Wednesday, November 29, 2006

....So You Better Treat Her Right

I’ve spent the past two years, but this year more aggressively, working to get a stronger financial foothold. My history with money is a classic tale of growing up poor and struggling to escape that mindset. We weren’t poverty-stricken but I definitely felt a strong sense of lack. I had one Swatch watch, or pair of Guess jeans, to my friends’ four or five. We never took vacations. I shared a room with my sister. I didn't have access to a car so I didn’t learn to drive until I bought my first car at age 20 (using student loans..but we'll get to that). We had just enough to assimilate, though. We passed. My sisters and I worked and made our own money and developed our own style based on bargains and thrift stores. It's hard having champagne taste.

I moved out as soon as possible and promptly got myself knocked up....not necessarily the best way to learn fiscal responsibility. I got my first credit card when Stella was a baby and I was a 20 year-old single mom, the same year I took out the first of many, many student loans. Oh, that first loan check of the semester, how I loved it so when suddenly my bank account showed thousands of dollars! Miraculous! But really, it was the only viable way for me to finish my degree with no child support. After college I took a noble, fulfilling extremely low-paying teaching job. At that point I had several credit cards, several store cards and $40K in student loan debt. Reality hit me hard....also known as depression. Things spiraled out of control. I felt like I was at the bottom of a whirlpool and didn’t have the energy to fight my way out.

I climbed out slowly (still climbing), thanks to a goulash of medication, eastern & western medicine, friends, family, therapy, yoga, detox diets, exercise and sheer will. I tried a little of everything until something clicked. What they say about baby steps really is true. Imagine that. I defaulted on some student loans and got on repayment plans. I cut up all my cards and incrementally paid them off. I moved in with my mother. I worked two jobs. I got the state to take over the child support struggle (it’s amazing how effective the threat of jail time can be).

Last week I ordered all three copies of my credit report. Yikes. It wasn’t pretty. But it’s getting better. I’ve made progress, chartable progress. Yesterday I completed paperwork to consolidate my student loans. I have an IRA. But damn, this shit is hard, yo...doing it all by myself. I still hate thinking about money and I feel like punching Suze Orman in the face, even though I know she’s right. It is empowering to take control.

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