My Financial Epiphany – The storm of my life
A Gather Little by Little reader, Gina, wrote a guest post earlier this week sharing her financial epiphany. Our email conversation started out with an idea she had of me sharing mine and then asking my readers to do the same. Instead, I asked her to share hers. She did so, and asked other readers and myself to share ours. Since Gina was kind enough to uphold her end of the bargain, this article will fulfill mine.
The coming of the storm
I grew up in a typical middle class family. My parents weren’t incredibly frugal, nor did they spend money excessively or un-wisely. We didn’t talk much about the family finances, but I knew enough to know that we weren’t rich but we weren’t poor either. I was provided everything I needed, and many of the things I wanted.
As I grew into a teenager, my father (my parents had divorced by this time – I was living with my Dad) began to slowly turn over financial responsibility to me. I got a part-time job working in a local pet store selling fish, aquariums, and supplies. I paid for my gas, some of my clothes, and any entertainment I chose to do. My first car was given to me, and as a result I didn’t take care of it. My next two cars where purchased by my Dad, but I had to pay him back in monthly payments, which I did. Funny how when you pay for something you value it far more.
Around this time, I applied for and received a credit card in order to establish some credit. I purchased a new set of badly needed tires for one of my cars as my first credit card purchase. Unfortunately what should have been a tool for building my credit began the downhill path towards mis-use of credit cards. The dark clouds began to move in. As I continued to buy things on credit, they became darker and darker. I could see the storm coming, smell the rain ready to fall, hear the thunder, feel the cool wind and see the lighting, but kept telling myself it would pass. It didn’t.
The storm hits
In November of 2006, the storm hit…hard. It wasn’t just a storm, it was a life changing hurricane, the storm of my life. It was a major life crisis it hit us and one we never saw coming. I didn’t get paid for 3 months and was faced with the possibility of not having a job. As a result, we also faced with the possibility of not having a home or even food on the table. My family and I were left looking at our life much like a hurricane victim looking at their utterly destroyed home. We were in shock, not knowing what to do, where to turn, or how to pay for things. We had credit card debt, a mortgage, 2 car payments, a camper payment, 6 children to cloth and feed and no savings. Needless to say it was overwhelming. We visited a pawn shop and sold many of our valued items in order to pay our mortgage and buy food. It was not a good time.
Fortunately things worked out. I returned to work, was paid for the 3 months I was out and as a result got caught on our bills. But let me tell you, I didn’t look at our finances the same way. That 3 months made me realize that at any point in your life, things can immediately change. Not only can bad things happen, but bad things can happen that can polarize your financial situation. Like Scarlett at Tara, I vowed to “never go hungry again“. My wife and I decided to turn our financial lives around, and not be “slaves to the lender” or anyone else for that matter.
I began reading every personal finance book I could get my hands on, searching the web, and reading my Bible daily. This resulted in me finding five significant things that helped me find the path I am on today:
- The Simple Dollar – Trent Hamm’s personal finance blog. Trent seems to have gone through a similar life changing event, and through his writing I could relate and see hope.
- Get Rich Slowly – J.d. was writing about his quest to be debt free and providing simple and straight forward information about finance basics. J.d. is now debt free.
- Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Makeover – Dave made me realize the devastating control that credit card companies have on those of us in debt. His writing and baby steps made me realize that there was hope and a proven plan to get myself out the mess I was in. Even better, his approach was biblical and drew me to scripture and to the Bible in search for more answers. His book was truely a God send for me at the time.
- The book of Proverbs – I had read the book of Proverbs before, but never with the financial focus I had when I discovered in once again in June of 2007. Religious or not, this book is full of wonderful financial wisdom.
- Gather Little by Little – After reading The Simple Dollar and Get Rich Slowly, I was inspired by their writing. I decided I wanted to share my story, and my learnings with those who might be in similar situation. I wanted to try to reach people living a similar life to the one I lead in hopes I could keep them from having to learn the hard way as I did. Writing articles and sharing my journey with readers has been a true blessing in my life. Writing gives me hope, keeps me on track, and makes me accountable. With every financial decision I make I ask myself 3 questions: 1) What would God want me to do? 2) How would my wife feel? 3) What would my readers think?
I still have a long way to go, and struggle daily with maintaining our finances, not slipping back into old habits, and aggressively paying on our debt. Even though it’s still raining and the dark clouds are still above us, I see the sun on the horizon and I know we can do this. While the last year and 3 months have been the worst 15 months of our lives, I am honestly not sure I would change anything. We have learned so much while in the valley. I feel strongly the things we’ve learned will have a positive influence on our life going forward. Had November 2006 not occurred, I wouldn’t be writing this article, wouldn’t have paid off more than $20,000 in debt, wouldn’t have any savings outside of my 401k, wouldn’t have my m-network friends…well I could go on and on, but hopefully you get the picture.
Thanks to everyone that has shared their Epiphany stories so far, and I really look forward to reading more of them. Special thanks to Gina once again for coming up with such a great idea. My sincere hope is that our stories will become someone else’s Financial Epiphany.