Something has been on my heart for quite some time and it has to do with finances. Hell when Sarah Ordo asked us girls in Her Best F**king Life Mastermind group on Facebook what we wanted a video on, I was the first person to comment “finances” and the other girls agreed (by the way, she did the video on finances). Especially since this whole COVID-19 thing got started and we had to shelter in place, it got me thinking of my own finances. When I first saw all those people on the news (and it was a HUGE crowd) waiting in line for days to fill out applications of unemployment benefits and food stamps, I was honestly shocked and it kinda got me scared.
I have been blessed to still be able to work from home. I understand how fortunate I am to be able to do that and still get a normal paycheck. However, I wasn’t always this secure in my finances. If I’m being honest, exactly this time last year, I had to chose between having gas to get to work or having food. I will never forget the time when I legit had $10 cash and a negative in my bank account and I had to chose between having gas for getting to work and having food to eat because I wouldn’t get for another week and a half. I legit would be at work starving, drinking water, and getting my meals from walking around the hot bar at work and getting samples so that I didn’t technically starve.
My friends did what they could for me from time to time but call it pride but I didn’t want to depend on them. I hated looking pitiful and besides, my family didn’t make it easy for me to ask for monetary assistance. I’d get yelled at and of course the statements “why are you always broke?” “omg why can’t you get it together” and so on and so forth. Hell, when I went home for a visit and a family member complimented me on not asking for money, I died inside a little bit. They didn’t know how many times I went hungry or how many nights I lived in my apt without any power because my utilities were shut off and I had to wait until I got enough money to pay the balance. There were times I had to chose between paying rent and paying my light bill.
I felt terrible. Like a complete failure and I couldn’t ask my family for help. I just had to suffer in silence. Now some may ask, why didn’t you just get a second job and truth be told, I actually did for three years. I first took on a second job when I had to raise money for me to go to school and finish my last semester of undergrad (I ran out of financial aid money by then). I would go to one job then go to the next. I took one semester off and at first, I barely scraped by with a $125 paycheck for two weeks of work from my second job. Thank goodness for my crush, PokeBoy, because thanks to him, I was able to eventually get more hours but I still had other things to pay for: my rent, gas, insurance, and food. Thanks to me working in fast food, I was technically able to get one free meal at work for my shifts so for the first semester that I was at Chick-fil-A (CFA), I ate nothing but CFA meals, sometimes taking home extras.
So where did my money woes come from? Well I’d start technically through my childhood. Allow me to explain. I did grow up super comfortable and we never had to struggle and we always had food and I was able to go to Disney or summer camp or extra curriculars so, for me, since I never saw us struggle or my grandfather making budget or anything like that so I just viewed money as something that we just had and as something we will always have. So we weren’t poor at all, just your average middle class family. I remember one time in eighth grade, we had a project and I was shocked when I found out how much bills can cost based on what my grandfather told me. Anyway, when I graduated high school, I got my first bank account and debit card. I had a little bit of money in it and what was my first “major” purchase with my graduation money? Concert tickets. Concert tickets for a concert I couldn’t even go to so that was money well wasted!
Now, while I was up there for school, I started getting closer to my cousins that lived up there. Now while I grew up comfortable, they grew up in poverty (no tea; no shade). They scraped together money for food or rent. Sometimes, the lights were out for a week and when they were able to, they got money together and paid the light bill. Eating Ramen noodles was something that was normal for them. Me? Never had them until I went up to Tally (Tallahassee) for college. Now? I can’t even stomach the thought of eating those noodles. It just reminds me of being broke. Anyway, I vividly remember once when I was growing up how upset my grandfather would get when they would call and ask for money. He couldn’t understand why they couldn’t get it together and be more responsible when it came to money. At the time, I didn’t see it as a big deal that they asked to borrow money. Hell, my grandma used to send them our clothes that we didn’t wear so that you know, they could have things to wear.
So with me being around them and with my lack of common sense, let’s just say, your girl was broke. Growing up, I got an allowance (much to the dismay of my grandmother) but I never actually had to work, my grandparents provided (materially) all that I needed (and when I say needed, I mean it. They utterly refused to spoil me, which in hindsight was for my own good). So when I got my first job, McDonald’s, I didn’t quite have a great work ethic. I mean I’d go there everyday from 2-10pm and after a month or so of that, I quite. It wasn’t until I flunked my first year at the Florida State University (FSU) that I actually took having a job more seriously. I mean it was still in food service but it was something that I quickly realized that I had to pay rent and other bills with. When I was first applying to college, my grandfather told me not to take out loans but when I was cut off, I started taking out loans and not only that, I took out the max amount I could take (see why I ran out of financial aid close to the end of undergrad?) at the advice of my cousin. I mean at the time, it sounded like the smart thing to do but soon the money ran out and when I flunked out of school, I had to pay my bills without the help of financial aid.
While living with my cousin, like I said, our financial habits weren’t all that great, even though we both would work two jobs at a time each! Eventually, we had to get a title loan on the car that my family had just bought me because my cousin was still making payments on her car so we couldn’t use hers. We were almost done with the title loan when we had to take out another one. I did not want to do it. I cried and cried. My stomach was hurting on the way to Georgia (title loans are illegal in FL) and now that I think of it, I should’ve stuck to my guns and said “Fuck no”. My body was telling me it was a bad idea and I ignored it because I didn’t want to look “selfish”. In the end, we couldn’t keep up with the payments and the car was reposed. What was my cousin’s reaction? Aww well! Like are you fucking kidding me?! I made up in my mind that I was done. I wanted to separate. There was this one time that i gave her my entire paycheck to get her car out of reposesion because we were family so we had to stick together (we weren’t living together then).
That is where I really messed up. I would let them put things in my name (which if your family or friends is asking you to do that and they don’t have a good money history, don’t do it!) and when they couldn’t pay the bill, it would go into collections. Again, we’re family and we were all we had and we couldn’t let each other fall, when in reality, I couldn’t climb up because they (along with me being naive) was bringing me down. Y’all, please do you so that you don’t have to be in that same predicament. Like I see why they say don’t just loan money out to family. I don’t agree with him with a lot of his ideas, but Steve Harvey said once somewhere that when folks called him to ask to borrow money, he said to wait a week before answering because most of the time, the problem would solve itself. He also said to have them think of how they could solve it without involving you. It’s okay. Be selfish. If not, it will hinder you from a more financially free life and you won’t be burdened with debt that YOU’LL have to pay and repair your credit. A poor credit score can truly ruin your life.
Anyway, while I was working full time, I got on Food Stamps for a few years. It was okay but I honestly didn’t like it. I hated pulling it out at the store and having everyone know I was on food assistance. Oh a small note, when at the store, please refrain from judging someone because they have a nice phone or a nice purse. You don’t know if it was gifted to that person or the person worked really hard to buy it. It’s not fair to judge. Anyway, (rant over), when the time came for me to reapply so that I can continue to receive food stamps, I didn’t bother applying. I was over it and had to believe that God would provide because I refused to reapply for food stamps. Another rant (sorry): y’all, please don’t be that person and sell your food stamps for money. It’s dishonest and negatively affects those who actually need it. Don’t be that person (rant over…again lol). I will say, things started looking up for me financially, when I got away from my family.
When I stopped being around them, I focused on paying off my debt. I got a second job and was attending grad school. Maybe it’s not so smart but I used whatever financial aid I was getting on bills AND paying off my debt. My goal was to only owe my student loans and to consolidate them when I graduated and when it was time to actually pay them off. One of the things that encouraged me to really fix my credit was reading the book Real Money Answers for Every Woman by Patrice C. Washington (great book by the way). I looked at my credit report and started paying down on the debt. Later on, I can apply for student loan forgiveness for my loans so that I don’t owe so much money. Things started look up. I mean, I wasn’t breathing easily but I was making some small progress towards getting my finances in order.
Now sure, some would say “you’re working two jobs. You should’ve been fine financially”. I was not. The cost of living in Tallahassee was surprisingly expensive or maybe it was the fact that since my credit wasn’t;t high enough, things were just really expensive. And I hate when people say that people who have government assistance are just lazy when actually it’s the total opposite. Now, I will admit there are some bad apples out there who don’t want to live off assistance but y’all, if your credit isn’t good, chances are you’ll have to pay a high deposit to move into an apartment or maybe even to turn on the utilities. Some rent furniture because they can’t afford a set and renting is very expensive. For example, a normal $700 living room set will end up costing the renter $2,000. Not to mention the pay day loans, debit cards (not an actual bank card), and pawn shops with the interest that they charge people for their services. It takes A LOT to move from government assistance to living comfortably.
When I first got hired as a teacher, I thought “finally my broke days are behind me!”, when honestly, I’m still technically broke, but I’m not broke to the point of where I’m not sure where my next meal will come from. I learned to live within my means and to be humble about a lot of things. Usually, I like shopping at Ross and clearance sections at Department store websites, or even Amazon (I make sure to have my sort search categorized by lowest price first) for when I want to treat myself to something functional but trendy. I shop at Publix where there’s tons of BOGO. I have a phone service in which I pay $75 for three months of phone service. Hell, I want to buy a cheaper and functional car until I can one day afford the one I really want (a black Lexus SUV). And I’m doing all of this on my own (although it wouldn’t hurt to have someone I can share things with).
So where am I now? Well, I’m still working. I moved into a student apartment (all inclusive student living) so I’m able to save more money versus living at or above my means so that I won’t end up living paycheck to paycheck (not a fun place to be). Yes I am uncomfortable but I’m looking in the long run for what will help me financially. I’m going to continue to pay on my debt as well. I just recently purchased the book Broke Millennial by Erin Lowry so I’m reading that currently. I’m also working with one of my best friends (ForthaMasses) and she’s helping me by putting me on a budget. I appreciate her for that plus she left room in my budget for me to have fun with! I am determined to get a handle on my debt and you know, maybe you all can help keep me accountable lol. One thing I HIGHLY suggest you all do is pray about things and work on your relationship with God. There have been so many times when I thought I was just crumbling and someway somehow, I got through it. The only way I know I was able to was because of God, so please make it a habit to take things to hi in prayer, during both the good days and rough.
What are some of your tips for working on your finances?