“A Break-Up and A Breakthrough”:  My Financial Journey Part I

Sometimes I feel so lucky! I meet some of the most dynamic women with some of the most powerful, touching, and moving stories.

Nancy Bakinde, playwright and blogger, and I met at a Gotham Writing class a couple of years ago. In this post, Nancy shares her personal journey of self-discovery and financial self-care after a divorce. Her story is  testimony to the strength and resilience of the human spirit.

This is just the beginning of the story. I know the middle and the end and believe me, it gets better. She has become one of my 2013 heroes.

The Break-up

It was December 28th, 2010 and I thought we were happy. After six and half years of marriage I guess, according to him, we weren’t.  He left. So now what? There I was in our one bedroom apartment staring at the material things we accumulated and left alone with my memories.  New Year’s was a few days away and it looked like my year would be bleak.

As devastated as I was I knew I had to be smart. It was just me left with rent, the electric bill, the gas bill, the cable bill, a gym membership, student loans and credit card debt. How could I pay it all?  We both split the bills pretty much evenly.  We didn’t really tally up how much each of us would pay or assign tasks.  The bills just seemed to divide naturally between us like we just read each other’s minds. Huh? Anyway, it was all on me now.

After about a month I started to put a plan into action.   I was on a teacher’s salary, medium income. I had a reasonable amount to work with, but I was also spending a lot from each paycheck on shoes, clothes, food, and hanging out. My spending relied on the comfort of having two incomes so I always assumed things would be okay.  My ex did leave me the money in our joint savings account, which totaled $4,000. That gave me something to work with but I knew I had to change my habits fast!

Don’t get me wrong, I was still having bouts of crying fits, panic attacks, in and out of depression, calling girlfriends on the phone to vent, no appetite and sleeping only three hours a night at most!  I was an emotional mess! All these things still plagued me and they would for many, many, many months after.  But I made a decision-I wasn’t going to be defeated!

The Breakthrough

So here’s what I did:

A) I immediately cut my cable package down to basic.  I still needed Internet and bit of TV to fill the silence spaces in the room, but I didn’t need all those extra movie and specialty channels.  So I said a heartfelt goodbye to True Blood, Dexter, boxing events, Big Love, the French news channel and more!  I did keep my Netflix account, but I had an extra savings of $200 a month.

B) Next, I called up my student loans and asked them to defer my payments. I know that interest develops and sometimes the loan amount seems to linger. But I figured, they can wait and I needed as much leeway as possible in the financial area until I got my budgeting together.  One more bill was out of the way, for now at least.  This saved me $400 a month.

C) I cancelled my gym membership. To be honest I hardly went. It was a month-to-month membership so I had no cancellation fees.  Instead, I jogged in the park nearby, dusted off some neglected work out videos and did those.  If I wanted to be in the presence of other people, I took an occasional group class or took advantage of those one week-intro programs at various gyms for new comers. I saved $80 a month.

D) Next I wrote down financial targets in order to keep myself on track: 

I. My goal was to save no less than $1,000 a month from my paycheck.  I know, that’s high but I was aiming for the maximum based on MY income and expenses. That meant no more splurge shopping!  I had more than enough shoes, clothes and coats for all season; I didn’t need anything else!

II. I bought monthly Metrocards.  Since I traveled back and forth more than twice a day and several times on weekends, I was spending more a month on transportation than the value of the monthly Metrocard!

III. Only $200 or less a month for groceries. (This included toiletries, hair products, laundry etc.)  Ever had so much food in your fridge that it rotted?  Not a problem when on a budget—you eat up everything!  I shopped low-priced items or sale items.  I eat very healthy so it was fresh fruits, vegetables, some frozen veggies, whole grains, lean meats, & Greek yogurt (when on sale.)  I also shopped at Trader Joe’s which I love!! Their fresh veggies, most of the time, are cheaper than the regular supermarkets. Plus, they have all natural ingredients in their products. (But always remember to compare prices!).

IV. Pack all lunches and snack for work.  I was spending about $50 dollars a week on lunch. No more!

V. Budget for hanging out at least once a week.  With my emotional state,I needed to hang-out to keep me from insanity.  No more than $30 dollars!  Sometimes after work my co-teacher and I would have dinner out but it can get costly.  So we went to quality places with a happy hour and appetizer menu! I got to have my buzz and eat good food! Most of the time I spent less than my allocated $30!

E) The next thing was for me to get rid of my credit card bills.  We only had three different credit cards and luckily very minimal debt on them.  In fact, they totaled almost four thousand dollars—the exact amount in my savings. I debated back and forth with myself on whether or not to use the savings to pay off the credit card bill.  My answer was “yes.”  It was a hard decision when you think about job security and having a little something in the bank in case of emergencies.  But my saving plans was already in effect and I was receiving my biweekly paychecks.  Those credit cards were all paid but now my nest egg was gone.  The way I looked at it I was not at a deficit but I was debt free!! **PLEASE NOTE, I don’t recommend that everyone do this, it was a risk based on my specific situation and income.**

By the time August came around, I had $8,000 dollars saved in the bank! That’s double what I had in my savings account in only seven months!

Lesson Learned:  If you put action to your decisions you can make things happen!

This was the first of many unexpected accomplishments I never thought I could do.

Saving your money and budgeting correctly are two of the foundational tasks needed to take control of your finances.  If you need additional support, I invite you to check out my budgeting course and my savings course.

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