Updated: Jun 28, 2021
After reading The Total Money Makeover in 2012, I had been trudging along, paying extra on my loans whenever I could.
Nine months into living in D.C., I finally got a salaried job at an environmental organization. It was a decent job and definitely paid more than I had been making before. I still kept my retail job at Ann Taylor because I could get a discount on clothes, and it put a little extra money in my pocket. I did not stay true to my radical idea of putting all of this new income towards my student loans, but I put quite a bit towards it.
I also started to enjoy life with a salaried job. I have always loved to cook (and to eat) and I treated myself to buying healthier foods and trying new recipes. I went out with friends and took a vacation. Overall, I was doing pretty well. I had even taken my loans out of deferment and was paying the minimum bill every month on each of them.
But I still was anxious and uneasy about my money. I still didn’t feel in control. I would sometimes panic that I wouldn’t have enough money to last the month. I would sometimes forego hanging out with friends, or not get something I wanted because I was worried about my finances. In truth, I was blessed because I always had money to pay my bills and to feed myself, but I didn’t feel blessed. I felt stressed.
Two major things happened in the summer of 2014 that forced me to take action on these feelings of stress. One: I had decided, with some divine intervention, that I was going to get my Masters; and two: I was offered a job that paid $30,000 more than what I had been making, plus some tuition reimbursement for going back to school.
There was an opportunity here. One the one hand, I had promised myself that I would pay off my student debt; although going back to graduate school seemed to negate all the progress I’d made to date. On the other, I was about to come into a significant increase in resources. I could either continue how I’d been doing, which wasn’t horrible but wasn’t good either, or make a change so that I could get control of the new things coming my way.
I turned back to The Total Money Makeover.
I re-read the book and re-committed to the program. This time, though, I was going to do the whole thing: gazelle intensity, budgeting, snowballing my loans, and the baby steps (I’ll provide details on all of these things in future posts). I was starting my new job in August of 2014, so I wanted to get all my ducks in a row before then. I was ready to roll.
Then my wallet got stolen. Literally, right out of my bag. It’s funny how you decide you’re going to change for the better and then life decides to throw a wrench in your plans.
This did not derail me, however; it just delayed me. It actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I had to close out and re-open all of my bank accounts, which allowed me to take a deep look into my finances. It got me ready to re-embark on this journey.
I started my new job in August; I started school in September; and I started my first month of budgeting in October. There was an adjustment period in learning how to budget, but I had never felt better about my finances.
Some of you are probably thinking: “Of course you felt better! You were making $30,000 more than before!” You make a good point, and that undeniably helped. But that wasn’t what changed me from feeling stressed to feeling blessed. It was that I understood my money; I understood that I was able to pay my bills and still enjoy life. I could justify certain purchases that I hadn’t been able to justify to myself before. I could decide to hang out with my friends or not hang out with my friends and money didn’t factor into my decision. But, the best thing was that I knew exactly how much I could overpay on my loans. I felt like I could finally go about achieving my goal in a clear and methodical way.
I know the feelings I’ve described are not unique to me. I know others have felt that way too, like no matter what you do, you can’t seem to get control of your finances. I sometimes still feel that way (it’s a continuous journey remember?), but those feelings are rarer and rarer. If you have felt like that, then I am here to tell you that a) you are not alone, and b) you can be in control of your money; that stress does not have to be a constant companion.
Maybe you’ve already started making some changes in your financial fitness journey. Acknowledge those changes and feel proud of yourself. However, if you recognize that some things still need to change, then let that be the motivation you need to re-visit those financial goals you set, or the reasons why you set them in the first place. If those reasons still hold true, then you’ve got all the incentive you need to get back in the ring and knock those goals out.