*Disclaimer: I do not have my s*** fully together but I have made HUGE progress.
I have always struggled with money. My biggest problem is probably my student loans. When I was 18 and took out massive loans to go to college I thought everything would be fine, it was no big deal. I have NO IDEA what I was getting myself into. I think the larger overall problem for me was that money has always been an intangible to me and as an 18 year old I had no interest in learning about my financial health. Move forward 10 years and I am still stuck in the same rut. I have an average paying job, but was constantly going in and out of overdraft and feeling like payments were always sneaking up on me. I’d go a few months feeling like I had a bunch of extra money and then a few weeks later I would be crying and feeling completely overwhelmed at my debt. Another problem of mine has been that I just refused to look at the numbers. Opening the mail and signing into my accounts instead of just letting it go to auto bill was incredibly daunting. I had no idea what my credit score was or the status of any of my loans. Don’t get me wrong, I know how dumb this is especially because I knew all along that I was in trouble. Ignoring it made things far far worse.
About 4 months ago I started getting calls from my lenders. I had assumed that everything was being paid correctly and on time because I had set up my accounts for automatic bill pay. When Sallie Mae was blowing up my phone I knew something was wrong, but I just couldn’t make myself pick up the phone. I am not dumb, but what I was doing was incredibly dumb. I was too embarrassed to admit I had no idea what I was doing.
Finally, a couple months ago, I let my mom take a look at all my accounts and it was the best thing I ever did! She immediately looked at what was going on and saw that I now owe more on my student loans than I originally took out to begin with. I was devastated. I feel like I go broke paying them every month and I pay them thousands and thousands of dollars a year. And mind you I don’t life extravagantly. I rent a small basement room from my employer, I drive the same car I have had since I was in college, I have no real interest in designer clothes (beyond of course saying “wouldn’t that be nice”), I cut my own hair most of the time, if I do get it cut, its by super cuts and no more than once a year. Basically, I had no idea where my money was going. Coffee is a bad habit of mine, but theres no way I was spending it all there… or was I? Basically I will never know because I didn’t keep track of my money.
One of the best things my mother did (other than helping me eliminate my interest rate at least temporarily on my loan that coincidentally had the highest balance and the highest interest rate and was causing me to go further into the hole), she introduced me to Gail Vaz-Oxlade. In a very short period of time, Gail has become a major part of my life as well as my boyfriend’s by proxy.
Gail Vaz-Oxlade is a “financial guru” and no matter how financially together you are, I suggest you take a look at her site, read some of her books, and if you can get them, watch a few episodes of her TV shows. I promise you will learn something. Gail’s work is much more widely known in Canada, where she has 3 successful TV shows and countless books. Her advice is practical and uplifting and ensures that even the biggest “Money Moron” can pull them self out of debt. She has taught me personally so many lessons and without making me feel judged or humiliated. This one woman has taught me how to set up a flexible budget (as well as what that means), how to stick to it, how to start saving even when it feels like I have no money there to put away, and really just learning what my situation is instead of ignoring it. Because of her and my own Gail (my mom), I have already started to make big progress digging myself out of my hole.
Here are a few of my favorite Gail Lessons (these are all paraphrased):
1. Control your money or it will control you.
2. Credit is money you don’t have. You can’t spend money you don’t have.
3. If you don’t have enough money, you have two choices, a. make more money or b. find places to cut your spending.
4. Credit cards are a tool but if you don’t use them correctly and to your advantage, you are making other people rich off your hard work.
5. You spend so much time working to make your money, you should be conscious of where it is going.
6. You can have it all, you just can’t have it all at the same time.
It is now a very rare occasion for me to purchase anything without hearing Gail in my head, which is a life saver for me. And now that I know it is possible to live with no debt it is a major priority.
*If you are interested in learning from Gail, it can at times be difficult to find her things if you live here in the US. The first place I would start is her website. There are amazing articles, worksheets, and interactive guides to help you get your s*** together. If you want to order her books, I was the most successful getting them inexpensively from Alibris.com. Her TV shows are the hardest to find, but they are definitely entertaining. Her show “Til Debt Do Us Part” is in syndication on CNBC. I don’t think it has a regular time slot, but if you set your DVR for it you’ll be able to get a hold of some episodes. Her newer shows, “Princess” and “Money Moron” is currently shown in Slice, a Canadian cable network. In the US we are unable to watch them online, unless you do some creative online research about IP addresses 😉