Condescension is rich. It’s full of ridicule and judgment, impatient body language, and piercing sighs that accompany a pitiful shaking of the head. And it’s easy to express this side of yourself when you’re just as wealthy or you’re at least on the heavier side of the scale when it comes to personal finance. But condescension is fleeting, like money, and it only takes a stroke of bad luck or one error in judgment to tip the scale. And I’ve been on both sides, swinging from each pendulum. One year I had no worries. I was the woman in the express lane at the grocery store, shifting her hips, mumbling about the woman in front of me who couldn’t seem to swipe a credit card that worked. My only concern was getting out of the grocery store on time to attend a cook-out. I didn’t stop to think about what occupied the poor woman’s mind. Finally, she wrote a check. Whether or it not it was good, I guess I’ll never know.
But the following year, I found myself in her shoes, in her place, fishing in my purse for some plastic that was flexible enough to accept an over-the-limit charge. And to my left, stood a woman that could have been me, just twelve months earlier. The same shifting of the body and the same rolling of the eyes.
I put on quite a show. I expressed my strongly worded opinions on how the bank couldn’t get its operations straight, how it couldn’t fix my PIN, and how slow it was on transferring balances. But I found a card that worked, paid for my groceries, and mentally prepared to pay the over-the-limit fee.
As I left the store, I kept convincing myself that divorce was a good thing.
Like some people, I had lived in a financial dream with two incomes. But before I could blink, my cards were at their limits, and so was I.
Change was needed, and it was coming.
But what did I need to do? More importantly, what should I avoid doing?
I knew that borrowing money was not the solution. I had to raise the money. It stung, and took sacrifice, but my perseverance paid off.
All the clothing that I had purchased, that still had tags, I returned. If I could not get a refund, I accepted store credit, which I used to purchase necessities, thereby saving a penny or two.
The tried and true garage sale was next. I took a couple of extra days to prepare, so I had more to sell. Plus losing the clutter gave me a richer, cleansed feeling. But I had to be cautious. Having a garage sale was not free. The advertising and the permit set me back about twenty-five dollars. However I earned eight-hundred. Not bad.
I called all of my creditors and asked them to lower my interest rates, and yes, my balances. Some did, some didn’t. This may not seem like an immediate solution, but it freed up room for me to have an emergency outlet, just in case. I just had to be disciplined in the art of leaving the brand new shoes on the store shelf.
Next, I had a friend who catered part-time, and she got me hired, and I earned a few dollars working with her. Not much, but it was gas money.
Food became my financial savior. Learning how to prepare low-budget meals that stretched a few days saved me big.
No matter how desperate I was, I knew payday loans were a mistake. The interest alone would have locked me into a never ending borrowing cycle. If I had still found myself desperate, a loan from my credit union would have been my last resort before having to swim with the sharks.
During this ordeal, it became clear to me that I was spending money to look rich, instead of saving money to be rich. Once I realized that money did not define me, I had more of it. And I used the short-term to think about the long-term. I found out my credit score, learned how to raise it, then made it my best friend.
I learned a lot about money, people, and attitudes during the time I was poor. I discovered my true friends, and just how mean and superficial others could be. But through my time of cut backs and sacrifices, I gained so much more than a nest egg.
I found me.