56 yrs old
Like many, I did not have any financial literacy education growing up. I was told to work hard, don’t depend on anyone else, live by my own means, and not waste time. I was always relatively independent, self-sufficient, and resourceful.
The first thing I bought for myself with babysitting money at 13 yrs old was a black and white TV for $70. I rode home with it on the handlebars of my bike. It felt good to be able to watch whatever I wanted on the 6 or 7-channel dial TV up in my room and know that I bought it myself! When it came time for me to drive, my father bought the 1970 Oldsmobile with cash but I was responsible for the insurance, gas, and maintenance. It was ugly, but it was sturdy and reliable. I was never taught how to buy a vehicle, what to look for, what questions to ask, and how to negotiate. Instead, how to pay for the upkeep, pump gas, and change a tire was what I was taught at the time. My parents never shared their personal financial information, how they handled their finances, or how they were saving. I know my father has investments, and my mother has a retirement fund, but that’s all that’s been shared.
Financial Education the Hard Way:
I always wanted to go to college so that was never a question in my mind. I knew what I wanted to study and the field I wanted to build my career. After I graduated from high school, my parents got a divorce. My father took me aside and said that I would need to apply for loans and grants and any other financial assistance that was offered. I worked 2-3 jobs to help with book and supply costs even though I lived at home for the first 2 years. I graduated with my A.A.S. and wanted to continue my studies, but I would need to apply to different colleges at a considerable distance away so additional costs were needed. I applied for an $8000 student loan as well as additional grants and student assistance to study for my BS degree. I maintained at least 2 jobs while completing my BS coursework and when I came home for breaks, I worked part-time. The loan, coupled with student grants and my employment allowed me to complete my BS degree. Upon graduation in 1989, I was $8000 in debt. I know it doesn’t compare to today’s student loan debt, but it’s all relative.
I graduated with my BS, obtained my first job for $29,000, and started my career in 1989 in a HCOL area. That same year I got married at 22. Family members helped with wedding costs. We bought a house for $131,000 the year after with a $5000 loan from my ex-in-laws, and by 1991 I was laid off by my employer because of budget cuts due to the recession. Since we had no equity in the house and the difficulties of finding a new job in my field, we had no choice at the time but to file for bankruptcy. From then on I lived in rentals. During and after the required 7 years, I started rebuilding my credit and kept it in good standing for many years. I always wanted to obtain a Grad level degree and in 2010, I was able to complete a Masters in Professional Communications with the help of my tuition reimbursement program at work.
Throughout the course of my life, I was always able to find a job to make money and I am very responsible so I earned my paycheck and paid my bills as needed. That’s what I thought “Adulting 101” was, right? However, I never learned to budget or save and had no idea what investing entailed or what my net worth was. The only thing I learned about investing was that my employer had a retirement account and I needed to sign up with my HR department. Then a certain percentage of my paycheck went toward the retirement fund. The rest was “automatic” or so I thought. I was paying my bills and had a little money left over so I thought all was well and nothing else was really needed more than that. If I had a question any time I asked about the retirement funds the reps would explain, but most of it would go over my head and I figured it was too complicated so I would just let them manage it. But nothing ever triggered me to look into it further or take more control other than changing my allocations of the funds and how much I was contributing. Over the years, I tried self-budgeting workbooks or other programs (Suze Orman) that were being publicized, but nothing ever stuck long enough to make a positive impact. I knew it was important, yet I still was not able to comprehend enough of the terminology to really understand my own finances.
Basically, I have lived paycheck to paycheck my entire life thinking it was ok because the money was coming in steadily, I was paying my bills as needed and buying things I wanted. Not spending frivolously or exorbitantly, but there was no intentional limitation to the spending. Prior to 2018, I had a small amount of credit card debt (~$3000) and I never really had much in an accessible savings account, maybe around $1500 at a time, but at least my net worth has been positive because of what I have been able to contribute to my retirement fund (at that time ~190k). Although it was not entirely comfortable, I didn’t know where to get the knowledge to change this dynamic. I had not been able to find a plan to make me WANT to stick with something better. All the investing was for financial advisors or stockbrokers, so I thought. It has taken my whole career to finally break into a 6 figure salary. As for vehicles, I bought new cars and had them for years, and I’ve also leased cars. My most recent leased vehicle was turned back over to the dealer in 2022 since I could not buy it or roll it over into a new lease. I now have a used vehicle that I will keep as long as I can.
The Hard Lessons:
In 1991, I was able to obtain another job in my field and that gave me a sense of stability with the paycheck coming in on a regular basis. I stayed the course to pay off debts which took a long time and rebuild my credit score after the bankruptcy cleared. Unfortunately, my ex-husband and I were not on the same page with finances from the beginning. There were other issues happening behind the scenes unbeknownst to me that created unwanted spending in our marriage. Trying to be a supportive wife always kept me in a position of “putting out financial fires” to resolve the issues brought about by irresponsibility on his part. This made it impossible to get ahead and therefore, living paycheck to paycheck and spending on credit cards to make up the difference became the status quo. After 14.5 years of a marriage that wasn’t working we got a divorce. Since we had no assets or children, I thought it would be relatively easy (compared to others that I heard of going through it). By the end of it, the process still cost me ~ $11k in attorney fees and he was awarded half of my retirement fund (~$45k at that time). Since I had saved the retirement fund during the marriage, it was a mandatory part of the divorce and there was no way out of it. I received nothing monetary from the divorce in 2005 and I eventually paid my ex-in-laws my share of the down payment loan
Once we were divorced, I began to take better control of my finances to stay on track with paying bills and things I wanted, but was still not budgeting and also still using credit cards occasionally. I would carry a small amount of credit card debt (~$2500) which I paid off a couple of times over the years, but inevitably, it would build back up since I was not paying off the balances.
Looking back, I know that all of the problems I have ever encountered with money were caused by deep-seated issues related to codependency. I know this now. I did not know it as it was happening each time. I now understand the dynamics and the manipulation is very insidious. It’s always under the surface and just waiting to find the trigger. I’ve come to own and accept my part in all of it. I’m taking it all as a learning experience and trying to move forward. The most recent financial issue was due to a scam that occurred in 2018. I won’t go into the details, but several loans (~$30k) and credit card advances were taken out and rapidly escalated in the upper tens of thousands. By May 2019, I felt the only way to stop the money hemorrhage was to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy to stop the interest from accruing at 24% which I knew would not be possible for me to maintain or pay back over whatever number of years or probably the rest of my life. I filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy (~$30k) in May 2020 at 52 years old due to my discernment button being completely dysfunctional from unresolved issues. Luckily, my job was not in jeopardy due to COVID-19 so I was able to keep working during the pandemic as an essential worker. Although I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person and I have had a successful, stable career for the last 34 years, this additional misstep in my personal life resulting in financial destruction was the epitome of humiliation. To say I felt like a failure is a huge understatement. The shame was almost unbearable at that time and depression took hold of me. I’m still continuously working on forgiving myself for allowing this to happen. It’s a continuous work in progress.
Enlightenment & New Financial Direction:
Now comes the good part of how I am turning it all around. There is a saying “When the student is ready the teacher appears”. Shortly after the bankruptcy started, while I was making the required hefty payments and of course paying my bills and necessities, I realized that I had no idea how I was going to sustain this pace for the 5-year bankruptcy repayment term. I needed a PLAN. I needed to know what to pay first and how to get control of my finances.
I saw an ad on Facebook for a free financial webinar geared towards women called Dow Janes Million Dollar Year. I signed up for the webinar and KNEW I needed a program like this to help me. Something about it made me feel comfortable and that this was a way out of my mess. I knew it would cost money to enroll but I figured since I was up against a financial brick wall, I had to bite the bullet and figure out a way to make it work. I registered for the monthly payment plan and told myself that come hell or high water I was going to find a way to make the payments for the program (along with everything else) and dive in to figure out what I needed to do to improve my situation and keep myself afloat.
It was both scary and empowering since I needed to make a significant change and learn to process things I didn’t realize I needed to be successful financially. I didn’t find it difficult to face my finances once I started to look at my financial statements, but enlightening. My net worth was positive because of what I had saved in my retirement plan, pension, and potential for social security, but all of those funds are “untouchable” for many more years. My main focus had to be on money that is readily available. I found it to be a good challenge and one that will help me in the long term feel more secure and ready for any issues that might arise.
I learned about my money blocks, financial guilt/shame, the logical order of steps to pay down debt, budgeting, saving, and investing. I completed the program in 10 months and I am still involved in their Alumni program to this day. Due to the logical step-by-step methodology of the program, the non-judgmental, supportive Coaches and community, and my accountability buddies, I have been actively able to turn things around. I now have been budgeting consistently for 2+ years, growing my Peace of Mind fund that I am consistently contributing to, as well as several sinking funds in a HYS account. I have made changes to my retirement fund allocations that have improved the funds’ performance, even in these unstable times. 2 loans (of 4) have been paid off ahead of schedule and I am on track to pay the last 2 off ahead of time. I now have a used vehicle that will be paid for before the end of the year.
I expect the bankruptcy will be released in 2024 and once that occurs, I will be debt free and looking forward to investing and attempting a savings rate between 35-45%. This will really be able to change the trajectory of my future. Until then, I will be working on my financial literacy, knowledge base, and mindset so I can fully take control of things to come once I am ready to pivot out of my traditional career into something new and more flexible to fit what I want out of life. Investing seems daunting to me right now, but at least I am open to the possibilities it will bring once I am able to start small and simple. I have never been a big risk taker so it will be a big move for me to jump into this world.
As of early April 2023, I had surgery and was on medical leave for 6 weeks. During those weeks that I was home convalescing, I was thinking to myself that this short time period off from work was mimicking what retirement would potentially look and feel like. Was this really it?? I thought I had better figure out what I am going to do with my time because sitting around watching TV all day is NOT my thing. One of my accountability buddies mentioned a podcast she listened to on ChooseFI and she sent me the link. I listened and was hooked on the concept immediately! I started listening to at least 1 podcast per day from that day forward. I have been listening and participating in the FB groups ever since and sought out other podcasts similar in nature. The idea that I can potentially amass enough money at my age to have some sense of security from financial worry is very appealing. Since I don’t know what that feels like, I am very encouraged to get there and live it as others have. I am willing to do the work and have the discipline to get there.
I noticed that much of the discussion was directed towards people under 50 looking to grow their wealth to a point where they could gain true financial independence and retire early to spend time with their kids and do what they wanted with life. I was finding it difficult to relate to some of the topics so I asked if there were any discussions/podcasts for those 50 or older and already closer to retirement age. I was then directed to Catching Up to FI. I started listening to podcasts and joined the FB group to read through posts and ask questions.
Even if I can’t retire early, I will be in a better position by the time I am ready to pivot and change the course of my life after I conclude my career with all of the info I am learning here! It’s giving me new investing goals to strive for and ideas and avenues that I would be able to manage myself. The word “retirement” doesn’t really resonate with me so I want to look at a pivot point where I can change what I do and how I do it. I’m exploring possibilities and have not yet determined what this will look like or if a possibility exists in my field or if I want to try something else. I know I want to be active in something purposeful that will help others which will keep me active, able to keep an income coming in on my terms and from anywhere in the world, and doing something I would like to participate in. I want to detach from my location-based job to provide me with more flexibility with my time. I just need to figure out what that will be using skills and strengths that I can build on in a different way. I want to be able to continue working remotely when I want, mentoring, volunteering, and making up for lost time traveling. If this info resonates and helps even 1 person make a difference in their lives and change their mindset and behaviors that will improve their situation, then sharing it is well worth it!
Positive Changes Made Since 2020:
Mindset about money and me controlling it rather than vice versa
Tracking my own financial statements more closely
Making changes to how I save, where I save, and why
Making purchases based on value and necessity rather than impulse
Goal setting and making adjustments as needed
Increasing my Savings rate as debts are decreasing (Aspiring towards 35-45% once debts paid off)
Building my “Peace of Mind” fund and expense buffer “sinking” funds, among other saving buckets
Constantly improving and adding to financial literacy through podcasts, books, blogs, asking questions on FB groups
Learning about various investment options and methods and determining what is right for me
Meeting supportive/non-judgmental people who are able to help me make improvements/answer questions
Meeting like-minded people who have gone through similar challenges and encouraging each other
Having a proven path to follow with guidance
Evaluating additional income stream avenues
Developing remote business ideas to pivot out of location-based work
I strive to encourage at least 1 person every day
I keep a gratitude journal on the “Presently” app on my phone
Paid off ~$47,000 of $60,000 of debt
<$1,000 owed on my pre-owned vehicle loan
Current credit score 750 +/-
~$292,000 in 403(b) with ~ $66,000 in Roth IRAWhat I have learned during these challenging years:
I am resilient and stronger than I ever thought possible
I can find creative solutions and make adjustments as needed for any situation
I can live without credit cards
Everything is temporary
Goals help guide me along the way
I need more out of life than just exist to work and pay bills or be burdened by debt
I need to be constantly learning and growing
The Joy of missing out (JOMO) is real and beneficial
Success is relative and different for everyone (not just monetary)
Options are critical to perseverance
I can do anything once I commit to it
Small consistent steps really add up over time
Forward motion only!!!
Vicki Ann is a community member in the Facebook group Catching Up to FI.