Inside a building, walls bust into flames. As the temperature rises and smoke fills the air, a young woman is sleeping next to her newborn in a room down the hall, unfazed and unaware of the impending doom approaching. Finally, she wakes up, but she starts vacuuming! What’s the matter with her?! How could she not realize her and her baby are about to be burned alive! As the room gets hotter and she goes to open her door, she finds the handle burning hot. Then reality sets in.
That young woman was me. I was deep in debt, stressed beyond belief and I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. Until it was too late, until I had a newborn baby, a mortgage, had just gotten laid off from my nursing job and realized I was $80,000 in debt, that’s not including the mortgage. It felt like my life was over. I felt like a failure. I have failed my husband, my baby and myself. My mind went to scary places, thinking we’d end up homeless, my husband will resent me forever and my child will not have the kind of life I had wanted for him.
So I sprang into action. I applied to a bunch of nursing jobs and finally got a call back within that same week. This new job wasn’t full time and all the bills weren’t being covered month to month. Turned out it was more of a trap, the illusion of stability. I wasn’t getting the hours I needed and we ended up living paycheck to paycheck, accumulating over $10,000 in additional credit card debt. I was missing something.
After doing months’ worth of research I realized what the problem was. The debt was holding us back! It felt like an anchor was tied to my leg and I was thrown deep into the ocean. It felt like there was no way out. But the first step is admitting you have a problem. That was difficult. What was more difficult was showing my husband the total outstanding debt we had on paper and our current income with which we wouldn’t cover our bills anymore.
Now, my husband is a great man. He seemed to have the better money habits than I did, never accumulating credit card debt, not shopping too much, putting away for retirement and even had a little savings account. BUT he was missing one big detail of being financially stable. A PLAN. There was no plan!!! How can we succeed in life, in marriage, in work, in anything without a plan??? We can’t!!! Unless we win the lotto. Oh Wait! Nope! Without a plan, we’d spend all that money again! And without correcting the bad money habits, we’ll go back into debt and back into the hamster wheel!
Once my husband was on board, or so I thought, the next step was putting the plan into action. This was painful. Here I am in LaLa land, thinking my friends would be so supportive of this life-changing decision, but all we got when telling them of it were looks of judgment and confusion. “So you can’t go out to dinner with us?” “You mean you’re going to sacrifice your lifestyle just to pay off your loan?” “YOLO! What if you die tomorrow, aren’t you afraid of regretting not living to the fullest?” No matter how I tried explaining how this will be better for our family in the long run, nobody understood. It became too frustrating.
Then a revelation came, at last! Our friends’ opinions, though we love and cherish their friendships, didn’t matter! They were only mere reflections of their own fears. Yes, it was difficult turning down dinner invitations, and it was even more difficult deciding on not going on a cruise that year and the year after, until we were debt-free. Did our friends abandon us? Did they start looking down on us since we weren’t wearing the latest fashions anymore or when we got rid of our leased car in exchange for a beat-up ten year old truck with the driver’s seat that moves like a Lazy Susan when you drive it? No! They’re our friends, they would accept us in any condition and without contingencies.
Two Steps Back, One Step Forward
Then football season arrived. Oh, how my husband loves football and everything about it. The fantasy leagues, the wings and pizza, people over every week, etc. I was never so mad and yet so confused at the same time. He wanted to join three paid fantasy leagues and to play on a team (NOT for free) for the season as well! But wasn’t he on board?! Didn’t he agree on our short-term sacrifice and long-term gain and vision? “Remember our goal,” I kept telling him! Nope. He was set on his “football needs.”
We stalled. The arguments were recurrent throughout the next several months. They weren’t pretty. I had this inkling of a feeling that he never was 100% committed to this plan of financial freedom as I was. Then it came to me. I asked him a question. “How do you feel about this?” And I listened, with a open mind, for the first time.
I did it all wrong in the beginning. Bossing your spouse, or anyone for that matter, into submission will never work. They will end up angry and resentful and will find ways to foil your plan. With that will go the quality of the relationship as well. But real growth only comes through such mis-takes.
“In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.” -Abraham Maslow
Why do we torture ourselves so much? We are our own enemies when it comes to getting out of a rut. Why? Because we are naturally drawn to comfort and to what’s familiar. That is the job of our subconscious mind. To go where it’s most comfortable and stable. Because new things will trigger a fear of the unknown and that, to our mind, signals DANGER! But this danger isn’t real. We are not a tribe in the Paleolithic era. We live in modern society. Last time I checked, there wasn’t a tiger prowling outside my house. And when I stopped shopping for new clothes, I wasn’t sent into exile for not fitting in with my peers.
The Secret To Success
So how did I actually pay off fourty grand in a year? I had special secret ammunition…I was scared shitless! And soon to be shirtless! As awkward and painful as it was, my husband and I sat down and started communicating, for the first time in our two years of marriage together, about money. About how much we owe, about our guilty pleasures (shopping, new electronic gadgets, fantasy football drafts, etc.) about how much most of this was my own fault (and this was difficult to admit and take responsibility for), and we set a detailed plan into action. We then started looking into our spending habits. It was shocking to find out that we were spending $1,000 per month on food alone! Talk about food addiction! But that’s another topic I can discuss later…
In that first year, I learned a lot about myself, about money and about the destructive patterns we tend to get stuck in, without even realizing it. Once we had a WRITTEN plan and open communication about money, my anxiety seemed to melt away! It felt amazing! I felt freedom that I never thought I’d have… that I never even thought I wanted but which I needed. It’s been over a year since this new change in lifestyle has been put into effect. Our marriage and overall communication has improved, about money, lifestyle and expectations of each other.
And even though we have a little longer to go before paying off all the debt completely, it’s ok. Because there is a plan in action. I am not that clueless mommy anymore, putting my family in grave danger because of my own ignorance. There is no more fire in my house. Just on my stove. Under my direct control. With a childproof cover on it.
Author: Tiffany Olson