show in our local area. I went to help sell our products. I had made a piece of my costume jewellery just on a whim and brought it with me. It was simple and beautiful.
A lady approached me “Is that for sale?”, she asked. I hadn’t thought about it, honestly. “I will give you $5 cash for it right now, I love it”, she said. I was in business again!
I went home that evening and broke apart every piece of junk jewellery I owned. I stayed up all night working because I wanted this to be a success and to make some extra income. I went to the show the next day and made $25. I was thrilled. I invested that $25 in some supplies and when the next show came around I was ready!
Before I knew it, I had the $1000 emergency fund that Mr. Ramsey speaks of. When round 3 with the lawyer came around I was ready. The radiator in my car blew again (yes same car) and it was no problem thanks to the emergency fund.
Making My Jewellery
I make my jewellery on my porch or at my kitchen table after work in the evenings or on weekends. I love garage sales, estate sales and thrift stores where I look for broken bits of old necklaces.
I twist and bend them and use my beads from my stock to make my own creations. I have built up a supply of beads to use by shopping at my local craft store with their coupons or buying odd bead lots online. I store them in a big bin under my son’s bed.
Pricing my custom jewellery is always an ongoing challenge but I’m getting better at making sure that my time and efforts are being paid for in the price of my work. Sometimes it takes me a few minutes to make my jewellery and sometimes longer up to an hour depending on the materials I’m using.
If I really like it and it looks posh and expensive and the materials were pricier for me to make it then I can ask more money. If it is simple and takes only a few minutes, then I price it accordingly. I’m fair with my customers but also don’t want to under pay myself for my time and expenses.
Where I Am Today- Giving Back
I have worked hard to get where I am today and never dreamed that my perseverance would bring me the joys that I have been given in my life. My tax credit this year allowed me to clear the last thousand dollars with Capital One. I still make minimum wage. I still have my little side business making jewellery and I still do piece work.
I have finally finished with the lawyers and sorted out the divorce. I still live in my little mobile home with my now teenage children, 3 dogs and wonderful fiancée. I also receive no child support, no food stamps and no Medicaid.
I have such a sense of pride, knowing that I paid off what seemed an impossible amount of debt. I started from rock bottom. This past Christmas I was able to donate food back to that same church that helped me. I have been able to donate my children’s clothes and shoes to the local school. It feels good to give back.
I still have a very frugal lifestyle and we are budgeting our money so we know where it all goes. I do not have cable television or a smart phone. I still hang my clothes out to dry to save money on electricity and to show my children the importance of money and how to manage it so they can make their way into life understanding what I did not.
I plan every meal down to the penny so I know what I need to buy when I go shopping with my list. I have chickens and a small garden for entertainment and a frugal hobby.
I am nearly 5 years sober and life is so good.
How We Budget Our Money 2013
Monthly Net Income
- Income from job-$1092
- Jewellery Extra Income-$200
- Piece work Extra Income- $150
Total Net Income $1442.00
Monthly Budget Breakdown
- Grocery Budget-$350 for 2 adults and 2 monster teenage boys. We almost never eat meals outside of the home.
- Gas-$120 for one vehicle
- Car Insurance-$142 for 10 months. I pay extra on this every month so in Nov and Dec the actual amount is less.
- Internet-$65 for 10 months. I pay extra on this bill so in Nov and Dec the actual amount is less.
- Electric-$100 some months are less and some months are more like in the summer when we have A/C on. I just put the money aside when it is under for the months that it runs higher.
- Boys -$100 medical, clothes, dentist, whatever they need
- Dogs- $100 flea medications, vet bills, heart-worm pills
Extra for savings: $420 This used to be for debt re-payment.
My husband and I have separate expenses and budgets. He pays the phone bill for both of us, his own car insurance and his own gas for his vehicle. He provides for the chickens, home maintenance and the garden.
I have set it up this way and we are very happy with it and it works for us. We never fight about money, ever. I now have extra money for holiday spending in November and December since I don’t pay some of the bills.
I used this money this past year to donate food to the church (I was pretty proud of that). This is my first month where I don’t have to pay off debt, so I’m thinking about investing in my education. I know the dogs are expensive, but I don’t mind that as they add to our country life.
How Do You Get Out Of Debt?
- You get out of debt by never giving up, you can do it. Maintain the gazelle like focus. It’s not easy, but it feels so good!
- Start by believing in yourself and admitting you have an addiction then ask for help. There is hope if you have an addiction. There are so many people out there that will help you.
- You can get out of debt on your own no matter what anyone says.
- Start using a budget to track your expenses.
- Spend less money than you get paid from working.
- Meal planning is the best way to stick to your food budget!
- Read, Read, Read! Libraries are free and the knowledge I found there unlocked the secrets to paying off my debt.
I still sell my jewellery today and have wholesale accounts in 3 countries now the USA, Canada and England. I am debt free and budget all our family expenses so I don’t have to go back to those dark times in my life when I didn’t know where or who I was going to turn to for help.
My boss is amazing and I have been able to use our business contacts to develop my little jewellery business. I even sell some of my pieces for more than $5 now which means that my products are in demand.
Winning the debt, divorce, drugs and drinking jackpot simply means that I conquered some of life’s demon’s and won! So the next time someone says you will never make it on your own because you have a drug or alcohol addiction, smile and show them what you’re made of.
Contribution Post: This was written by a Canadian Budget Binder fan named Cindy who wanted to share her story in hopes of motivating others.
If you have a success story you want to share contact me today! “Let Your Voices Be Heard”-Mr.CBB
- My Debt Story: How I Paid Off $100,000 In Debt (And How You Can Too) (canadianbudgetbinder.com)
- Money and Finance: Why I Care About Financial Literacy (canadianbudgetbinder.com)
- Family Finances: Somebody Is Watching You (canadianbudgetbinder.com)
- There And Back Again: A Spenders Financial Journey (canadianbudgetbinder.com)
- How I Reduced Our Grocery Budget From $1100 To $600 In 6 Months (canadianbudgetbinder.com)
- Daycare-You Are The Voice For Your Children (canadianbudgetbinder.com)
Photo Credit: Taking Alcohol And Pills by Maggie Smith/freedigitalphotos. net