Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lessons from an empty bank account

I've been really vague about one particularly big topic in our lives for 6 months now and I've decided I want to share. I want to remember this time in my life in the future when (hopefully) things are better and someday be grateful for where I've been and what I learned along the way. I am also an open book and I love the camaraderie of blogging and sharing and being open about the struggles of life. We all have them. Just some are more cliche to talk about than others.

Like money.

At the end of September I was offered the job I am currently at. 2 days later, Mike was let go from his.

When we first moved into our apartment at the end of June last year, we weren't the best with money. We went out to eat a lot and bought food at the grocery store that went bad more often than not. And we thought things were tight. Truth be told, we were in for a rude awakening when it came to money being tight. A very rude awakening. We felt like we were broke all the time when in reality we needed to take a good hard look at where the money was going. Granted, I was working a job making less money than my current one but I also didn't have taxes or health insurance being taken out so my take home is almost exactly the same.

After Mike lost his job, things got really difficult. That first month and a half was incredibly hard (but little did we know, not the hardest time to come) because unemployment stuff kept getting held up so we were living on my salary and savings to pay all the bills. Not even close to enough. Southern California is a rough place to live if you don't have a fantastic job.

Mid-November we finally received the first unemployment check and got back-payed for everything that was missed while things were held up. Mike talked about getting a part time job while searching for a new one and then discovered that while a part-time job would allow him to keep getting unemployment (if he stayed under a certain pay level), it was impossible to make any extra money to help while he looked. Instead they just subtract what you make and give you the remaining so he would be making the exact same money whether he worked or not.

Meanwhile, we were now getting money for a month and a half worth and Christmas was fast approaching. It was our very first Christmas together so to say we allowed ourselves to put the money struggles aside and spoil each other would be a bit of an understatement. It wasn't the best decision but we made it through and had a wonderful Christmas together.

Come January 1st, my health insurance kicked in and suddenly my paycheck was a chunk less. Add that to the Christmas spoiling and January was a really rough month. Since then, every month feels more difficult than the last. I'll never forget the day I found $5 in quarters in our change jar just so we could buy milk. Or the night we skipped bread and other basics so I would have gas to get to work the next day.

Its the hardest thing asking your parents for help when you know they are dealing with their own debts and rough times in this economy but our parents have been the absolute greatest. I can't even say thanks enough to them for how they've helped get us through when the rent hit at the beginning of each month.

On top of that, this has been even harder for Mike than for me. He is your old-fashioned "the men take care of the woman" kind of guy and it has been heartbreaking for him to watch me get up before the sun every morning to get to work 30 minutes away by 7am. And then to come home completely spent and unable to think straight after working with 5-8 year olds all day long. Not to mention the shop I am trying to keep up with, build, and grow in my "spare" time. It kills him everyday to sit at home feeling worthless while I work 2 jobs and it breaks my heart that it hurts him so much.

At the end of December, Mike found a listing for a job with a high end real estate company and went for an interview with the CEO. The CEO loved Mike and was excited to get him on board. In the end though, everything was put on hold until he got his license. On the second day of 2013, we charged the real estate courses to my credit card and he set about getting his license. He has been working hard on his classes and got over 90% on all 3 small tests and is now preparing to apply and take his Real Estate Exam in the next month or so.

I am endlessly proud of him for finding a new path. One that uses his sales skills but allows him to pursue a career he will love and will be something he can love for a very long time. I know he will be amazing in real estate and will be able to "take care" of me and our future family the way he desperately wants to.

We are working hard to get to the end of our apartment lease before getting out and finding a solution that allows us to get back on our feet, pay off debts acquired during this really rough time, and actually remember what its like to leave the house on the weekends without fear of costs in gas or otherwise. We have talked many times about breaking our lease early but we are trying really hard to make it work for 3 more months in order to save the fee and our credit. Some days it doesn't feel entirely worth it.

But even when the time comes that we can move out and save again, or even years down the line when things are hopefully a world of different, I will never forget this phase. It has and continues to teach me some much needed valuable lessons:
  • I've never truly understood what it is to be truly paycheck to paycheck or to not be able to afford our end of breakfast out with the family (my parents have many, many free breakfasts in their future!). 
  • I never knew the feeling of having to ask for a significant amount of financial help from loved ones and how hard that really is. Even taking the dog to the vet meant having to call my mom and that hurt us both so much. We can't even get our dog healthy on our own.
  • I never really got what it was like to add things up in the cart before going to the checkout lane to avoid that all too embarrassing moment of not having enough
  • As shallow as it may seem, I never new what it was like to really not be able to buy a single "fun" thing at Target for months on end. To go into the clothes section with my sister and be on the verge of tears because so. much. cute. stuff. and there is literally not a spare dollar for anything fun. To wear workout shoes that kill your feet because that is a "frivolous" buy as well as so many other things.
I won't ever allow myself to forget what its like to not know where the money for gas or bread or milk is going to come from that week and just trying to get through each day in one piece. I will not allow myself to ever let go of these lessons God is teaching me. I always believe everything happens for a reason and this is absolutely no exception. I know I needed to experience this for one reason or another and I have accepted that. That doesn't mean I don't still cry out to God in the shower to just ease this burden a little bit. To take this weight and bear it for a day. But I know it time things will get better. Maybe not in my time. But in His. 

I know things won't be entirely perfect when we do leave this apartment because we will be leaving here to someone else's home and putting our "home" into storage. That is not an easy thing at all. In fact its hard for me to think about some days. But its for the best. And even if I can't see a pinprick of a light at the end of the tunnel, I am choosing to believe it is there. Some days I have to force that belief more than others.

Thankfully, I have an abundant amount of love in my life and I am also learning that that is more valuable than any amount of money in my bank account. I have a family that will always take care of me. I have Mike's family who does the same. I have a puppy who knows when I need her cuddles even when I don't. And I have Mike. He is my rock when I can't barely lift my head or when I am on the verge of tears at work. And I know he will always be there in whatever way I need even when he is just as depressed as I am. For all this love, I am truly truly blessed. And I am thankful for that reminder even if it means being completely flat out broke for 9+ months. 

Thank you for reading, for supporting, and for blessing me with your friendship even when I disappear from the blog for weeks/months at a time. I try to put things in a positive light as much as possible but even I am human and need to crumble at times.

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Britt said...

Wow, thank you so much for posting this. We live paycheck to paycheck but I was just telling Carl the other day how comfortable we are and how things could be worse. The reality is, it CAN be a lot worse. Him losing his job for any reason would be a huge loss for us as my income would never make-up the difference. I am so glad to hear you're working through it and doing okay.

Jessica said...

Hey there! Keep your head up and things will get better. My husband was unemployed for 10 months right as we were planning our wedding. I totally understand how tight things can be but it sounds like you have a great support system and have found a great life partner!

Sending hugs your way!

Peace Love Applesauce- Terri said...

Kudos to you for writing this! I see so much of myself in this post... Going from married, stay-at-home and very well off to being a divorced single mom with zero work history going from the bottom up. A lot of this post is my every day to day struggles. But I can tell you that I made something for myself when I had nothing. When surviving was my only option. Yeah, I may not be buying the chambray shirt from Target, but I'd rather spend the $1 on a Redbox and snuggle on the couch with my littles instead. Things aren't amazing for me now, but they ARE BETTER than they were 2 years ago. And I know the only way from here is up. One day at a time. God has his timing mapped out... XOXO! I wish I could give you a big ole hug!!

Lindsey Pinegar said...

Ashley, this was so well written and genuine! Thank you so much for sharing. There was a lot of hope in the last paragraph, sometimes staying positive is the only thing you can do. We'll be thinking about you guys!💛

Lin said...

Believe me when I say, I've been there. A few years ago we lived with my parents for over 3 yrs because my husband couldnt find a job that wasnt p/t or low paying. Living in SoCal is really expensive and having iffy credit from mistakes we made in our early 20s didnt help either, it was the only route we had to take. Its been tough the last couple of years; the hubs still works p/t but scoops up any hours he can and is working hard & kissing lots of ass to climb that corporate latter. For now, my paycheck does most of the job and we're doing OK by it. Needless to say, we've had plenty of those days where scrounging up change in the car for milk or calling into work 'sick' because I dont have gas money has happened. learn from every second of it :)

Thanks for being so bold & sharing.

Lauren said...

Girl, you WILL get through this!!! And you'll be praising God in the end at his faithfulness and how he has provided!! XOXOXO

Lauren said...

Reading this hit home with me. I was let go from my job on Friday and have been put into a part time job that will hopefully build back up to full time hours. I did the math this past weekend to see how much of an effect this would have on my lifestyle and it was a lump to swallow. I'll be able to pay rent, electric, water and maybe cable/internet. But that's it. There's nothing more humbling than realizing how much I took my income for advantage. It's a rough bump in life but it's something that makes our character stronger. :)

jessica renee said...

Oh gosh I can totally relate to ALL OF THIS. And I commend you for laying it all out there! About 2 years ago we made the decision for Ronnie to quit working and go to school full time because doing both full time was too much. Fast forward to a few months later and I unexpectedly got pregnant so yeah, the stress got to an all time high. Money’s been tight, we've had to ask for help and definitely have had to scrounge up loose change. Craigslist has been our friend too, we've sold so much on there! But no matter how hard it is, this has been such a huge lesson in our lives. We’ve done a lot of stupid things with our money but are finally budgeting, getting rid of all the extras, getting rid of clutter and we already feel so much better! I feel like when Ronnie finally graduates and is working, we will appreciate everything so much more because of the journey we've had to get to that point. We’ve become a stronger, better communicating couple and now our focus is on taking care of our little family and cherishing the simple times together. Things will definitely get better for y'all and one day will be a distant memory!! xoxo

Sonya said...

This is a valuable lesson to learn. In my line of work I see it all too often and I counsel people daily on their finances. I have been there myself, you will make it through and you will be all the more better for all you have learned through this journey.

Lora said...

Oh girl. Having since 2008 gone through a loss of job, working 4 jobs (at minimum) for the next 4 years just to make a fraction of what I HAD been making and being foreclosed on in the meantime because the mortgage company didn't properly document my amended payment schedule? I get it. And I can also tell you that those four years were the best of my life because God alone was my provider. I was SO taken care of by my Papa. Wouldn't trade those years for anything even though they were so very hard. And I can tell got better. Financially, yes (an understatement). But spiritually and emotionally I'm so much better off than I ever had been before. I don't wish hard times on anyone...but let it be the blessing it can be :-)

Nicole said...

I've been there alone & with the husband! I've always said always said as long as we're together & happy $$ dodnt matter! haha boy was I wrong! It's very humbling & scary. Fortunately for you & us family is amazing & things got much better! & it will for you two too :)

LWLH said...

This was the story of my early 20's. I don't know how many times, me and B had to make the decision to get gas or groceries. Gas always won because without gas, I couldn't get to work to make the money. Looking back now, I don't know how we did it, but it makes you stronger and more responsible with your money.