[Welcome back from the holiday! Got a guest post for y’all today by Mrs. Mad Money Monster while I’m still stuck in slow down mode over here. She shares her story for us on relationships gone awry – both romantic and financial – but hey, at least she now gets some great blog posts out of it, eh? ;) Take it away MMM… Thanks for divulging!]
Have you ever considered how vastly different your life would be if you made different decisions? It’s interesting to think that every single decision you have ever made has led to this exact moment in your life. A single choice has the power to change EVERYTHING.
Consider your career. What if you decided to choose a different major back when you were an 18-year old freshman starting college? What about the town you live in? Could you have easily found yourself in rural Ohio instead of sunny Arizona had you decided the lower-paying job offer was a better fit?
Interestingly, I can pin point the single decision I made that changed the entire course of my life. This poor decision of mine was choosing a wrong relationship that almost destroyed my rags to riches adventure. Almost…
And with that, let me tell you a story – a story that encompasses the reason I’m not already financially independent. A story that outlines a series of unfortunate events that derailed my financial future.
After college, I chose to enter into a romantic relationship with someone because he was fun and smart and had it together. But, I should’ve realized he wasn’t for me right away. Despite all the qualities I just listed, we had differing viewpoints on some of the big ticket items, one being Money. I failed to take into consideration the way he handled his or, more accurately, the way he didn’t handle his.
Therefore, this most fascinating failure story will focus on the importance of choosing your partner as it relates to your money. And trust me, the correlation is higher than you think!
The Right Side Of The Tracks
I grew up as a poor kid on the right side of the tracks which lit a fire inside me. I wanted to be successful at LIFE. My parents didn’t have high school diplomas, let alone college degrees. They worked hard but they still struggled to pay the bills. We lived in a trailer that was 8′ wide by 50′ long. No joke.
I never went hungry or worried that our house wouldn’t be warm in the winter, but I always wanted more than to just Get By. To say I was tired of heating my bath water on the stove because we didn’t have a hot water heater would be an understatement. I wanted so much more out of my life. I wanted to be successful. Which in my young eyes meant a high-paying job and a big house. Full stop.
Fortunately, our tiny house was on the right side of the tracks. That meant I was in a top-notch school district, rubbing elbows with the kids that had more. A lot more. I wanted to grow up to be just like THEIR parents. There was just one problem – I had no idea how to get there.
From Rags To Riches…
Shortly after high school graduation, I stumbled across someone who helped me realize I could still go to college, despite never taking the SATs. I knew a college education would be my ticket to becoming successful, so I did whatever it took to get that degree.
I worked full-time, I paid cash for classes, I ate and slept in my car between work and school, and I studied non-stop. When I was working at the factory, you better believe I had my ear buds in listening to my lectures over and over and over again!
It worked. I got that degree, and I graduated with honors. Within 6 months of graduation, I had a stellar offer on the table from a global pharmaceutical company. Boom. I jumped at that offer and continued on my fabulous rags to riches adventure!
All The Right Moves
Not only did I snag that scientific degree and that high-paying job, I also started investing (heavily) for my financial future. I was making all the right moves. Until, I wasn’t. Enter one bad relationship decision and the commencement of my financial spiral.
I was out with my sister one night when I met him. We really hit it off and he made me laugh. I love to laugh. In case you weren’t aware of this, most girls are suckers for funny guys! I was hooked immediately and we started dating. We went out a few times, and then we went out a few more times. Before I knew it, we were in a full-fledged relationship. It just kinda happened.
The more time we spent together, however, the more I realized how different we were when it came to a lot of things. Particularly money. He was a spender – a flashy spender. I, on the other hand, was not. But no matter, we weren’t engaged or married. Our money was completely separate. Why should I care how he spends his money?
[NOTE: The reason I should’ve cared is because relationships that *just kinda happen* still stand a chance to lead to marriage and all that it entails!!]
Dining Out and Pool Parties
Fast forward 5 years and there we were spending money like fools. I was still saving and investing in my retirement accounts, but I had adopted his lax attitude when it came to spending. I was spending more and he was spending like crazy.
We were eating out almost every night and throwing extravagant parties to boot. Not only were we eating out and throwing parties, but we were also bank rolling our friends. It wasn’t uncommon for us to go out with two other couples and pick up the tab for everyone.
The worst part, even though I was enjoying myself and enjoying the life we had built together, I knew I wasn’t excited to marry him. And, I knew he felt the same way. Inertia took over. We had a house, we had pets, and we had a pool. What else could we ask for?
Unfortunately, the early progress I made on my rags to riches story had completely stalled because of our decision to keep going and going…
Ridiculous Things I Couldn’t Possibly Give up
He wasn’t a bad guy. We just weren’t on the same page. Hell, we weren’t even in the same book.
Even though I knew I was in a bad (for me) relationship and should have moved on, there were things I enjoyed that I wasn’t ready to give up. Hence, I stayed. Way too long.
Please enjoy this most ridiculous list of things I obviously valued more than my financial future!
- The big house – Remember, I grew up poor, so this nice, big, suburban house did wonders for validating my self worth. *Eye roll*
- Our friends – Most of the people we saw regularly were actually HIS friends. We all know friends take sides after a break up, and I knew that his friends wouldn’t take mine.
- We had pets! – Yep. We had pets that I didn’t want to leave them. How absurd is that?
- Holidays – One thing we had in common was making a big deal out of the holidays. We loved decorating like The Griswolds and having a kick-ass celebration for each and every holiday.
- The pool – Have I mentioned the pool? Yeah, we had an in-ground pool to die for. We put it in and it ran us upwards of $70k to do so. Needless to say, our house was The Place to be every weekend. There was a standing invitation for all of our friends. We had a blast. Future? What future? We were living in the moment!
What I didn’t realize when I was enjoying our in-ground pool or nights out with our friends was that my most valuable asset was slipping away. My Time. And it was evaporating into the abyss.
I had worked my butt off to be the first one in my family to get a college degree and a high-paying, professional job. On top of those successes, I had also began investing and building wealth straight out of school. But there I was, counteracting all of the good I had accomplished by succumbing to inertia.
I didn’t want to uproot my life and start over with nothing. No big house. No in-ground pool. Nothing to validate what I had accomplished. That was the image of success I had been chasing since a child. I was living my dreams! Except my success was a facade. I was living a lie. That realization was the catalyst for my reboot.
My Financial Descent
My financial descent didn’t really take shape until I decided to leave the nearly 8-year relationship that stole most of my 20s and stretched into my early 30s.
By the time I couldn’t ignore our differences anymore and was forced to make a change, I was in a position where I was subsidizing my parents’ monthly expenses to the tune of about $800/month. Their trailer was falling apart and I willingly took on the responsibility of buying a house for them to move into.
Regardless of my financial obligations, though, I still needed to follow through with the break up. I ended up moving out just before Christmas that year. I left with my clothes, 4 lawn chairs, and my 2 cats.
So there I was, starting from scratch at 31 years old. The exact age I had imaged I would be having children with a wonderful husband in a big house. I can’t tell you how depressed I was. And, I can’t begin to tell you how many times I sat in my stark apartment with my coat on that winter. I wasn’t sure I could afford to help my parents AND pay the electric bill if I cranked the heat up past 60 degrees! That was my new life.
But it gets better…
Please enjoy yet another ridiculous list of things I did to derail my finances in the wake of the break up:
- I continued to help my parents – I continued to funnel about $800/month to my parents to help with their monthly expenses. This was “no big deal” when I was in the bad relationship. Unfortunately, it was a BIG deal when I was on my own.
- I stopped contributing to my retirement accounts – Sadly, that’s not a typo. Up until that point, I had been contributing 15% of my income into my company’s 401(k) plan and maxing out a Roth IRA every year. This lull in contributions lasted a dreadful 5 years. That’s right, prime investing years in my 30s were wasted! I didn’t contribute a dime. Why? Because I needed the money for the apartment (see next bullet point). #Fool
- I leased an apartment – I could’ve easily moved in with my parents. They would’ve been thrilled to have me. But I was an emotional mess, and I viewed moving in with my parents in my early 30s as the epitome of failure.
- The Kicker – My parents were living in the rental house I bought for them; essentially, I would’ve been living in MY OWN house!
Playing Catch up
Because it took me so long to move out and reboot my life, I’m not crafting this post from a stance of financial independence. Instead, I’m doing so late at night after working my full-time job and fulfilling all my obligations.
Why? Because I don’t have the option of choosing a different path – yet.
Why? Because I chose poorly when it came to a romantic relationship after college. On top of that, I allowed inertia to take over for nearly 8 years. I knew it was a wrong relationship for a LONG time and I allowed it to continue because I liked our friends and I liked living in our nice house. After all, we had an in-ground pool! Did I mention the pool???
Success Comes In Many Forms
Not surprisingly, it took me a long time to figure out that success comes in many different forms. I now know that the size of your house has nothing to do with the size of your net worth or your overall success. I also realize how important time is. Wasting a single day living a life that you don’t value is a day you can never get back.
There are no do-overs.
I lost nearly a decade of crucial investing years because I was too busy partying it up to realize that my life and financial future were slipping away.
Thankfully, I got my act together, but not before turning 30. And after that, it took me quite a few years of emotional maintenance and self care before I found the right man. We’ve been married for a few years now and we’re completely aligned on money. You better believe I made sure of it!
We’re back to blazing our own trail towards financial independence. Of course, I could have already been there had I realized how important choosing the right partner was, but oh well. You live and learn. I’ll still get there – it’ll just be in a few years, as opposed to being a few years ago.
The Danger of Inertia
No one is perfect, and that means that everyone makes poor decisions that affect their financial future. The difference between failure and success comes down to how quickly we recognize our poor decisions, and how quickly we take the steps to correct them.
Delaying action is the danger of inertia. It can literally cost you a fortune!
Anyone else working through a comeback story? :)
Lisa is a mother, scientist, and financial enthusiast. She founded Mad Money Monster, a personal finance blog chronicling her and her family’s journey from doing money all wrong to doing it all right. She and her husband are known as Mr. & Mrs. Mad Money Monster on the site. They pride themselves as being Gen-Xers who have turned it all around and are now charting a course towards financial independence. Their goal is to inspire others just like them to take control of their financial future and realize it’s not too late! Sign up to their blog and follow along here.
Enjoy these types of stories? Check out this financial confessional next: “We Used to Blow Our Money on Motorcycles & Airplanes”