A couple weeks ago, I gave you my dissertation on the first part of my life, how I grew up and what I did and did not learn about money. Here is the second part.
I graduated from college with a respectable gpa, a ton of student loans, a car, a dog, and still not a heck of a lot of common sense about real money management. I could balance my checkbook, I shopped for clothes on sale, I was sensible, but not terribly informed. My grandmother surprised me during my junior year and bought me a car. It was not an expensive or fancy car, but it was a car. This was my grandmother who never seemed to enjoy her money, but she turned around and bought me a car. I remember my mother being really angry. Angry because she was not the one who bought the car. Angry because my grandmother made it very clear the car was bought for me and needed to be in my name and my name only, angry because I took the car, and even angrier that I quickly agreed to pay for the insurance and all repair bills so I could have the car at school. She called it my multiple birthday, Christmas, graduation present. My mother muttered that she never had a new car, only used ones. To put it mildly, things were a bit tense at my house for a while.
What I was discovering as I grew up was that my mother was a money manipulator. As I stated before, she made a lot of promises to me about money that she never followed up on or changed her terms and conditions with money. I know now a lot of her anger about my car was due to the fact that my grandmother had taken part of her control over me away from her. In retrospect, I have to give my grandmother a lot of credit. She knew I was a responsible person and I would live up to the agreement of valid insurance, no friends driving the car, no drinking and driving, pay for my own gas, etc. I lived up to my end and my mother was very bitter about it. She liked and still likes failure in other people. She did not like losing her control over me.
After working for a year, I went graduate school. Based on my undergraduate experience, I was determined to put myself through graduate school all on my own, and I did. I went to the local State University and did it again on grants, loans and scholarships. My mother's offers of financial help were taken with a grain of salt. I did not count on them and when they came, she would have her usual terms and conditions attached to them. I was getting tired of having conditions attached to money. I stopped asking for it, even for birthdays and Christmas. In fact, one Christmas I asked for a vacuum cleaner. It was easier to ask for things than for money. The money I could have used for things like food and car insurance, but even gift money had conditions. The fact I was putting myself through grad school without any parental help seemed to really make her mad. I took any money I was given, but I just stopped asking for any help. It was easy this way. I did not have to deal with what ever condition was being given with the check. A good dose of guilt and manipulation with each check, I did not need it anymore.
Graduate school wasn't easy. I can remember being really poor in graduate school, eating oatmeal for breakfast and lunch and ramen noodles with frozen vegetables for dinner. My boyfriend would occasionally come up to visit with a bag of real food, I'd ask him to bring food with color, most of my meals were beige or white. My university had an Ag school and at the Ag School Diary Bar for $5 I could buy half gallon of milk, a block of cream cheese, a half gallon of ice cream, and a pound of butter and occasionally a dozen eggs if they were in stock. Twice a month I shopped at the Dairy store, I ate a lot of dairy and I drank milk, I don't even really like milk, but milk was cheaper than soda and OJ. I can remember coming home from classes one morning all excited to have my oatmeal for lunch. I opened the sugar bowl to put a spoonful of sugar on my oatmeal, only to find it full of ants. I dumped the sugar out and cried. That was my last cup of sugar until the weekend when I would get my small paycheck from my part time job. I spent the next three days eating plain oatmeal, tea with no sugar, and plain ramen noodles. The only upside to this all was I was really skinny, my hair was falling out because of poor nutrition, but I was skinny!
During this time I had and used credit cards. When I realized that I could not afford credit cards, I just stopped using them and slowly paid them off-I had a couple gas cards, a couple store cards, and a Master Card. Some months I paid the minimum, some months I was able to pay more, I did use my Master Card sometimes-like when I was desperate for a tank of gas to get to and from class and my job, but I did pretty much stop using credit while I was being a student. I just did not have the money, it was hard enough to make ends meet as it was. I also was an expert in getting the most out of a tank of gas. I am proud to say the only time I ran out of gas was when I literally was pulling into the gas station one day. I pushed the car the last few feet.
After Graduate School I started to applying for jobs in New England and just not getting a job, a bunch of job interviews, but no job offers. I packed up my life in a small U-Haul and moved to Northern Virginia with my boyfriend. He had moved down about 6 months earlier, I followed. Life was pretty good. We had a small, but OK apartment that took dogs (I supported myself and my dogs while in grad school). He had a job, I had a couple job interviews and somehow I managed to find a job on my second interview and in my field as well. I started to earn money and put money away. My boyfriend and I opened a joint checking account and we each had our own separate checking account as well. We used the joint account for household expenses and our separate account for our own fun expenses. Somehow it evolved that my boyfriend became the one who managed our money, he paid the bills, he gave us each an allowance, we both worked on the budget, it was pretty easy for me to allow him to just take control of the money. Plus I think his ego was a bit bruised. It ended up that I was the one in the relationship that earned a better salary and had better benefits. He kept saying it did not matter, but I think it did matter, nay, no later on it really mattered when I eventually moved up to a better job with more money and he did not. Since I never learned how to really manage my money, it was also easier for me to let him take care of our finances. He was actually very good at it. It was at this time that my mother started getting really weird about money. This in and of itself is a whole other serious of posts that can be lumped in with families and money.
We were doing well. I picked up a part time job that required some travel (and subsequently got me re-hooked on travel), I used the money from the part time job to pay for additional part time study for an advanced certification. I worked a full time job, a part time job and was studying for an advanced certificate. I got a new job and I learned a bunch of new skills, one of them was budgeting and money management for my department. I found out I was really good at budgeting and money management. I was able to increase income, decrease expenses and turn a profit. I got a couple credit cards. We used the cards for everything from gas for the car to school books, to family presents, to clothes shopping. We usually carried a balance, not a high one, eventually, I paid off the cards, but kept them. I liked having my plastic, I was able to shop without having to answer to my boyfriend for each debit on our debit card.
After a long time together and divergent interests, the long time boyfriend and I split up. We were having issues and part of the issues were money issues. That too is another set of posts, relationships and money. The issue was I was trying to take control of my money and it did not go over too well with my boyfriend. I had for a number of years (almost nine), let him handle our money, how it was budgeted, how it was spent, what it was spent on. Now I was taking control of my own fiscal life. I had a 401K, I wanted to donate to charities more than we were doing, I wanted us to buy property (we lived in a nice and inexpensive rental), he did not.
After I left my boyfriend, I lived happily in the WDC metro area for about 2 years until an internal transfer in my company came up and I had the desire and urge to move back to New England. After 11 years, it was time to go 'home". As Yogi Berra said, it was Déjà vu al over again. I packed up my life in a U-Haul and moved to NE. I bought a very small house and worked at my company for about another year. The company was changing and I did not like the direction the company was taking. My new boss was a very difficult person (and in hindsight, I should have realized something was wrong when she went through 12 managers in her division in less than one year), I was hating the commute from my house to work (about 40 minutes on a good day, the work did not have regular hours, a lot of long time employees at the main office were leaving and I wanted out.
I read the local paper and saw a job announcement for an office manager in a local business. I interview and took the job despite a cut in salary and benefits. It had regular 9-5 hours and I figured I'd be able to get a part time job. I had a couple part time seasonal jobs, I had money in the bank, I had no great demands on my time or life, or my bank account. I was slowly paying down my credit cards and enjoying the change of pace while I tried to figure out my life. I thought I would just have an epiphany and get a new life and go back to my slightly workaholic way of life. 'Twas not to be. 9-11 happened and as we all know, the world changed.
In retrospect, I made several mistakes. I changed jobs and took a salary and benefits cut. I made the mistake of not having a decent emergency fund. I made the mistake of not realizing until it was really too late that I was pretty much underemployed, but at least employed and did nothing to change my situation until it was too late. I still used my credit cards, but not as much as I had. I did not plan for or anticipate various house expenses-new roof, new exterior paint job, the various DIY projects that always crop up that occur with home ownership and life expenses. I had a semi serious long distance relationship that started to drain me not only monetary, but emotionally as well. I made a bunch of pretty stupid decisions, many of them financial. I made the decision at one point to stop using my credit cards and just starting paying them off. I literally just stopped using them, lived on cash and made the effort to pay of the cards. Even with good advice and careful research, I was having money issues. I needed a better paying job and I needed to get my act together.
But what really got me in trouble was my lack of understanding of the Universal Default. It was Universal Default that eventually pushed me over the edge. I will admit I made some bad choices with my money, I had one car payment go missing, I made a double payment the next month and a couple months later I missed a payment. This was all it took for the Universal Default to kick in and that was all I needed to go into fiscal hell.
The next installment
How the Universal Default kicked my butt, how my family still managed to make me crazy, how my very fragile fiscal life fell apart, how I ended up Bankrupt and how I am "Bouncing Back".