This is the story of “Elizabeth,” a 27-year-old who works in the IT field in San Francisco.
I had to think long and hard before I decided to respond to the profile challenge for two reasons. The first being that I am not a very good writer and the second being that my story is very common. However, one of my resolutions for the year is to improve my writing and you can’t improve if you don’t take a chance. As for the second excuse, well, maybe my story can help someone else.
I am currently 27, living in San Francisco and in the IT field. The catch is that I have only been financially on my feet for the past six months. When I first graduated college I was very lucky, I only had a couple thousand dollars in debt from the last semester’s living expenses and my parents had given me a semi-reliable car. In addition, my new job was in the DC area and my parents lived there too so I could even live with them for a few months until I found an apartment. So how did I go from having every advantage to screwing up so badly? It was easy, pride. Looking back the signs were obvious but at the time I had no idea they were even signs or mistakes.
I found an apartment with a friend and it was great, even within my admittedly mostly theoretical budget. But I didn’t start saving for an emergency fund, instead I went shopping and signed up for a couple of new hobbies. I had been living on an extremely tight college budget for four years and I was ready to start living. I was lucky to be making a fairly decent salary so I wasn’t even racking up debt. But then my car had a problem. Nothing major but it did take up about $800 which needed to go on the credit card. And I couldn’t pay it off right away because I had already signed contracts for those expensive hobbies. Since I didn’t have a budget really, I couldn’t look at it and start cutting in various places like eating out and book buying. So I just shrugged my shoulders and figured it would be fine.
Then another car failure for another $600. And then I went on vacation. Yes, that’s right, having roughly $2000 on my credit cards at this time, I decided to go on a very expensive vacation to Honduras (which was extremely fun by the way). When I came back I now had about $5000 on my credit card. Without an emergency fund it was easy to rack up debt. I would just start to get a handle on the card when BAM! another problem or vacation would hit.
In the next two years, two more major car maintenance problems hit before I had to buy a new car, I took another vacation, this time to Africa, and I moved to a more expensive apartment, all while living the exact same lifestyle (buying clothes, enjoying my hobbies, eating out for lunch every day) as before all this debt piled up.
And then the best thing happened to me. I met two very wonderful European women who helped me get over my pride. Since in our society we don’t talk about money and problems, I have no idea how it came about but one day we started to talk and my immense stress of having roughly $18000 in credit card debt, a $15000 car loan and 2 personal loans (for hobby toys) of roughly $3000 each came out while living in apartment that I couldn’t afford. I didn’t go into specifics with them but we did talk about the fact that I had enormous debt and I couldn’t afford where I was living. I was reluctant to face facts and make drastic changes in my life but with their help and support I did.
Like most kids growing up, once I left home I passionately didn’t want to return. Partly because I liked the freedom of living on my own but also because in my mind, moving back home was admitting failure. But these two ladies brought up a very valuable point, that parents are there for help, that it is not failure to go back home and that the only failure would be to ignore my problems.
My pride still wouldn’t let me just move back home and frankly my lease wasn’t up but at this point I was opened to ideas that would let me ease my situation. At this point, a job opportunity popped up at my company that required weekly travel to the Denver area for the next six months and I took it. Two weeks later I had invoked the clause about moving states for a job, put all my stuff in a storage container that cost about a sixth of my current rent without the utilities and I took two suitcases of clothes to my parents house. I spent the next two years of my life on the road, which sucked, but I managed to pay off all my debt, build up an emergency fund, and learn some very valuable lessons about money, family and pride.
Having saved up some money, when the opportunity came to take a non-traveling job in the city of San Francisco, I jumped at it. I’ve been here for six months now and I have rebuilt my emergency fund, kept a very strict budget no matter how much I hate it and pay off my credit card every month.
This story might be pretty common but for me it was very hard and took a lot of courage to swallow my pride and ask for help from the two people who wanted to give it to me, my parents.
I want to thank Elizabeth for sharing this story. I think those two wise European ladies said it best, “parents are there for help, that it is not failure to go back home and that the only failure would be to ignore [your] problems.”
#1: Emily Starbuck Gerson in Austin, TX
***If you are a 20something who would like to share your money story, I’d love to have it! Please email me at wellheeled – at – gmail – dot com.