Have you ever been at the grocery store checkout, nervously waiting to see if your debit card would go through to pay for a carton of milk and a loaf of bread? I have. Unbelievably, neither those times nor the times I was declined, compelled me to change my financial situation.
It wasn’t my fault. I told myself. I had extenuating circumstances.
It was my husband’s child support payments to his first wife.
It was this barn of a house I got stuck with after my divorce.
It was my husband’s illness and his inability to work steadily.
It was my adult children, who still needed my help.
It was my aging parents who required full time care.
Yadda, yadda, yadda.
And even though our family income should have been more than enough to sustain our expenses, our utilities were repeatedly threatened to be cut off, insurance payments often bounced and our pay checks were always hijacked by money lending places the instant they hit our bank accounts.
It wasn’t until I received a letter from the bank, saying we had to get our mortgage in good standing or they were going to foreclose, that I got the slap in the face I needed. Holy shit. Ok. Now I concede. We are in deep doggie doodoo, like my backyard after the first spring thaw.
It’s not polite to talk about money
Our generation, Generation X and Boomers, are taught from a young age that we shouldn’t talk about our finances. Or at least, our money troubles. And never, ever tell anybody you are struggling. You don’t want to be embarrassed and admit you can’t keep up with the Jones’ do you? Especially when you are middle aged and have a good job.
Sure, we all joke about getting the McMansion, a fully loaded SUV the size of a small cruise ship or a huge lottery win. I WISH! We all chuckle.
But admit you can’t make ends meet, you don’t have any savings and there is a tow truck driver hooking up your car in the driveway? No way.
No one knew how dire our financial crisis was. Not our parents, not our friends, and especially, not our kids. And I dare say, even I didn’t know. Strike that. Yes, I did. I just chose to ignore it.
I should know better
Never in my wildest dreams did I envision my fifties being fraught with debt and living paycheck to paycheck. I’m old for Pete’s sake. I should have figured out how to budget and save by this age you would think. And I have my Bachelor’s Degree in Economics. What the heck is wrong with me?
But I am not alone. Bankruptcies have doubled for people over 55 over the last decade, accounting for 20% of all filers. The median age for bankruptcy in the United States is now 45! And, those with a Bachelor’s Degree or higher, make up 20% as well. So obviously, age and level of education aren’t Wonder Woman bracelets that shield you from financial failings.
How To Start Changing Your Finances
1. Admit you have a problem
It’s like an addiction really. A dirty little secret. And as long as you keep it that way, things will never change. Admitting to yourself, and to others, you have a problem, you are no good with money, can be the impetus that will make your financial situation better.
2. Understand that a bailout is not the answer
I know you may think that a huge influx of money (or a bankruptcy) will solve all of your money problems, and no one will be the wiser, but trust me, it won’t. A bailout will only be temporary and you will need one again, soon.
16% of bankruptcies are repeat filers.
And if you are like me, your financial history is already filled with quick solutions like refinancing, consolidations and/or loans from family. And yet, there I was in this same place again financially. Only deeper.
Except that time, the time I received that foreclosure notice, I had already exhausted every avenue. There were no more wells to tap.
3. You must learn how to think long term
If there is one thing I know for sure, reflecting back on those hard times, it is this:
Financially strapped people make the stupidest financial decisions.
Everyday is focused on keeping the wolf away from the front door. Avert the most imminent crisis. That’s it. That leads you to missing important payments, applying for and using high interest rate credit and the absolute worst, frequenting pay day loan establishments.
But unless you start to think ahead, of the future, you will never get out of this awful cycle, you will never feel peace and you will probably never be able to retire. Ever.
4. Stop trying to hide. They will find you.
We tried to hide from our debt. Ignore it. I had tons of unopened mail, stashed in my desk. But the day I decided no more, the day I had the guts to face my truth, open the envelopes and take back control, was the day everything changed for us.
I am not going to sugar coat it. My finances didn’t miraculously become better. It was a lot of hard, consistent work for a long time.
5. Make the calls. Make plans.
I started by making a list of everything we owed and to whom. And then, gulp, I called them all. I let them know the trouble I was in and they each, one by one, worked out a manageable repayment plan with me. Some reduced or stopped interest from accruing. Some deleted past interest charges, and some chopped the debt substantially. What. A. Relief.
For the first time in years, I felt great. The knot that had been ever present, like my tangled headphones at the bottom of my purse, was gone.
Now, I barely remember the stress, the fear, and the constant worry. And if you are where I was right now, I want you too know, it is never too late and you are never too old to completely transform your money.
All you have to do is face it. Head on.