Not everyone has felt that feeling, but I most certainly did. It was the pit in my stomach that reminded me every waking moment of every day. It was the noise in my head of all the demands from EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE…and the noise was so much and so loud that I heard nothing at all. It’s when I felt so overwhelmed that I didn’t know what to do next. So many needs pulled me in so many directions that I felt like I might lose my mind.
If you’ve never felt the pressure of finances on the run, let me congratulate you! It’s a feeling I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy and yet we found ourselves in that very position.
If you find yourself in this position, let me say that I have hope for you, dear friend, and I will hold on to that hope for you until your hope returns.
I don’t talk in depth about it very often, the point at which Joel and I hit our financial rock bottom. The reason isn’t because I don’t want to share, but moreso because it’s TOO PAINFUL TO SHARE. I would much rather give people practical advice about saving money to cut overhead costs than to get down to the nitty-gritty. But life is really about matters of the heart, isn’t it? It’s not all dollars and cents; although, it may seem like it is on this frugal-living blog. Even though it was just over 8 years ago, I find that the wound is still there and even still a little raw. See, Joel and I are now in a place in our marriage where we will continue to work as a team to maneuver whatever obstacles might stand in our way. However, it wasn’t always like this…
The condensed version of the first 7 years of our marital finances can be summed up like this: marriage, student loans (dumb purchases made with those student loans), car loans, home loan, baby cometh, loss of income, juggling debts, better income, another baby cometh, loss of main income followed by inconsistent income, and finally hitting rock bottom. We’d made some VERY unwise decisions that we just assumed would work out for us because life just has a way of working things out, RIGHT???? We were typical, though I won’t normalize our behaviors at all. Though I’ve always loved a good budget, Joel and I weren’t on the same page and so we did not see the coming storm that almost took our house and our marriage.
I gave a testimonial a couple years back and the person I was presenting with asked me to speak about the moment when Joel and I hit rock bottom. I’d always called on the good ol’ story about the Christmas in which we were rummaging through the toy aisle at Walgreens on Christmas Eve, desperately trying to find something to put under the tree for my oldest son. This time, however, I made myself sit down and consider the day we’d really hit rock bottom, the day I knew our finances had broken my husband…and myself.
It was the winter of 2011 and our house was in foreclosure. I knew we’d built our house of cards on a foundation of sand with our beliefs about money and how it would be handled within our household. And now we were in foreclosure with the auction date set for two weeks after my due date for our second baby girl. The truth is that I had no idea if we would even have a home to bring our beautiful baby girl home to. Yeah, it was that serious. The ironic thing is that we didn’t have a bunch of credit cards since our financial drug of choice was student loans, a couple cars, and a house that we couldn’t afford. Couple that mess with a loss of income and it was ugly.
It was a rather frigid morning here in the desert and the house was buzzing with our regular morning activity. The kids were playing in the living room and I was getting breakfast ready as Joel was heading off to work. We’d barely looked at each other for days, spoken for weeks, and talked about our dire situation in literally months! That morning, he walked through the kitchen, passing right behind me, to the garage door and didn’t even stop to give me a kiss. I turned my head to make a sarcastic comment and that’s when I saw it. He had only about three more steps til he was out of the kitchen and into the garage, but those three steps away from me showed that my husband was broken…his spirit, his fortitude, his resiliency was BROKEN!
I silently watched as he drug his feet along, his shoulders slouched forward, and his head pointed toward the ground. He looked like a dog that was making that one-way trip down the long, dark hall when their time “is up.” I watched this sad individual and reflected on how this same man once stood towering over me, his head held high, as he promised me eternity. On our wedding day, we didn’t recite the traditional vows but promised that we would belong to each other FOR ETERNITY. I knew this wasn’t the eternity that he thought he signed up for…operating in a perpetual state of hopelessness, overwhelm, resentment, and pain. And here he was, not even able to look up long enough to give me a, “See you later, honey.”
That was the day our finances broke me too. I’m pretty feisty. I don’t typically go down without a fight but this moment, I had no more fight left. I dropped to my knees, snatched my glasses off my face and threw them across the room in frustration. I cupped my face in my hands and cried, even my children’s sweet arms wrapped around my neck were not able to stop the steady stream of sorrow that flowed from my heart. I’d like to say that I got up off the floor and strongly declared that from that point on, we would only move upward but that didn’t happen. But as most mothers do, I got up off the floor, wiped my tears, and lied to my children about why Mommy was crying so hard…and I must’ve slipped and my glasses flew off my face as I fell to the ground. (Lie much, Mommy????)
I wallowed for days but finally got the point where I wanted to talk to Joel about it. I wanted for us to automatically click and spring to action. That’s my personality…I see an issue and I want resolution NOW!!! I’d just expected that I would triumphantly declare that we are going to work together to get on a budget and start digging ourselves out of this mess and just have everything fall in place from there. Instead, I was met with a husband who was hurting, who was unsure of himself and I gave him no reason to be sure of anything I said either. He just shrugged his shoulders and reminded me that he was doing the best he could. That most certainly WAS NOT the reaction I was expecting.
It took a couple weeks for us to decide that we would sit down and take a look at just how bad things were, and get help if we needed to. I trembled as I sat down next to Joel at the coffee table with all the information I’d gathered about our situation. We sat in disbelief of the staggering number in front of both of us and discussed our options. (In the spirit of privacy, I decided that the actual numbers aren’t important and I don’t want to take away from the relationship aspect of our finances.) But I can tell you about the general guidelines we decided we would follow to help get our situation under control.
We were what the debt-free community would refer to as “Team Tiny-Shovel” as our income wasn’t very high so the first step we decided is that Joel would have laser focus on bringing money in. He took on the burden of continuing to be the only working parent as we made enough that we couldn’t qualify for assistance. In a matter of time, he did end up finding another job that gradually increased our income.
As for me, I would continue to stay home with our children after our new baby arrived and my responsibility would be to allocate our income responsibly. That meant taking every single penny that came in and pinching it until it cried out in pain, so to speak. So, while Joel went to work, I began looking for expenses that we could cut from our budget, evaluating needs versus wants, and researching how to get our needs as frugally as possible. There was a definite learning curve to this…it took Joel a while to get our income up and it took even longer for me to learn new skills that would save us money. The amount saved needed to be closest as possible to the take home amount I would bring home if I were working, minus childcare costs. As the woman of the house and homemaker, I decided that this was my new “job.” This would be my new “position” as the Chief Financial Officer of our family’s financial business. Oh friend, can I just emphasize the importance of adjusting one’s attitude to operating in offense? Every morning, when I woke up and Joel went off to work (still not feeling that great but at least determined), I had to decide that I was going to work too…manipulating numbers for our budget all the while stretching every dollar til Washington begged for mercy.
The first few budgets were all about getting current. It’s not like we were frittering money away before so our main focus was that any extra money, no matter how small, would have to go to paying on SOMETHING. We couldn’t afford to be prideful and snuff even a coupon here and there. IT ALL MATTERED and it all helped cut our costs and made us feel satisfied with our efforts at the end of the day. The tax return we received that year helped claw us out of our last inches of delinquency so from there, we were able to dust ourselves off and stand up straight again.
Ugh, I HATE how easy this all seems in writing. The truth is that this wasn’t an easy time at all. The only thing that was easy is that we’d made the decision that we were going to fight for our marriage, our house, and our children and their future. We didn’t even like each other from time to time, but we were also in it for ourselves. We were either going to fight each other and ultimately ruin our family or we were going to wo/man up and fight WITH each other AGAINST the consequences of our actions. There was going to be a fight either way, so why not fight FOR each other, WITH each other?
We took a Financial Peace University class where we learned about dealing with our debt and how to sacrifice now so that we could eventually have financial freedom. We loved the idea of not having to be in debt for any reason but with Joel’s inconsistent income, we kept getting derailed and giving up, which resulted in a budget of minimum payments and no accelerated debt repayment plan. It wasn’t for lack of desire, just lack of understanding how to navigate such a touch circumstance. After a few years of being on and off the wagon, we decided to tweak it just a tad and move forward.
For most of the years since this rather tumultuous time, we’ve enjoyed graduating from “Team Tiny Shovel” and into middle class but the struggle is still here. We still have a mini-mountain of student loan debt to pay off until we can focus on paying off our house, and we are still working with inconsistent income. But what a sweet day it will be when we can sit in our living room and just breathe in the aroma of a home that it truly ours? It hasn’t been smooth sailing through the years, and each has presented us with a trial..or two…or three.
I still look to learn ways of good stewardship of our money and think I always will. My husband works incredibly hard as do so many other parents (and me, sorta, as I work part time but have the pleasure of bringing my kids with me). We spend so much of our life working so whatever it is we spend our money on had better be worth the time and energy we trade.
Those times I described earlier left a lasting impression on my heart, of feeling hopeless during a time that was supposed to be joyous as we welcomed our sweet Ashley into our family. My heart was shadowed in the worry and uncertainty of our situation. Perhaps this is why I’m so passionate about encouraging others who are working toward getting control of their finances and paying off/down debt. Because, at the end of the day finance isn’t ONLY about money, it’s also about the people who are impacted by our choices, the legacies that are left to our children and their children, and the opportunities that we are able to seize when we can walk in financial freedom.
If you are in a situation where you feel like you’re in way over your head, I hope you will take initiative to study, plan with your partner or accountability partner, and follow through. Get plugged in to a community of like-minded people who encourage you when you are down and celebrate your victories. Surround yourself with positive influences, be diligent on WHY you are making bold choices for change, and remember that you are not alone. I shared this messy and even embarrassing testimony in hopes that no one would feel ashamed to face the facts and move on toward resolution.
If you are not in a rough financial situation, can I challenge you to reach out and be a cheerleader for those who are?
I hope this post was helpful for SOMEONE. It’s taken me two years since the last time I shared my story to gather up the fortitude to share again, and this time a little more permanently than a 40-minute presentation and let me just be transparent enough to say that I am terrified to hit the publish button! If you are looking to see ways to start saving money around the house, here’s a link to my YouTube channel to get your started. And if you have any questions, PLEASE feel free to ask and I can do my best.
As always, stay safe and God bless!