Three hundred and thirty

Personal stories Part One

I’ve been talking about sharing stories of people who have been through (or are going through) financial troubles.  I think it’s really important to help understand the many faces of Canadian poverty and how to overcome that.  A few days ago one of the gracious readers of the blog, theragingarcangel (I forgot to ask you if you want me to put up your real name, so I’ll leave it as this for now), commented that he’d be happy to share his financial story on the blog.  We did an e-mail interview and here are the questions and his very personal responses:

1. You said you grew up with a little money, but because of the divorce of your parents, you ended up with a lot less. Do you think your childhood taught you certain ways to deal with money?
– Hmmm…. not initially, no — all I witnessed, as a 15 year old, was the stress it put on mom with two teenaged boys, and a baby.  But I guess we never starved or were cold, so she must have managed to scrimp somehow, and it was in my much later life when she was able to talk to me about that period of time, that I learned how resourceful she was.  Unfortunately, it has only been VERY recently that she has started to impart that wisdom on me.  I think it is “easier” to be careful with money when you don’t have any…

2. What was the turning point that sent you into debt (I’m assuming from your comment the other day that you are paying off debt and that’s why you don’t have any extra money now)?
– A few factors, like a slow moving train wreck:  I came out of university with a year remaining and couldn’t finish because of funds, into an early 1990’s economy that had no jobs (for almost 3 years), and the constant need/obligation/feeling to help out as much as possible to lessen the financial burdens at home…then a bad breakup with my fiancée when I was around 29 which I didn’t handle well (you can use your imagination and you would probably be accurate with the filling in of the blanks here), and THEN… I moved in to my aunt’s house to help take care of her two little girls after their dad went crazy, and became the parental figure for my cousins.  That last one was a great expense as there were many legal things to take care of and so forth. (It may help to know that this aunt is my mom’s youngest sister, and she is only 6 months older than me, and we went to highschool and university together, so she is really more like my sister — big Jamaican family)

3. How have you coped since then?  Negative and positive ways.
– negative –> used to drink way too much ten years ago or so, and spent a lot of money on keeping unconsciousness
– positive –> learned to appreciate my family and friends more, for sure.  Learned to do much more involved budgets and planning…of course the endless stress of remaining employed is always on my mind (especially with the mass layoffs that seem to never end these days all around) and it affects most of my monetary plans and decisions.  But I have slowly been learning to avoid the bars and to buy groceries more and to look for less expensive things to do out, with or without the kids (cousins) and to enjoy video games at home!

4. How does it make you feel?
– Obviously it can be frustrating, when you know you want to take a vacation but you can’t justify it because of car payments or rent or the paying off things you owe on still, but I long ago dealt with the fact that this is my life right now, and I am at least lucky to be healthy and live here as opposed to some truly poor place where I would have no opportunity to improve my situation.  At the same time, I know that our society also promotes a live-beyond-your-means-lifestyle, and I am getting older and wiser, so I try not to fall into it.  Cash is king.

5. What’s your financial plan for the future?
– I am saving in an RRSP so I hope to have enough down payment money, a continuing good source of income, and most of my debts paid off (to a legal organization) within the next 12-24 months, so that I can start looking at properties.  Since I was 18, with the exception of when I was 24-28, I have been living with someone, or on a couch, or at my moms, or with friends with kids…I have longed for a reasonable, safe, clean place to call my own.  At 43, a house seems like a distant dream to me now, maybe even a waste of space, since I am single… but it would be nice, and I still like to hope.  Even a little condo would do, if I could have just enough space for someone to crash if they wanted to stay over.
– my plan is simple: pay off things and owe nothing by 2015 (other than where I live)

6. What’s one practical piece of advice you can give other people going through the same thing as you?
– be VERY CAREFUL with Credit Cards, and also pay yourself, even if it is a dollar a day. (That is two things!!) You can’t just work and have nothing, so get strict with saving, even if you have to make someone else take and hold the money for you.  If I had started doing that earlier, I would be in a MUCH better place right now.

Thanks for doing this!  It’s great to be able to post some personal stories.  
– Anytime.  I spend a lot of time educating younger people around me on how to avoid some of the mistakes I made along the way in this life…