There And Back Again: A Spenders Financial Journey

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. 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
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
Financial Vulnerability

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 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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  1. LIndsey, thanks so much for sharing your story! We too, messed up with our money big time and are now making it right through frugal budgeting, etc. SO wonderful to hear of another one winning at this game of money – congrats!

    1. Hi Laurie!
      Thanks for commenting! I think that’s what I like best about being a PF blogger, being able to share in other people’s financial experiences has been really rewarding. We’re all in this together!

  2. I’d like to rephrase your comment above,”money came and money went”. In my over spending days it was, “money came and MORE money went”!

    1. Yes, I was very pleased that I could throw in my nerd reference. I’m all for plugging the geek cause whenever the chance arises. Viva la Lord of the Rings!

  3. I believe financial vulnerability is the key to building dynamite financial habits. Without being vulnerable you’ll never open yourself up to embracing and learning from mistakes. Sounds like you are doing a fabulous job. Kudos for sharing and opening up.

    1. Hi there
      You make a good point about financial vulnerability, I think I framed it up as a negative thing in my article but it doesn’t have to be that way. Financial vulnerability challenges us to think on our feet, plan ahead, and build a community of people that can help you when you’re down. Nicely said!

  4. Great story Lindsey. Planning is so important. We bought a house and thought we’d fix it up, without really thinking of where the money would come from. I can relate to doing something and then later realizing that you’re going to need to pay for it somehow.

    1. Hello the Frugal Path!
      You’re right about planning! I bought a car on an impulse – bad idea. I got a co-signer and got a loan I had no business getting – I couldn’t afford it! Needless to say, everything went south. But I have learned a lot about how to problem-solve things without spending a whack load of money first.

  5. Actually I still use a lot of the things you used. I am so going to miss Zeller’s as I saved Airmiles to cash in for an HBC gift card or three to use for Christmas and birthday shopping!! I have the SDM optimum card but until the last couple of weeks I wasn’t seeing the flyer, it’s been in the London paper lately….yea!! The library is a great place to get things like movies and they will be having the semi-annual book sale starting next week. I buy books for gifts there and for my grandson as he is hard on things like books and if he rips it I’m not overly upset. The only thing right now is that I can’t work right now as I am caregiver to a sick hubby…..

    1. I will also miss Zellers! I miss being able to convert those HBC points into Airmiles!

      Walmart just isn’t the same. There are lot of little tips and tricks to save money that you can learn if you keep your ear to the ground. The internet has been a beautiful thing for stuff like this!
      Thanks for your comment!

  6. Thank you for sharing your story, Lindsay. I know it’s a path you wouldn’t have chosen on your own, but you’re going to be so much stronger because of it. We all make money mistakes and you’re definitely taking positive action. Your daughter will have a far different money role model than you did and that’s incredibly important too. Good luck – you’re going to be better than okay. 🙂

    1. Hi Shannon!
      I feel lucky to have some really great people in my life who were positive influences – especially when it came to money. One of those people is my best friend, I’m not sure I would have ever figured it out without m help!
      Anyway, I do want to pass on as much as I can to my daughter – I believe it’s more important than ever to help her develop the money skills she needs to succeed in life!

  7. Thank you for sharing your story… I’m so glad that you are working your way out from under everything. Good luck in the future!!

  8. Planning ahead is HUGE! Especially when it comes to special occasions like birthdays, anniversary’s, etc. If I plan ahead I can order the gift on line and save a ton, but if I procrastinate i end up driving to the store and paying higher retail prices.

    1. Hi Deacon
      You’re so right about the planning ahead! I’ve gotten better with planning ahead for Christmas but I still drop the ball when it comes to birthdays, weddings, and other celebrations. Procrastination recently cost me money with planning a baby shower I was hosting. I was busy that week and forgot to look online and on Kjiji for good ideas and deals and had to pay premium for the food and decorations. I learned from that experience!
      Thanks for the comment!

  9. Inspiring story Lindsey. I think you did a great job given what was going on around you. You have turned it around and are working through it. That is the power of perseverance. Keep it up.

    1. Thank to you, Debt Roundup. I appreciate your feedback. Sometimes I find it hard to be patient with how sloooowly things seem to be going. I’m not able to pay off my debt as quickly as I would like and it can be frustrating. But then I remember that I’m heading the right direction and that things have improved tenfold since I’ve started this journey.

    1. Hi Ian!
      Thanks for your comment! It’s been a long – and sometimes painful – journey. I have discovered that I can be a champ at burying my head in the sand but I have also discovered that I can be strong, hopeful, and resourceful when I need too, as well. It’s awesome to be able to share my story with some of Mr. CBB’s readers, maybe this will help others take that next step (if they need too) on their own financial journey.

    1. Hi Budget at the Beach!
      I think you’re right about everyone hitting lows of some kind or another. Sometimes it’s not about who or what that put your there (bad situation), it’s about picking up your own pieces and moving forward. Thanks for the vote of confidence!

  10. Thanks for sharing your story Lindsey! I was not taught about money while growing up and ultimately made my fair share of financial mistakes that took a few years to get out from under. We followed many of your suggestions, and still do some of them today to help further stretch our budget.

    1. Hi John,
      Thanks for commenting! I think one of the best things about coming online with my story is realizing how many other people have also made financial mistakes that required them to work through. I really enjoy hearing from others, learning new things, and maybe sharing some of what I know. I like your blog, btw, I just started reading it the other day.

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