How I Hit My Financial Rock Bottom and Thrived

When I hit my financial rock bottom, I had some serious money and small business experience under my belt.  Here’s the story of how I thrived afterwards by mastering Personal Money Management.

I was a longtime bookkeeper and knew to track all my business income, reciting monthly the exhausting litany of Venmo, PayPal Credit Cards, Cash, Checks, and – fuck, another one! – Zelle.  

I had tax savings. Although did I steal from them whenever terrified by an Amex balance.  

And I kept myself in occasional iced coffees, and regular pasture-raised beef stir fries for 8+ years as a massage therapists in private practice in NYC.  

Despite this glowing experience, I never really learned much beyond a vague understanding that credit card debt was bad, and savings were good. 

Let me take you back a little further.  Before I even learned debt=bad and savings=good.

The Great Recession Hit

At the height of the Great Recession I had lost my job.  I was $16,000 in credit card debt just as I started buying myology books at Swedish Institute, determined to become a massage therapist.  

I studied hard, bought the cheap cheese, and walked dogs in Central Park.  And I finally freed myself from that debt over 3 years, using a non-profit debt consolidation organization.

And because life is a wild ride, some years after that I was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer 2 years into my new marriage.  Months of lost income and medical bills turned into a $14,000 heap.  That was a lot of money for us.   And we were some of the lucky ones; we got through it.  Over 65% of all US bankruptcies are due to medical debt.  Land of the free, and all that.

After the Cancer

I am happy to report being cancer free now, but we are both self-employed and we struggled.  Getting out of debt again felt hectic, full of pressure, and overwhelming.  We continued to use credit cards to fund income gaps, constantly needing to pay balances down when a large job and client payment came along. 

Eventually, we felt hopeful about money again, and booked a little Vermont AirBnB for a week in July for to visit the mosquitos and the lush greenery.  

A few weeks after we returned, my credit card balances totaled over $3,000.  And there it was, my rock bottom.  

And something snapped in me.  I said “Basta!  I’ve had enough of this shit!”

I was sick of spending money on my stupid, humdrum, sick Past Self, instead of my bouncy, perfect, rich, marathon running Future Self.

But in all seriousness.  It was enough already.  

Luckily I knew exactly what I had to do (thank you Dave Ramsey); I got busy learning how to budget (thank you Kumiko Love and others).

I figured out how to adapt a zero-based budget for variable self-employed income (sinking funds, account buffers, weekly budgeting, and more). 

I sat down at my desk for 5 or 6 days gathering numbers, swearing, and sweating.  My personal and business budgets were done.

I wrote Groceries, Restaurants, Household, Miscellaneous, Clothes, and Fun on 6 tired plain little envelopes.  And I did the work.  

Within 8 months, I had improved my net worth by over $15,000.  That’s 32% of my annual net income at the time.

My finances weren’t suddenly perfect, and they still aren’t now.  I have student loans to pay off, and my husband has many more.  

But my habits, mindset, and hope for the future are completely different. 

Budgeting and personal money management are self-care practices, and I love the possibility and success they bring to my life.  

Even more, budgeting isn’t some chore that I endure. Budgeting and personal money management are self-care practices, and I love the possibility and success they bring to my life.  

As geeky as it is to say, I literally enjoy budgeting.  

Wondering how you can create and use a budget long term in your life, despite variable income? 

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