“Poor” Does Not Discriminate

From the years 2009 through 2011, I was in an abusive relationship, and I learned one crucial lesson that has affected every financial decision that I’ve made since:

I learned what it was like to be poor.

Not “I’m barely making my payments” poor, but rather having to choose between two things that I NEED because I knew that I could not afford both.

Here’s my story.


Disclosure

Although, I am a vocal advocate for domestic abuse survivors and take any opportunity I’m presented with to educate those around me on the harsh realities of abuse and why you can’t “just leave” your abusive partner…  this is a financial opinion website, after all. So, today’s entry will only be focusing only on my financial implications.

If you (or somebody you know) believes that you may be a victim of physical, emotional and/or psychological abuse… please contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.

Ages 0-18

For background, I grew up in a four bedroom suburban home. My parents have been married for over 30 years, and my father is a veteran (USMC), so struggling wasn’t something I ever had to do. I didn’t grow up posh and affluent, but I never went “without”.129549-004-8d8a691b

I was the youngest child by eight years, and a latch-key child at that, so I spent a fair amount of time taking care of myself. This upbringing helped me grow to become highly independent, and never afraid to figure out how to do something that I wanted.

By all accounts, my entire life has been comfortable, and I never had to worry about the world around me suddenly collapsing…so I had plenty of time to focus on my dreams.

Fast forward to age 19.

I had moved out of my parents’ house and into an apartment with a close friend, and was working at call centers while trying to go to college.

Although my boyfriend and I were getting serious with one another, when I realized that I didn’t fully trust him to help provide for us, I drew some very hard-lines in the sand.

  1. I refused moving in together. He was allowed to overnight with me occasionally, but I made sure the only thing he left at my apartment was a toothbrush…that I bought him.
  2. I refused any financial commitments.He was not to be added to my cell phone plan, even though he wanted to. He was not going to be a source of “lending” for me, meaning that I was not going to borrow any money from him or accept any gifts that I couldn’t pay back, in full, with short notice. (Borrower is slave to the lender).
  3. I refused to ask for help. It wasn’t anyone else’s responsibility to provide for me.

This last one might have been my undoing, but it also served as the most important lesson I’ve ever learned financially… more on this shortly.

I’m thankful I had the sheer luck to not let him trap me financially, because minutes after I moved out of my parents house… the abuse started.

“If you move home, you don’t care about our relationship”

The final straw that snapped my back and turned him into my enemy in-life forever occurred about eight months later when I lost my job. I told my boyfriend that I didn’t think I could afford to live on my own much longer since I was unemployed, and he told me that I would be giving up on him and our relationship if I moved back with my parents…and that I clearly never cared about him.

breakup_gameover660Of all the issues we had, I have no clue why this particular fight was the final straw, but it was. I broke up with him, and made sure he realized I wasn’t kidding.

When I left him at the beginning of 2011, I found myself in dire straits immediately. I had lost my job and sole source of income. I was living off-campus and couldn’t afford to commute to school anymore, and I was out of money.

Unemployment hit me right after the worst parts of the great recession of 2008. A majority of employers were under hiring freezes, and 20 year old I had to compete with people who wanted any job they could secure in order to keep a roof over their heads and food on their children’s dinner plates.

Over 150 job applications and resumes were sent out, but I wasn’t even getting any callbacks. I was an ambitious, college educated man with 6 years of customer service experience that couldn’t land a part time job making five dollar foot-long sandwiches.

Alongside this, I was turning to alcohol to help me numb the pain of the breakup and the stalking that he was doing. Honestly, coping with looking over my shoulder 24/7 felt easier when I was too intoxicated to care.

Lawn chairs don’t scratch laminate floors.

You think you know how “being broke” feels until you’re actually broke.

Months went by, and I was still broke. I sold all of my bedroom furniture on craigslist to pay for food, and when my money ran out again, my mother donated stuff from her garage for me to sell in a yard sale.

alone-in-empty-house

I still wasn’t making ends meet.

My living room consisted of three folding chairs and a television. My parents were loaning the money to make my car payments for me (my father had cosigned, so if I missed a payment…his credit was getting destroyed), and things weren’t getting any easier.

My checking account and my refrigerator were empty, my cell phone was turned off for non-payment, and I was scrounging up coins to buy dog food for my pet at the 99 Cents store.

I still wasn’t making ends meet.

It was then that I learned this: Being broke was so much more than “not making ends meet”, it was deciding which NEED was more important…food, or shelter, because I couldn’t afford both.

Living poor was realizing that there was no way I could afford my utility bill—and getting to sweat it out for weeks until the bill eventually went past due. True struggle is being surprised every time your phone rings, because that means the provider hasn’t disconnected it, yet.

The worst moments of my life was not knowing where my next meal was coming from when dinner time was two hours away.

Homelessness.

On April 29, 2011… after 5 months of unemployment, I was evicted from my condo.

I packed up my belongings overnight, and temporarily moved into a friend’s spare bedroom while I figured out what was next. My pride took a massive hit, and so did my friendship with my former roommate.

Adrian, the independent and self-starting man who refused to ask for help… was officially homeless.

Quite honestly, things were so bad that I blocked out that entire time period. The only memories I have are:nojob-nomoney

1 – Hiding from my abusive ex, who was actively stalking me.

2 – Being so substantially poor that driving my car a mile down the street to a Panera Bread to use their free Wi-Fi to job hunt felt like a life/death choice, because I didn’t know if I had enough gas to get my car back home, and if my car got stranded/towed/impounded… I was going to make my tight situation become a nuclear wasteland, financially.

3 – Feeling totally isolated. My phone was turned off and I couldn’t reach anyone. I had given my dog away because I couldn’t care for him. I was living in a strange area of the city where I didn’t know where anything was, and I was fending for myself as I teetered dangerously close to being out on the street.

The friend who offered me a spare bedroom was a manager at a fast food restaurant, so he was able to help keep me fed at least once per day, but I knew that he wasn’t flush with cash himself and I was a burden on his household expenses. Likewise, I wasn’t going to take him down by supporting me. It wasn’t anyone’s responsibility to take care of me, but my own.

I stayed in his place for a little over a week, until Mother’s Day 2011, when my parents picked me up and took me out to dinner. Rather than getting dropped back off by my dad, I went to my parents’ house that night and left everything behind. My car, my computer, my clothes, my furniture. Everything.

I couldn’t do it anymore. It was time to ask for help.

I gave up.

After asking to stay at my parents’ home, and them graciously letting me sleep on a spare futon, it was time to make some moves.

A few days later, a friend took me to pick up my car and a change of clothes from the apartment. Soon after, all of my boxes followed me home and were piled along the wall in a spare bedroom of my parent’s house.

My bed, the last thing I didn’t sell, was eventually thrown away because it was too big to store anywhere.

In five months, I went from a comfortable existence to not owning a bed.

Eventually I got a call back for a job interview. I gave what was likely the best and most gracious job interview of my entire life or career past/present, and I landed a part time job in a real estate office making minimum wage at 20 hours a week.

Shortly after, a friend helped me get a second part time job in a thrift store, and I made the conscious decision to isolate myself from people who expressed frustration that I couldn’t afford to eat out, throw money around, and frolic with them like past Adrian could.

My days was spent working tirelessly proving myself to the two employers willing to gamble on me, and my nights were spent working on my self-esteem. Every dollar earned was spent digging myself out of the financial hole I created, and every payment I made was a lesson.

Day in, day out.

Pride, shame, and embarrassment is what made me struggle for so long, and if I wanted to be too arrogant to put those things aside and focus solely on myself and my opportunities—I could never expect to be any better.

The happy ending doesn’t come here, because the real estate firm let me go a month later. Talk about a test of character. I could have given up right then and there, or I could put on my blinders and stay focused on my ultimate goal.

I chose the second option.

Reality > Perception.

In my life, I have been disowned by friends and distant family for coming out as gay. I have found my dog in my house…after he passed away suddenly. I have been abused and stalked by an ex for the duration of 2 years.

However, admitting that I had tried to live on my own, and essentially failed at adulthood, was the hardest thing I’ve ever admitted to myself.

So badly did I want to act like I had it all together… that I nearly starved myself to do it. The perception of having it “all together” wasn’t the reality, and I’ve still got the damaged credit and mental anxiety to prove it.adobestock_82256175-e1463142440685

Earlier, I mentioned this:

I refused to ask for help. It wasn’t anyone else’s responsibility to provide for me.

In the last seven years, with my perseverance, support from my family, and my husband’s patience… I have rebuilt my life.

We own a three bedroom home, I have thousands of dollars in my savings account, and we don’t go without the things we want or need. I’ve got a stable career, a podcast, and a blog where I educate others hoping to find their own form of financial independence.

All this success isn’t in a god-given right.

Every time I feel like I’m not making headway on my debt free journey, I remind myself that it’s a privilege that I have a single dollar extra to pay towards my bills. My job is a privilege, not a right, because nobody cared about Adrian or hired me when I went unemployed for half a year and became homeless.

I do not ask others for help, but rather… I ask for solutions.

I will ask anyone around me to help me figure out a solution to a problem that I can’t succeed at by myself. Not every battle in the world has been experienced or even won by me, so if I don’t know with full confidence that I can succeed—I will ask somebody to verify that I’m making the right choice, or thinking through an obstacle with a clear and unbiased mind.

More often than I want to admit, they suggest something that I had never thought of…because their own experiences or objectivity have given them skills that I just don’t possess.

Others can give me advice, but it’s my job to help myself.

Livable > Lavish

I am very careful to help myself by staying in a position where I won’t need to ask anyone for help, financially, because I am 100% responsible for my own financial well-being.

This year, I am proud to announce that my husband (the lower income earner between the two of us) is extremely close to being able to float all of our expenses on his salary alone… should something happen to me, or my salary.

By conventional standards, we’ve both want and have the money to buy a much larger and nicer house closer to the city. We can justify the move by enjoying a kitchen that allows multiple people to be in at once, a second garage, and more space to spread out.

However, by doing this… that would guarantee that I had to work endlessly to keep the roof over my head.

Considering, half a decade ago, I was selling off every piece of furniture in my entire house (that I was later evicted from) to feed myself, there is a certain amount of overwhelming pride that I feel for being able to live well beneath our means.

Suddenly, my house doesn’t feel “small”, it feels secure. Rather than saying that I am outgrowing it… I’m working very intentionally to purge and de-clutter everything I don’t need.

Liquidity > Luxury

More than almost anything, I want a Lexus. By conventional standards, I could afford the monthly payment/insurance/maintenance with hundreds of dollars left over each month.

But, by financing it, this would mean that my husband and I must produce the same or better income every month that a payment is due…which could easily be 5 years.maxresdefault

Don’t get me wrong, the temptation to regress financially is all around me. It doesn’t have to be as expensive as a $40,000 Lexus, because I could easily have plenty of nice dinners out with my husband, gift-filled holidays, tropical vacations, and the nicest clothes…and be setting myself AND my husband up for a potential financial meltdown later on.

I want that Lexus more than anyone realizes, but I do not want it bad enough to sacrifice my financial security and increase my dependency for 5 straight years.

This is one of the biggest lessons that I carry with me every single day. Just because I grew up affluent with a college education and excellent street smarts… doesn’t mean i’m exempt from being poor.

Every day I must make conscious decisions to stay ahead of the financial curve, because I am 100% responsible for my own financial well-being. Life doesn’t give me a free pass, and it’s very expensive to be poor in this country.

…but the high cost of being poor is a conversation for another day.

Living > Existing

Existing is feeling powerless in a world where everyone around you seems to be doing just fine, but you’re drowning financially. Existing is making short-sighted decisions that feel good because you know it doesn’t matter what you do or don’t do, anyway.

Existing is not living.

Living is being able to breathe and not be plagued with the looming idea that the smallest incident could end you. Living is planning for the future, because you know your actions today (big and small) will reward you tomorrow. Living is so much better than existing.

I’ve done both, and all the Lexus sports cars in the world wouldn’t make me want to “exist” ever again.


If you (or somebody you know) believes that you may be a victim of physical, emotional and/or psychological abuse… please contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.