Waking Up Is Hard To Do

Gather Little By Little has invited bloggers to share their moment of financial epiphany. I hope you enjoy it much more than I enjoyed living it.

I’ve never been in serious debt. It’s always scared me waaaaaaaaaay too much.

My parents divorced when I was six, and while my Dad went on to make a very comfortable living my mother…didn’t. My Dad was very good at paying his alimony and child support, but my mother couldn’t hold onto money if it was glued and duct taped to her hands. That’s not unusual when you’re bipolar, as she is.

She gave away literally tens of thousands of dollars over the years, and there were times when our electricity and water were turned off. Eventually she did make a good living, but her debts mounted until she was forced to seek bankruptcy. Today she has about two nickels, and her golden years are lived on Social Security and the love of my sister and me.

Just because I didn’t have debt doesn’t mean I was good with money. I had credit cards because college students are always inundated with offers. I was even pretty responsible with them, never keeping a balance of more than a couple of hundred dollars. I had a car and my first ever loan, and things were okay.

Then I got my first well-paying job, and it was in New York City, no less! I left my car with my Mom with the agreement that she would make the loan payments ( is that you smacking me upside the head?). I worked sixty hour weeks and got lazy about paying my bills. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the money, I just kept procrastinating paying them.

By the time I quit that job I was exhausted, emotionally shattered (due to a different-yet-related family emotional blow), unemployed and had racked up a large number of late payments. My credit was a mess. My credit card companies no longer wanted me, but I did manage to pay off my car. I went through a year of really rough times, working an icky job and watching my mother sink into the mother of all depressions while fighting my first ever real one myself.

My financial plan during that time and the following couple of years was to simply pay cash for everything. It’s not like I had much of a choice.

Then, about a month before my twenty-ninth birthday, I woke up and thought to myself, “Holy s&*t!! I’m about to turn twenty-nine and I have nothing to show for it! Where did my twenties go???”  No boyfriend, no home of my own (I was renting a room), no non-college furniture (papasan, anyone?), and no good credit.

I was still waiting for my real life to happen, but it had been happening without me.

It was time to grow up.

So I did. I got responsible. I opened a secured credit card and paid the balance every month, faithfully. The only time I carried a balance was if I had a major purchase (airline tickets, tires), and that balance needed to be paid within three months or the purchase did not get made.

JC Penney had not abandoned me (then again I think they’d give a credit card to a corpse), and I rewarded them by shopping there and using their card. And paying the balance, faithfully.

Within a year I had improved my credit, gotten several raises, rented my own place, furnished it with new, adult furniture and found a boyfriend. Eventually the secured credit card offered to un-secure itself, and at that point I applied for a standard card and got it.

I’ve not carried a balance on a credit card in over ten years now. My credit score is in the highest range. I own my own home, have a wonderful husband and son (with whom I stay home) and no debt other than my mortgage.

Life is good.

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