In April 2014, I had $16 in my bank account, over $6,000 in credit card charges, and about $24,000 in school loans. My car was stolen. My mind, faith and wallet was broken. I remember crying in bed: "How did I get here and how do I get out?"
To give you some background, I graduated college in May 2013 and accepted a job offer in the Bay Area by September 2013. For four months, I slept on my aunt’s living room floor to save money for my first apartment. There were seven of us staying in her 2-bed, 1-bath apartment and I am so grateful that my aunt let me crash there temporarily. When I finally saved enough for a down payment and rent, I moved into my first apartment in April 2014. Within that month, as I was leaving for work at 5:30 AM, my 1997 Infiniti car was nowhere to be found. I had to report it stolen.
A week later, the cops called me and said it was found. I paid $300 just to get it out of the towing company for being there less than an hour, only to find out my car couldn't be driven anymore. They broke it apart, stole pieces, and trashed it. I was so angry.
I saved money to live on my own, only to go completely broke in one month.
That day, my parents drove from Sacramento because I had no one else in the Bay Area to help me get my car out. I had a few cousins in the area, but they were all working. My parents brought me canned foods to last a few weeks and Matt (boyfriend status at the time) stayed with me to comfort me. Matt’s parents were so kind to offer me their old van to drive around when needed & Matt let me drive his car to work once a week. I was fortunate enough to have a boss who understood my situation and let me work from home 4 days a week. I was also lucky to have a Marketing career where I could do that.
I was absolutely grateful for the support I had, but I was also really angry and sad. On the one hand, I knew I was blessed to have a roof over my head and food to eat, but I still felt like I was in a dark place. I felt more alone than ever trying to start this new life without close family and friends I can call to come over, depend on or distract me from reality. I accepted what happened, but as I looked at my bank accounts and statements daily, I felt ashamed and depressed. I was stuck. I couldn’t buy a new car because I didn’t have the funds. I paid my minimum bill payments on time, but I put more charges on my credit card because I didn’t have enough money to buy groceries. I was living paycheck to paycheck and I didn’t know how to get out of it. I spent most of my college days in denial, setting everything to auto-pay so I could ignore my statements, but it finally all caught up to me. I felt hopeless.
Eight months later, I finally bought a new car but enter: an increase in monthly payments and MORE DEBT. I bought a new car because I was so tired of old car problems and my luck with them breaking down or being stolen again (before my ‘97 Infiniti, I had a ‘92 Nissan Sentra). Adding on more debt and another monthly payment didn’t make me feel better, but I also found peace in having a car again to save my job.
If you really know me, I don’t spend a ton of money on nice things. I didn't grow up rich. I can go years without buying a new phone and I don’t need the latest technology gadgets, clothes, or shoes. I definitely don’t need the latest or greatest car either. The money on my credit card was mostly food, gifts to give, travel expenses, and drunken decisions to pay for people’s drinks. Who did I think I was?! My thoughts when I would swipe my card is, “I’ll just pay it later. I’ll figure it out.” Isn’t that what most people do anyway? Being in debt is normal and people around me have credit card bills too, so it’s fine, right?
I dove deep into debt and I didn’t even know that it would drown me.
2014 was my breaking point. I was unhealthy financially, mentally, and physically. I was so tired of feeling down and being so hard on myself. Eventually, I had to just accept that my debt wasn’t going to go away anytime soon but that didn’t mean I had to keep adding to it. In 2015, I put my credit card away and became intentional about tracking my spending and bill payments. I created spreadsheets that helped me manage my money better. I found a new job that made me happier, paid me more, and was less of a commute so I spent less money just to get to work.
On the last day at my old job, I experienced another turning point. One of my colleagues gave me a farewell card and in it was a check. I thought, "Aw, this must be a check for $20-$50 for a nice meal. That's so sweet of her." It was way more than that. She wrote:
In my career, I have met many bright young adults. Some had an extra spark that told me they would go far and attain their dreams. You are one of those special ones. Your integrity, work ethic, creativity and passion propel you to succeed in whatever you focus on. I'm so excited for you to be taking the next step to achieving your goals. Always follow your heart. I'm so proud to have known and worked with you.
P.S. This monetary gift is to pay down some of your student loans. The sooner you can get rid of that heavy burden, the higher you will soar."
She wrote an $800 check out to me. I cried so hard.
How could someone I talk to at work be this kind to care about my future? I talked to God on my drive home after I opened the card. It was like He knew I needed a sign to keep going, to remind me that He's got me. When I read her message, all I could think was, “One day, I want to be her for someone else. I want to bless someone who needs it. I want to put myself in a position to give generously so I can empower someone like me to be better.”
By 2017, I paid off all my credit cards, but I still had my car payments and school loans. I’ve remained credit card debt free ever since and it has been an AMAZING feeling.
By 2019, I paid off my car a few months early. I combined my debt with my husband’s so we still had his credit card, medical bills, and school loans. I still had my school loans.
Today, on July 15, 2020, I am - we are - completely debt-free.
When I looked back on the card my co-worker wrote me, it was dated July 21, 2015. Who knew that five years later, I would be in the position to let her know that my loans have been paid off and that heavy burden has been lifted from my life. It took me writing this blog to realize how big of an accomplishment this moment is for me, for us, and for our future.
I no longer feel hopeless; instead, I feel hopeful.
Throughout the years, I felt like I was drowning in an ocean of debt. The water pressure felt heavier when I panicked. When I remained calm in the current situation I was in, I would resurface to see the sky of hope. Debt kept trying to pull me in deeper, but God was my lifeguard. I struggled to swim out of debt with waves of problems crashing onto me, pushing me into the depths and debts of darkness, but faith kept me floating and God put in the work with me. Today, I finally found myself stepping onto the shore of debt freedom and I am hopeful.
I’m hopeful that we can continue to live debt-free and reach financial independence one day. I’m hopeful that we can teach our future kids about how to use, spend and save money wisely. I’m hopeful that I can give back generously like my old coworker. I’m hopeful that I can help with family emergencies without questioning if I’m going to have enough money for myself next month. I’m hopeful that my husband and I can live the type of life we envision for ourselves without feeling held back by money.
To my 2014 broke self: You made it. Celebrate, pray, and give. Won't God do it?
Today is a moment to celebrate the end of a cycle and the start of a new beginning. It's not easy to talk about your personal financial situation, but if you are reading this and you're worried, don't be. Stay hopeful, have a plan, and be intentional. You got this.
If you want to hear how my husband and I tackled our debt with actionable items, click here to read this blog or listen to our debt-free podcast episode. If you have any questions, feel free to hit me up. I support you in your journey to debt-freedom!
With love & confetti,