My twenties were spent--literally--using my money to buy what I wanted and felt I needed in the immediate. I was never late with rent, major bills, or car payments, but I managed to always have a bit of lingering credit card debt, usually hovering around $5,000, and I generally lived from one paycheck to the next. I would squirrel money away into my savings account, only to squirrel it right back out a few months later.
While I would never wish long-term unemployment on anyone, it has had it's advantages--in particular, that I learned what I can and cannot live without. It was a hard lesson to learn, but one that has stuck with me.
I acknowledge, up front, that I am incredibly privileged to have parents I could fall back on when I needed a place to live. They are wonderful, and it has helped my bottom line immensely as I've crawled out of the hole that unemployment put me in. Still, it's been a crawl, and it's one I'm proud of, because I beat odds that many in this country have no hope of beating simply because they don't have the option to live rent-free.
I lost my job in 2010, and my last paycheck arrived at the end of July that year. By August, I was receiving unemployment benefits, but my monthly income had almost halved. Living on $1,800 a month, when $1,000 of that goes towards rent on an apartment, is not easy. No more "I'm bored" trips to the mall, no more "Pay Day Target Runs" for anything but the absolute essentials. When bronchitis forced me into the Emergency Room at 2:30 in the morning a few months after I lost my job, I suddenly found myself with a $2,500 bill I couldn't keep up with. It ended up on my credit card.
You can see where this is going. After a year of going it on my own, moving in with Mom and Dad started to look really good.
And it has been. Sure, there were adjustments and sometimes we all need reminding that living with others means respecting certain boundaries, but overall, it's been good. Mom and Dad got a built-in house- and pet-sitter. I got a much-needed chance to build my financial base back up.
After two years of total unemployment, I started working very part-time. My contract was only 20%, but at least there was money coming in, and I took on a bunch of private music students, too. Then I moved on to the high school, where I was at 33%, then 50%, and my income grew even more. In these three years, I started a system in which every week I put money into my savings account. First it would be ten or twenty dollars, but as my income grew, so did my weekly deposit. Now that I'm full-time, I can put $100 a week away without batting an eyelash.
I also started slowly chipping away at my credit card debt, making more than the minimum payment religiously each month. celebrating every time I dipped below another number in the 1,000s spot.
So, where am I now?
This week, I officially passed the $5,000 mark in my savings account. It's the most I've ever had in that account in my whole life, and I pretty much refuse to touch it unless there's an emergency. I did use $800 of my savings back in October to pay for my London trip, but otherwise, everything else related to that adventure was paid for out of my checking account.
When I got my tax return last week, I put $300 of it towards my credit card--an extra payment this month--and with my next payment on April 1st, I will officially be below $1,000 in what I owe.
I have debt, of course--roughly $22,000 for my new car, but I'm paying about $50 more each month than I have to.
My credit score has been steadily increasing--though it dipped briefly when I bought the car in November.
I'm so damned pleased with myself, I often walk out into the living room to brag to Mom and Dad about my finances.
This means, of course, that it's time for a new adventure. My job is going well--I like it there, they like me, we all talk about my being there for a while yet, so knock on wood--and I am ready to have my own place again. Thing is, renting around here is expensive, and it would be cheaper to be making a monthly mortgage payment. So tomorrow, I'm going to call a mortgage broker--my friend Sarah's uncle--to get that ball rolling, and I hope, soon, to be talking to a realtor about my options for buying a condo.
Imagine that. Meg, a homeowner. I could paint the walls and build shelves in. I don't want a yard, as I prefer to keep the time and money I'd spent on maintaining it for my travel fund, but a patio with some potted plants would be lovely. If I can swing it, price-wise, a second bedroom with a pull-out sofa and space for my card-making. Lots of bookcases. New living room furniture (I junked my old set last year--it had been destroyed by the late Harley Dude and was never the most comfortable furniture, anyway). And kitties. A pair of bonded rescue kitties to love and find joy in.
But first, I have to qualify for a loan.
Still, I love possibilities, and this definitely presents possibilities. A friend of mine with slightly less income is a homeowner in this area, so why not?
It feels good to finally be a grownup. To take a trip to London without it hurting my bottom line. To know I can pay for my new car and also entertain the idea of buying a home. To no longer need endless stuff because I can see my money going towards more useful endeavors. Hell, I'm even thinking of opening an IRA.
I had to grow up sometime. ; )