I’ve come to believe that honesty is the most difficult, and yet most essential part of a person’s financial process.
Chrissy Metz and the many others who’ve posted openly and honestly about their financial troubles using the #RealMoneyTalk have been so inspiring to me! I suffered from financial instability and instead of seeking the help I needed, I suffered quietly. When we choose to do this, it reinforces the taboo of money rather than encouraging more of us to be open about the toughest parts of navigating our finances with less-than-ideal levels of knowledge or available resources.
In 2012, I was a classroom teacher fresh out of college with about $20,000 of total debt. (Most of it was due to reckless credit card spending in college.) When my direct deposit would hit my bank account, I’d get anxious instead of excited because I knew it meant another month of desperately trying and yet, failing to cover all my bases. I knew it meant another month of unsuccessful juggling multiple debts and responsibilities. I was earning $48,000 as a first-year teacher, which was about $2,600 per month after taxes and retirement contributions to my 403b. After paying my rent ($800), utility and cell phone bills ($300), food ($500), transportation ($200), clothes ($200), and my credit card minimum payments ($500) – I was left with $100 or less each month. My credit card debt would increase even though I was paying every month on time because the interest rate was over 20%.
This is a very typical situation for many Americans and people all around the world too, who work and do what they can to make ends meet but often times still fall short. But in my case, I had a shopping problem, which contributed to the increasing balances on my credit cards on top of all the monthly interest charges. If you had asked me whether or not I had a shopping problem or a money problem, I’d deny it in a heartbeat! After all, this is normal according to every statistic about the average American financial situation.
One day I decided to try to see how much I could save if I didn’t shop unnecessarily for one week. I packed my lunch, water, and a snack with all my belongings for work and did not include ANY cash, credit or debit cards. I purposefully never installed Apple Pay or any other electronic payment app on my phone. I knew that I could not trust myself with money. I FINALLY got honest with myself!
Going cold turkey was not easy and I quickly found myself in a Walgreens or CVS on my way home from work, walking up and down the aisles picking up random items that I most certainly did not need. Candles, snacks, perfumes, lotions, make-up – these were my biggest temptations. When I walked up to the counter to pay for these items, I quickly realized that I had no way to pay. I was so embarrassed and I made up a story about having left my wallet up in my apartment so that the clerk would let me go.
It wasn’t until I got real with myself that I finally committed to a strategy. In my case an extreme one – but at least I had a plan! I’d go to and from work each day with no money to spend and that meant that I was forced to stop my bad spending habits. After a few weeks and then a few months I saw a huge difference in my bank account and it felt amazing to see my credit card balances actually begin to decrease as I budgeted more tightly and began to aggressively pay the credit card debt down.
Let this post be a challenge for you to think of at least one way that you can be more honest with yourself and you may even consider making a public commitment to help you stay accountable using the #RealMoneyTalk!
What’s important is that you join the conversation so that you too can take charge of your credit and financial health and we can all break the taboo together!