So why am I writing this, you ask? Well, for one simple reason—I’ve been very near the lowest of lows. I’ve been on public assistance, I’ve wondered how I’m going to pull off paying the bills, and I’ve thought it would never get better. BUT it has gotten better. Significantly. My family is no longer on public assistance of any form (despite the flaws in the system that make it hard to get out once you’re in—but I’ll get into that later). I no longer worry about paying bills on time; in fact, a good number of them are paid ahead. Things are really good. My husband, son, and I have been very blessed. And I want to share with others who are at that low point that I thought I’d never escape (or who just struggle with managing their own finances) how my family made it, or, at the very least, improved. I don’t want to tell you what to do or what not to do, just what we did with the hope of it being helpful.
As I promised yesterday, I’ve written my story for you (and, as warned, it’s long!). Here it is:
Let’s go back a little over three years. In the fall of 2008, I took a huge leap of faith and spent a semester abroad in Northern Ireland. That semester was without a doubt a major changing point in my life. I could go into details, but really it’s not necessary. The key is that, in all honesty, during my semester there I found out who I was and what I wanted for the first time in my life. Instead of living my life for everyone else, I lived my life for me. I loved it. But it also had a lot of consequences. I lost a few really close friends and my relationship of over five years ended in a very, very messy fashion. When I came back to the States that spring, my life had been turned upside down. It was crazy. I was crazy.
Derry, Northern Ireland-- my home for the Fall of 2008 and where my journey began.
How does this relate to my finances? Well… first, let me introduce you to Mr. Credit Card(s). While I was abroad, my credit cards were my main go-to for any major expense. We received an allowance each week, but that didn’t completely cover all of the extras I wanted to make my trip what I had dreamed of. So out came the credit card—extra travel, clothing, and souvenirs were easily paid for with a simple swipe. My intention the entire time was to pay off my credit card with my summer job, which should have been easy-peasy. Yes, notice the should have.
Let’s introduce the next character in our story: Retail Therapy. Remember that messy breakup? Any (okay, maybe not any, but a good number of them!) girl will tell you that shopping, shopping, and more shopping is a great tool to take your mind off of anything that is upsetting you. And shopping is what I did. A lot of it. Of course, with the help of Mr. Credit Card. Still, I figured the summer job would take care of it. And, again, it should have. I know, I know, should have.
Which leads us to the most important part of the story… in March of 2009, I made a three hour impulse trip to visit a guy I had met in high school through my ex-boyfriend. We were acquaintances at worst, friends at best. The old me would have never done something so daring. The new me was pumped. And thank the Lord for new me—that impulse trip was an adventure of a lifetime and by the next week the guy who had been an outskirt friend was my boyfriend—Corey, for future reference, because he is very much a part of my future.
We had what, for lack of a better phrase, you would call a whirlwind romance. It may sound completely insane, but we just knew that we were the one for each other.
And then came the test—in May of 2009 I found out I was pregnant. Yep, pregnant.We were determined to make the best of things even though this was never in our plans. Corey tried to pick up more hours at the retail store he worked at; I figured I would still stick it out at my summer job at school even though we would be about an hour and a half apart from each other. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked. For seven weeks.
Corey and I during my pregnancy.
At seven weeks along I started having morning sickness… and mid-morning, noon, early afternoon, mid-afternoon, late afternoon, early evening, mid-evening, late-evening, and midnight sickness. It was miserable. The job was out. I moved home, Corey stayed at my parent’s house with me, and once again we were determined to make the best of things.
Throughout my pregnancy, I was in and out of the hospital ten times, not including the day I gave birth to our wonderful little boy. While I was covered under my parent’s insurance, I’m not going to lie—we would have been in big trouble had it not been for Medicaid. Early on in my pregnancy we enrolled, despite both of us being ashamed and feeling very guilty. Every time I pulled out the Medicaid card, I tried to remember the words a friend of mine who was majoring in social work, the gist of which was, “Courtney, it’s made for situations like this. You’re not taking advantage. You’ve paid into the system and now you get to benefit from it. As long as you don’t abuse it, you’re using it the way it was intended.”
But I’m digressing. Pregnancies last nine months, as you all know. This meant the fall of my senior year was during the in-and-out of the hospital experience. Luckily, my good track record in college encouraged my professors to work with me through the ups and downs; one of the many blessings showered on Corey and I during our journey. Since Corey had just wrapped up his freshman year of college, he opted to go to a small community college in our area instead of back to the school he had attended the year before. Then, in January, we welcomed our little boy, Tate (the best blessing of all), into the world and I started the spring semester of my senior year two weeks later (and three weeks late).
Corey & Tate the day we took him home from the hospital.
So there we were—a little family of three living in my parent’s house on a part-time retail job pay. Corey had decided that the community college wasn’t for him and instead did his best to pick up as many hours as possible. Still, it was tough. Granted, my family helped us out a lot, as did Corey’s. I can’t imagine how different things would have been if my family hadn’t been willing to give us a place to stay, if we would have had to have paid for all of our food (we helped out with the grocery bills some), or if my mom hadn’t been willing to watch Tate when I went to school and Corey worked. Again, we were very blessed.
Fast forward, just a bit. And here are a few extra details, too, so I don’t leave anything behind—because of me not being able to take classes the same summer I was supposed to be working at the school and having to take a lighter load during my pregnancy and the semester Tate was born, I had to go an extra semester at school. Corey, as I said, wasn’t going back to school, but did get a full-time job in a factory in August of 2010 that, though it didn’t pay great, did pay a whole lot better than a part-time retail job (unfortunately, six months later the school bills started showing up). However, we had also decided to get married, so of course you have to throw in the expense of an engagement ring and all the (who knew it cost so much to get married?!) odds and ends of a (fairly small) ceremony. Plus, I’m going to be honest—we didn’t consistently do so well at managing our finances.
Our Wedding Day-- October 1, 2010
But as I was saying, the fast forward—we’re going to stop at November of 2010. Our little family was newly-wed and ready to get out on our own. I love my parents and siblings, but for best results, young married couples should not live with in-laws on either side. Of course, we had to be able to afford our own place. And, lucky me—I married a man who thinks that renting is the ultimate waste of money, especially in a market filled with cheap foreclosures. He was determined to buy. Which, enter another blessing—my grandfather. Grandpa has worked in the construction business for as long as I can remember, though he was a farmer at one point before I was born. When my great grandma died, his inheritance allowed him to become a “flipper.” In November of 2010, he was just finishing up a flip and was looking to sell. When it wasn’t selling quite as fast as he hoped, we were given the opportunity to rent from him for a period of time until he decided what to do next. By rent, though we had worked out a dollar amount, I mean that Grandpa let us live there more or less free of charge. Every month I would write a check, every month it went un-cashed. Granted, we did do small projects to finish the house—painting, flooring, decorating, and such, but it wasn’t all that much. My grandpa is a wonderful, wonderful man. However, the situation wasn’t helping his finances. In January he kindly told us that he thought he needed to sell. Enter a (pretty good) idea from the minds of my husband and grandpa—we could buy! With amazing assistance from my grandpa, in February of 2010 Corey and I officially became homeowners. That same month, I also got a part time job at a bank as a float teller. Yes, things were looking up.
Up, but still not great. With my additional income from my part-time job, we made just a little too much to qualify for Medicaid anymore. While in some ways this was a relief, it was also a bit scary. Tate had been healthy, but what if there was a major expense that came up, God forbid? It wasn’t like we made enough to save much—we were scraping by just to get bills paid. Things were pretty tight. We were definitely living paycheck to paycheck.
Then came a bit of a life-changer—Corey’s grandfather wanted us to go to a financial course that was going on at his church. We agreed and every Wednesday night we were there. I loved it. As a business (and writing) major, finances always intrigued me, but I had always felt that since I didn’t have money, I couldn’t really do too well at managing it. This class taught me that wasn’t true. I could still do well. And we did. Budgeting became something I did every week (as opposed to rarely, if ever, before). We actually began to see growth in our savings account and decrease in our debts.
Soon, Corey got a new job at a better-paying factory and I also was hired full time in the accounting department of a local factory. As I said, blessings abound.
And this is where our story is now. I know I keep saying it, but we were blessed so many times along our journey to this point in ways that significantly helped us, though, at the time, I probably wouldn’t have noticed how blessed we actually were. I truly believe that God had a hand in our lives in huge ways and helped us so much more than I even know. We have family that helped a lot, and other benefits that too many people in similar situations don’t have.
In the end, Corey and I won’t lie and say that we have it all figured out. We have a long way to go before we reach all of our goals and, hopefully, dreams. In all honesty, we haven’t always done great at staying within the lines of being “financially savvy,” but we haven’t done awful either. I’ll also be blunt and say that we haven’t continued to follow all of the rules of the financial class we went to with Corey’s grandpa, though the basic guidelines have stayed a part of our lives (more details later). Still, we’re learning.
So, because we’re learning, and I think that what we’ve learned is extremely valuable, I’m sharing. I hope you made it through this post—I know it’s a bit long, but I think it’s important to know me and my experiences before I start telling you how Corey and I changed our financial life and made sense out of very few cents! J
My little family about a year ago-- yes, we have new pictures-- I just haven't downloaded them yet!