I think I’m getting a little more nervous about money these days. I’m not acting on my anxiety, but I’m feeling it a little more — I think because this is the first time in my life where I know I shouldn’t be falling back on anyone. It was okay in college to have a little financial setback, or need some extra help during hard times. When living at home, it wasn’t too weird to just let my parents pick up my soap for my bathroom that month, because they were buying it anyway, and hell, I’m their damn kid!
But now, having lived with Drew for quite some time, I feel more alone. Maybe not alone — I mean, I do have Drew as a partner, roommate, companion, and sharer of household bills. And I do still have my family, and they would help me financially in a freaking heartbeat if I needed them to and asked nicely. But the point is, for the first time, I feel like I shouldn’t. I actually feel like I would do a whole lot of anything to prevent myself from getting into a situation where I needed lots of help. I’ve always been frugal, and I’ve always been very aware of my money — but recently, I’ve gotten even more serious about it. Money no longer means just food and shelter to me — it means someday having a wedding, eventually maybe having children, hopefully someday retiring, sending my kids to college, and making sure no emergency is devastating enough to put my family in an uncomfortable position. It is no longer “finding an apartment where I can juuuust afford the rent.” It is having more than enough, but not spending like I have more than enough so I can build some real, solid security into my life.
I’ve never hit a rock bottom — I’ve never had to, thanks to an amazing support system of people who guide me and teach me how to grow up without coddling me too much or letting me flail. I’m lucky I’ve never had to hit a rock bottom, and I hope I never will.
But I know that it happens, and I know that people who do hit rock bottom and become serious about making a huge financial shift in their lives come back with the hindsight to give the rest of us tips on what we should be doing to make sure we never hit the ground like they did.
I asked some friends, family members, internet strangers, and TFD readers to tell me about the rock bottom moment that forced them to get serious about money. This is what they had to say.
1. “I think…I was actually very young when I hit a financial ‘rock bottom.’ I had my first apartment at 18 right when I went to college, because I was arrogant and thought I could handle it even though I didn’t have the time as a full-time student to work full-time on top of it to pay rent. I opened up credit cards and used student loans to pay for everything, which is fine to do if you can’t afford college and you need loans, but I just went so overboard. I had a great quality of life but it was all subsidized by money that wasn’t at all mine. I graduated and found employment but not in my field, so I was definitely not making college-graduate money yet, and received my first student loan payment. Then realized I couldn’t pay my student loan payment with more student loans. I was so used to dipping into money from my loans to pay rent and buy whatever. I have credit card debt too. But it was then — like six months post-grad –- that I realized I needed to make a huge lifestyle change. I got really serious about my money, got really into Dave Ramsey like everyone -– lol. But I’ve scaled back my lifestyle a ton, living pretty bare-bones while still trying to enjoy life as much as I can, but mostly focused on emergency fund, making loan payments on time, and paying off my credit card debt — which I nearly have. I have about two grand left to pay off.” — Jake
2. “When my car broke down. I was used to having what I needed. I was given a hand-me-down car from my parents and am grateful to not have had that expense, and I lived with them still, so I had no excuse to not have money saved since I was working full-time. But instead of being responsible and saving while living at home, I actually just acted like all of that money was mine to spend on whatever. I enjoyed my nights out and expensive clothes and happy hours, but then my car broke, and I needed one and didn’t have money. I had to finance one, because how else was I going to get to work? I live in like, real suburbs. I manage the car payments fine, but that’s because I made a big change in the way I spend — and save — my money. Living at home is no longer an excuse to spend extra on fun — I should have been taking advantage of how lucky I am and saving the entire time.” — Carolyn
3. “I got fired and had banked nothing. I kept saying ‘after x months at this job everything will be paid off and I’ll be saving so much, so it is okay to splurge a little now because I’ll be covered later!’ You always assume you have job security because it really feels secure until it suddenly isn’t. I got fired and had to really just use credit cards and buy nothing while I job-searched. I took a job very quickly doing something I didn’t love for a huge pay cut because it felt necessary, and I was so unhappy but I know my decisions led me there. It was a wake-up call that tomorrow isn’t really the day you need to start saving, it needs to be like…Now.” –- Jennie
4. “I was homeless — not for long, but for a time — and that felt like rock bottom for sure. I still had a job, but I didn’t have enough money to live anywhere anymore, and my job was on top of my music career that I put more effort into than anything else, to the detriment of my bank account. I was working in retail, so the times they need people most are weekend and evening shifts — when I wanted to be out with my band playing gigs that paid nothing, but felt like they’d someday pay off. They never really did, and when two of my roommates decided to move out and go back home, I couldn’t afford our apartment anymore and just kind of slept on benches or couch surfed with people I knew for a few months until I could figure it out. I realized that often, to make your dreams come true, you need to live a non-dream life to support it. Other people can’t be expected to fund your rockstar life. If you don’t want to work full time and gig on nights and weekends, you might just not make it. I worked and stayed with friends until I saved enough for a security deposit on a small apartment with a Craigslist roommate and just had to build back up and get on my feet again. I’m not a success story yet, but I’m not at rock bottom anymore at least.” — Max
5. “My rock-bottom moment would be sitting in a grocery restroom peeing on a stick and knowing I’d have to get an abortion if it said positive, because at 26, I still had truly not a cent to my name. I was spending money as quickly as I was earning it and not taking career prospects seriously. I had a serious relationship that I wanted to move on with, get married, have kids -– but I knew I couldn’t. It is a sad feeling to know that one of your dreams may be coming true before your eyes but you are too irresponsible to let it be a reality.
“It was negative, which saved a lot of heartache, but I’ll never forget how I felt in that moment, and how that same day I started to really think about how I wanted my life to go and what steps I could start taking immediately to get there. I gave myself a timeline of goals to accomplish one after the other, and eventually got a much better job with more growth opportunities, saved my first few hundred dollars and then my first few thousand, and eventually felt like I had enough control to really start to settle down. And I am getting married in six months now and I can’t wait!” — Amanda
6. “I think I always assumed someone would be there to kind of support me or at least be backup if I made a mistake, which is why I was so shocked when my mom died suddenly. I always knew obviously that I’d be sad if someone died, but I never realized all the logistical stuff that comes along with that. Suddenly, a lot of things were my responsibility and I was nowhere near prepared for it even at 22. I don’t have a dad in my life, so it was me and my brother, and we obviously ended up losing our home because we weren’t my mom so we couldn’t afford it. We ended up in different places, and I came to Brooklyn where I live now and had to make a bit of a new life and build from the bottom up because I hadn’t really done a lot of saving or put any effort into protecting myself in an emergency.
“Emergency funds are important, and living off of someone else is not sustainable. If they die and you have nothing, you’ll have nothing. Also, I’m not a monster -– I obviously was devastated to lose my mother, and it isn’t about money. Money was probably the last thing on my mind after that happened for a while. But looking back, my money situation made the whole ordeal so much harder, and it definitely was a rock bottom moment for me where I realized I was going about life entirely wrong.” -– Taylor
7. “Now, because I have these two babies that I had very young, and my husband and I are in the middle of a divorce. It makes you reflect a lot on decisions you’ve made along the way, a lot of them financial. I love my children, though I know that it was objectively irresponsible for me to have them at 18 and 19 with no money. I love my husband (in many ways) but it was definitely irresponsible to marry him just because we had kids, and will be financially difficult to divorce him.
“My rock bottom feels like now. My children are happy and safe and fed, but their lives could be better, and their mom could be a lot happier. Having children means being the best version of yourself, providing for them, making sure they are comfortable and safe at all times, and they’re too young to notice right now but we’re not in an entirely stable situation which makes me feel like I’ve failed.” — Sabrina
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