I have been wanting to write this post for awhile, but when it came down to it I procrastinated a little bit because I couldn’t believe that I could finally comfortably share a huge part of my financial story after blogging for so long.

As I think about what I am about to share I get a little teary eyed because I can’t quite believe that I was able to deal with what was an incredibly stressful period of time in my life that lasted longer than I could ever have imagined and make it to the other side.This is the hardest blog post I’ve ever written…let’s get started.

When people talk about finances and preparing for the unknown there is a large group of people who are just living in the moment, just getting by (and that’s good enough), young and ignorant, or never expecting that the sh$t is about to hit the fan. At the time of the story that I’m about to share with you I was all of the above.

Because of the following experience I am about to share,  I continue to blog and hopefully encourage people who are trying to do their best with the resources, information, and energy that they have available to them.

Becoming The Unexpected Sole Breadwinner for My Small Family

Or, how  I had to support my mom and I on Starbucks money. I should go back to the beginning when my parents divorced. As the story goes my mom was basically left with just me and the $2.00 that she had to fish out of my piggy bank.

She used that money to take the bus (with me) to look for jobs. She had been a stay-at-home mom for basically 7 years who was left with me and the bankruptcy that my dad filed at the same time.

Ouch

She soon found a series of low paying jobs that allowed us to survive. But, it was hard going, stressful, and scary. Then, one day she decided to apply for college. She was working at the Denver campus of the college she wanted to attend but for some reason when she was actually accepted into her program it was for the Boulder campus. She couldn’t say no-her job had already been advertised and we had housing and tuition available for the upcoming semester. With a sense of urgency and a bit of adventure, we packed up and made the move to Boulder, Colorado.

My mom was considered a “non-traditional” student. Which just meant that even though she was young she was a first generation student with a kid in tow. I would attend classes with my mom and color or read quietly as the professor’s droned on. My love of education comes from my mom’s pursuit of education which she continues to this day. You think things would get easier living in the “tony” environs of posh Boulder, Colorado which was and still is considered one of the best places to live in the United States.

Life Was Still Hard

Living in Boulder was wonderful but it was hard on my mom. She was estranged from her family (for very, very good reasons) and so she didn’t have a support network to rely on when the times got rough. She would pay for the whole school year’s rent every time her student loans/grants would come in and supplemented those earnings with money from working at: Safeway, Wendy’s, and 7-11.

My mom’s sense of compassion led her to feed a homeless lawyer for a year with the perfectly good food that she was tasked with throwing out every night at her job. She knew how tough it could be and helped him because it was the right thing to do.

Living in Boulder allowed me the opportunity to learn how to horseback ride, go to sleep away camps, get a first-class education, and lovely used clothes from the local Episcopalian church for free…because technically we were considered “poor” in Boulder.

My mom had big dreams for me and even though I knew things were tough for us, she wanted to keep me ignorant of the pressure she was under. Self-absorbed kid that I was (which is totally normal for kids) I just kept on doing my thing.

Graduation Day

I will always remember the day that my mom graduated from college at the basketball center of what would become my future work place. Thousands of people streaming back and forth, hugging their friends and family.

Our little group was just as thrilled but we didn’t understand that bigger challenges were coming.  My mother always worked hard and like many people of her generation she was able to find jobs easily when they didn’t work out for whatever reason.

Until She Couldn’t

At that time I was in my twenties traveling around the world with Up With People. I didn’t know how hard things had gotten or that she was struggling to pay rent. I didn’t know that after a lifetime of working hard and easily finding work that the shipping out of U.S. jobs and downsizing of staff would affect her ability to find work easily. But it did.

I returned from traveling abroad blissfully unaware that the storm was about to land and was completely unprepared for what followed in the years to come.

My Mom Couldn’t Find Work

This was the most demoralizing, frustrating, and frightening situation to happen because she had no network of people to help her. She just had a small group of friends and an adult daughter. And so began what would be years of struggle, the storage unit that I began to hate, and the process of educating myself about money.  I knew how to work hard but I hadn’t been taught how to save, invest, or think about the future financially. Not because my mom wouldn’t have taught me, but because no one had taught her so she really didn’t have that information to tap into-even though in our extended family we had a number of relatives with paid off homes and pensions. But they had worked in factories their whole lives and she hadn’t, that wasn’t her dream. But without savings and a network when she “fell” she fell hard.

When my mom couldn’t find work it was at a time when Colorado was experiencing a deep Recession. She would end up applying for 100’s of jobs and getting none. I was in graduate school and working at Starbucks. In fact, I would graduate into that Recession and would work at Starbucks for another 9 or so months until I was hired on at my job at 80% because the university department that I was hired into was at risk of closing because 9-11 had happened and foreign students just weren’t coming to America.

Great, I had to support my mom who was increasingly becoming depressed (as was I) I was working a job that I could potentially lose because we had no clients, and I had to responsible in a way emotionally and financially that I just wasn’t prepared for at the time.

In a situation like this one your pride can get the best of you and you are taught to feel ashamed that times are hard. In the U.S. it feels like you’re not allowed to stumble or have hard times and it’s incredibly difficult to work your way through these times because of the mindset on the notion of struggle.

You Find Out Who Your Friends Are

In an extreme situation like the one that I was in, living with my mom, and just trying to hold on your friends know what’s going on. I had friends who:

  • Believed my mom was using me
  • Asked “Why can’t she find a job?” Like she wasn’t trying. WTF.
  • And, said that I was bad luck-not that I had bad luck, but that I WAS bad luck. Thanks.

I also had friends who asked how I was doing, sent me cards, and showed me love.  At a time when I just wanted to date and have fun, I just couldn’t-I had bigger responsibilities. They are still my friends to this day and when they had tough times…I was there.

Then, My Hair Began To Fall Out

Yep, that kind of sucked. In fact, I still have to rock fake hair because I had developed a hair condition that I didn’t know I had until quite recently. Imagine, the blow to my self-esteem. I was struggling, living with my mom, in debt, and then my hair began falling out. Dating was a struggle for obvious reasons too.

I’ll admit that at this point I became a little bitter and angry and I had every right to be. Why were the cards that I was dealt so f#cking hard even though we tried so hard?  I wanted to get married, have kids, travel, and live the life that I dreamed of. I became hard to be around because I was so stressed out and angry. The situation was affecting my social life, my health, and my work. I would just ask myself when would this ever end??

We Kept Trying

Until one day there was a glimmer of things getting better-not perfect but better. My mom got a job, my job stabilized because Saudi Arabia began sending thousands, and thousands of students abroad (thanks Saudi!!) and I was able to buy the home that I live in now. My mom was able to buy a home as well and I was finally, finally able to get my mom’s stuff out of storage (it was in storage for 10 years but we lived together for less than that amount of time).

I Started Blogging 

And found a community. I learned that I wasn’t unique, that there were other people struggling with money problems, lack of community, lack of knowledge, and lack of focus. I found out that I wasn’t the only person helping their family members out and more likely than not this help happened at a time when the giver was ill-prepared to give it.

I discovered through research and reading that African-American women have a high likelihood of ended up in a similar situation because they may be the first person in their family to get a degree and to make good money.

I developed a deeper level of compassion for others as they struggled with money and life choices-I got it. I also don’t wish my situation on anyone but more likely than not many of you reading this post have been touched by a situation like the one I just shared or know of someone who has had to deal with a similar struggle.

Australia or Bust

When I went to Australia, I wasn’t just recovering from a job that stopped being “workable.” I was recovering from years of mental stress that came with dealing with this situation. I just couldn’t give any more of myself to anyone else-I just needed a break and I’m glad that I recognized that I couldn’t keep up that pace mentally. Because I took that break I am now able to deal with some lingering issues from that time that I would like to finish dealing with. I have the mental energy now.

Regrets?

No, I have no regrets, I am proud of what I was able to do for my mom. I am proud of how I grew as a person and believe that there is value in sharing my story, and blog in general with the hopes of impressing on people the importance of having financial conversations with your kids (little ones to adult), with saving money, and bringing money conversations via my blog and podcast to people who need a nonjudgmental and informative conversation about money, thrift, dreams, travel, and more.

Money is Holistic

Oh, oh, I just got metaphysical on you. But, in my years of writing about money and basically recovering from the physical, emotional, and spiritual aftermath of those years I realized that I had some negative  money and life scripts that blocked my ability to change my financial life. I still struggle with these negative money and life scripts but I work on them each day.

Things like:

  • Believing that I can’t save.
  • Self-sabotage-When things are smoothing out and then I do something financially to create havoc in my life because I can’t imagine just having things be calm financially.
  • Believing that I can’t ever be debt free.
  • What society said about me and my money-The $5 Net worth story for Black women (that was a blow to the self-esteem)
  • Or, that I would never find love and never get married and have kids.

As I shredded paper, blogged, downsized, and left my old job I worked on those feelings and those scripts. Money isn’t just your knowledge in my opinion, it’s also about what you believe is possible for yourself.

I know that there are a lot of people who wouldn’t have done what I did. I just couldn’t look myself in the face if I had let my mom struggle without help. What would that say about me? I do, however, want to help people take care of themselves so that if they find themselves in a situation like the one that I was in you don’t experience complete financial catastrophe.

Save Your Money

I can’t even begin to imagine how much easier things would have been if I’d had some savings to help my mom when things first got tough. In fact, I believe so strongly in saving money that it is one of three The Shop My Closet Project Blog related goals that I will be sharing with my readers for 2016. I’ve talked about saving for retirement and saving as a habit and will continue to share my thoughts on how to put money away for a rainy day and develop the habit of saving.

Have a Plan

I don’t care if you’re in your teens, twenties, thirties, forties, etc. Have a freaking financial plan. Have a plan when stuff goes horribly wrong.

Ask yourself:

  • How would you manage the situation? Do you buckle under pressure? I don’t buckle under pressure…I tap into my Superwoman role-not good.
  • How will you behave at work? I became a raging b$tch at work because I was stressed the hell out. And I was working with hundreds of people trying to solve their problems too. Not good.
  • How and where would you cut expenses? Housing costs, fun expenditures, groceries, and the list goes on.
  • How would you get around town? When you’re looking for work, how will you get to job interviews?
  • Who would be in your corner? Really? Figure out a support network that DOESN’T rely on just friends and family.
  • What resources are available to you in your town?
  • How will you manage your health and wellness? Do you ride your bike, walk around, go hiking, meditate, dance? How will you keep healthy and sane so that you can make hard decisions?
  • Do you know how to find substitutions for the things that make your life comfortable? For example: if you love going to yoga did you know that there are usually free classes at most studios for newly graduated instructors? Could your ride your bike to work or to a transit point and then change your clothes at work (very common in Colorado). Make lunch instead of buying. Or, buying thrift clothes instead of new? I love this and am addicted to ThredUp.com (affiliate link)

Being able to share this story has been a huge goal of mine but I couldn’t share it until my mom was comfortable. She caught me off guard one day when we were hanging out during the Holidays and said that she felt that it was important that I share this story because it could help someone.

Create A Community

Things would have been a bit more manageable if I had a bigger community to tap into. One of my other goals for both myself and The Shop My Closet Project is to grow my local community (more friends) and creating community within this digital community by creating an encouraging space that provides: support, information, resources, and cheerleaders when you just need someone in your corner. This will most likely happen in the guise of closed Facebook group that I will introduce via my newsletter.

The majority of my affiliate programs (for my blog monetization) also rely on the power of community too.

What I’ve Learned

About myself. You learn a lot about yourself during a horrible, crappy time like the one I went through. And, yes, it was pretty crappy.

  • I can deal with just about anything thrown my way.
  • I have an amazing talent for thrift and frugality that wasn’t tapped into until I had to be frugal.
  • I’m tough as nails!
  • I am able to focus on the big picture and keep on going.
  • I’m a good person

Finally

It has been a burden to keep this to myself but I no longer feel: shame, embarrassment, or any discomfort with sharing this story. I did the best I could with the situation that I was in with the information and resources that I had available to me.

This has been the hardest blog post I’ve ever written because I feel laid bare in a way that I’ve resisted in general. But, I knew that I would not be able to continue healing from the situation if I never got this off my chest.

I probably won’t write another intense post like this one from Starbucks again as I basically cried quietly the whole time I was writing it and the cute hipster guy kept looking at me worriedly the entire time.  I feel a lot lighter and I look forward to continuing to share my money journey and support others on their journey as well.

Then, I cried some more throughout the day. It’s hard digging deep into the depths of your psyche. Heavy much? Yes, but I feel so much better now that I’ve gotten this off my chest. I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

I believe that my dreams will come true and I believe in your dreams too. Game on 2016!

Peace,

Michelle

The Hardest Blog Post I’ve Ever Written

The Hardest Post I've Ever Written

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I am an obsessive foodie, but not self-righteous with it, love travel, meeting new people, helping you look good, and am freaked out by people who don't enjoying reading...something! Grab a Perrier, read my blog, feel free to drop me a line! Hope to hear from you soon.