(Article today by Tom Meitner)
It’s October 2010. My beautiful new wife and I are sharing sandwiches for lunch while sitting in a purple VW Bug. The air conditioning is blasting cool air on our skin, and we are quietly staring out the windshield at the edge of a small, obscure beach on the northwest side of Maui.
It’s our honeymoon, and after a crazy couple of years, we were finally relaxing and enjoying ourselves in one of the most beautiful spots in the world.
Sounds pretty sweet, right? Before you switch off, though, thinking that I’m some well-off dude that you can’t relate to in your own financial struggles, I want to tell you a different story.
10 Months Earlier…
On New Year’s Eve 2009, everyone I knew was together with family and friends, drinking and enjoying the company as they geared up to watch the ball drop. Not me. I spent New Year’s Eve alone in my tiny apartment, boxing up my life’s belongings and preparing for what would be a terribly long New Year’s Day.
Three days prior to that, I had gone to the post office to pick up a certified letter that I missed the day before Christmas. It was from my landlord:
I had five days to catch up on rent, or I was going to be kicked out.
The year 2009 was not a good one for me or my business. Because of some terrible mistakes on my part, I tanked my freelancing career and was stuck in a lousy customer service job. So, on New Year’s Day 2010, I did what every 24-year old dreaded: I moved back in with my parents. My two cats and I were locked in their basement for ten months.
I was living with my parents, had a failed business, and was working second shift in a lousy job with no future. Oh, and I was getting married in October. I needed a plan of action.
It took a lot of thinking, plus some trial-and-error, but here are the steps I took to get myself on that beautiful Hawaiian island in ten months:
I got on the same page with my (then) fiancée.
The first order of business, after settling in and figuring out the least-depressing way to organize my stuff in my parents’ basement, was to sit down with my fiancée and figure out where we were going to go. Knowing that our end goal was the same, we had to start working together from the outset.
Lesson learned – the importance of teamwork. I wouldn’t be where I am now without the love and support of my wife. If you’re in a tough spot, you need to find people that you can turn to and lean on. That doesn’t mean somebody you can borrow money from, but somebody that can help you dig yourself out of it, emotionally and mentally.
I sucked it up.
I was put in a bad spot, but there really wasn’t much I could do about it, at least not in the immediate future. Yeah, it wasn’t ideal, but sitting around complaining about it wasn’t going to get me anywhere. I had to make the best of it, and I did: I made arrangements with my parents to keep me somewhat independent. I tried to find a balance between my current situation and where I wanted to be.
Lesson learned – accepting your current lot in life. You don’t have to accept it permanently, but when you are dealt a hand by life, sometimes just taking it is the best thing you can do. You spend less mental and emotional energy on anger and bitterness that way.
I had an end goal in mind.
October 2010. That was the month I had to get to. It was a long winter, spring, and summer, but I knew that if I could make it to fall, I’d be okay. I wasn’t going to live with my parents forever. In fact, I had an exact end date. All I had to do was work backward from that day and figure out the steps I needed to take all year to get there.
Lesson learned – punishment is less severe if you know it’s temporary. If you think you’re going to be stuck in the same spot for the rest of your life, then you’re going to be pretty doggone miserable. Keep reminding yourself that it’s temporary, there’s a way out, and even if you don’t see it yet, you’ll find it.
We built up an emergency fund.
Hey, you know what’s the worst part of being broke? Being broke and not knowing what’s going to happen if an expense jumps out at you. In the average year, you’re going to have a handful of times where something will happen to you that will require money: car breaks down, you get sick, laptop crashes, etc. Just the pressure of the unknown can drive you crazy while you try to get ahead. Even worse, your progress stalls when you have to stop to pay for something else. We socked $1,000 in an ING savings account at the beginning of the year, so that whenever something came up, we were prepared to handle it.
Lesson learned – be prepared for anything. Yeah, $1K isn’t going to set the world on fire, but it’s enough money to handle a lot of those unexpected expenses pretty handily. Once you get that pressure off your shoulders, you can really think a lot more clearly.
We took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University course.
My church was offering this at a nice discount, and we made time once a week for a couple months to go through it. To say that it gave us direction would be an understatement. Many people disagree on Dave’s methods, but the truth is: any plan is better than just hoping for the best! We set up our debt snowball, we figured out how to reduce our expenses, and we started living on a budget.
Lesson learned – always keep learning more. You don’t know everything, and new information can give you a clear perspective on what you are trying to accomplish. If you are suffering financially, just learning more about money and how it works can really help you get out of the dark.
I gutted it out in my free time.
I worked from 1:30pm until 10:00pm almost every night. I didn’t see my friends. I barely saw my fiancee. No one would blame me if I spent my mornings or late nights sitting around watching Netflix or playing video games. But I didn’t (well, not all the time anyway). Instead, I spent that time trying to get new writing work and rebuilding my business. I sat at the computer and wrote emails to businesses almost every day.
Lesson learned – you have more time than you think. If you think you don’t have time to work on improving your financial situation, you’re wrong. Turn off the TV and start hustling. There’s plenty of time to get things done – even an hour a day will net you some amazing progress. But you have to roll up your sleeves and do it.
The end result?
We got married in a wedding we paid for ourselves with 300 of our closest friends and family. We spent a week in Hawaii, and it was fully-paid with cash. We didn’t come home to a mountain of credit card bills from Maui. I went from being so broke I was eating bread and ketchup for a snack before getting evicted, to eating some of the most amazing fish that I’ve ever eaten while fire dancers performed in front of me. That’s what we call an “upgrade.”
So even if you feel lost, just calm down. Take inventory of what’s going on, and try to keep a clear head. There’s a way out. It may not be pleasant, and it may be really hard sometimes. But it’s not impossible, and the rewards on the other side are just too awesome to pass up.
Tom Meitner helps you discover your hidden superpowers at Your Superhero Reboot. You can also follow his musings on being a superhero and other random stuff on his Twitter page.