I feel like my life is sort of resembling Brad Pitt's character in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” but instead of my physical characteristics going from old to young, my lifestyle is going from independent and thriving in my 30s, to living like a college student in my 40s. I'm the financial version of Benjamin Button!
Growing up, I thought like many of you did. I would graduate from high school, go to college, get a job, get married, have fun, travel a lot, buy property, settle down, retire and live out my glory days in style (I skipped the kids part because I've always known I never wanted them).
I was pretty happy with that scenario, and for the most part I was on that life ladder going straight to the top (minus the marriage, which I still hope happens someday).
I'm a Gen X'er who graduated from college in 1992, got the job, moved to some fun cities, traveled and basically felt pretty content.
Everything was on par in my 30s as well, and I was even close to the possibility of marriage!
But all that changed when at 37 I was "let go" both from my boyfriend and my steady, cushy job. I was suddenly thrown into the rocky waters of the freelancing world, right at the height of the recession. It was sink or swim, and I was slowly sinking, one day at a time.
Although I had managed to be fairly smart about having a good-sized emergency fund saved, and a decent chunk of change in a 401k and investment accounts, I completely failed to scale back my life in my new role as a freelancer, and continued to live as if I had that cushy full-time job. The biggest mistake? Not having a budget!
Four years later, I'm now in a period of my life I call my financial hangover. Basically the realization that the party is over … the jig is up … I have to start gaining control over my finances, or my future will look pretty bleak. Fortunately I came to this realization just before my emergency fund almost hit zero. And considering I still have an unsteady income as a freelancer, I rely heavily on having a substantial emergency fund.
When you're faced with the realization that you can no longer ignore your finance truth, it can be a pretty raw and depressing reality. Believe me, I know.
A lot of things in my life since I faced this fact this year have changed. First and foremost I created a budget, just to see where things are, based on the income I made last year (insert record scratch)! I made HOW MUCH (or I should say how little)?!?!
Since then, I have slowly begun cutting out the things I considered the standards of American living — the cable, the trips, eating out, concert tickets, my gym membership, Whole Foods — and started finding ways to earn extra income, like selling old items around the house, looking for a full-time job, and taking on a part-time job in retail. And as of this week, I have made the painful decision that I should look for a roommate to drastically decrease my rent, which is probably the most expensive thing in my budget.
I think one thing I want to be clear about is this stuff doesn't happen overnight. It's a lot like going on a crash diet. If you do things drastically and suddenly, the odds of sticking with it are reduced because it's just too difficult to live like that.
The things I have done to change my financial picture have come in small doses. At one point I still justified my $110/month gym membership, because I thought the health benefits outweighed the cost. I've been without my gym membership for three months and I'm doing just fine. I run on the beach, play beach volleyball, and do the Nike Training Club app workout at home. I don't even miss it. OK fine, I still miss yoga.
And two months ago I would have never considered living with a roommate, considering I'm 41 and have lived alone for quite awhile now, and prefer the peace and quiet. But the stress of not making enough income far outweighs the pleasure I get from having the TV all to myself. And now I'm getting kind of warmed up to the idea of not having that worry.
So the point is, if you've hit your financial rock bottom and are waking up today with a massive hangover, the key is to just start. Start slowly, but start.
And know that you aren't alone in your journey!
So what is one financial truth you need to start facing?