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My Last 40 Dollars and a Promise to Myself

My Last 40 Dollars and a Promise to Myself

There are moments in your life that are so impactful, be they traumatic, surprising, joyful, amazing, that they leave an indelible mark on your life. They become cherished or shudder-inducing memories capable of stir up waves of emotion instantly. These moments shape our personalities and they build (or shatter) our worldviews. They become a part of who we are as a person and they fill the suitcases of the “luggage” we all carry around with us.

I have tonnes of positive moments and like most people, I have some real painful ones too. I enjoy re-telling the positive ones all the time, but there is something empowering about sharing the painful ones too.

Losing Your Job Sucks

Almost ten years ago I reached a point where I was in pretty bad financial shape. Two years earlier I had lost my primary job (for pretty dubious reasons…but that’s beside the point) and I had decided that rather than get a new full-time job that I would start my own small business – consulting for non-profits. I had a second job (which I still have to this day) which helped to pay the bills, but it didn’t pay for everything. I launched my small business, under-capitalized and with few established networks to market within.  It was rough….really rough. My client base grew slowly and my revenues grew even slower.

I struggled for two years, depending on my very part-time “second job” (can you even call it a second job if it’s your primary source of income?)  to keep the mortgage paid and the electricity on.  Money was extremely tight. Jane, then my new girlfriend, was extremely understanding and patient. She had moved in with me and was contributing greatly to our financial situation – paying for all the food and sharing the costs of utilities.

After two years of struggling, the stress of being broke and seeing little hope to change my situation was beginning to wear me down. I was unhappy with how my life was unfolding. This was certainly not the plan I had for myself. But, I was afraid. Afraid to admit defeat. Afraid of the change I knew was necessary.  I was paralyzed by fear.

Escaping Reality with My Last 40 Dollars

One evening, Jane and I decided to go out to a small party at a friend’s house. We had to buy some supplies (food and an adult beverage or two) so we needed money. We stopped at my bank and I withdrew the last 40 dollars in my account. Now – I know that there will be a few people reading this that say “What the hell were you thinking blowing your last $40 on food and booze?”.  It’s a legitimate question – to which I can only say that I wasn’t thinking. I was feeling. I was feeling low and spending time with my girlfriend and close friends was going to make me feel better. I would forget my money problems and I would escape into a world of recanted stories of school-days hijinx and inside jokes. That $40 was my ticket to an evening vacation to “the good old days” where money wasn’t a problem and I didn’t have a care in the world.

Anyway – I withdrew the cash and I left. We made our first stop at the liquor store and as we approach the doors I reached into my jeans pocket to feel for the 40 dollars I’d just withdrawn. It wasn’t there – just my debit card. I reached into the other side. Nope. Then I checked both jacket pockets at the same time. Nada.  Panic. I frantically checked both jean pockets again as I reversed course and started walking back to the car. Still nothing. I unlocked the car door and checked the car seat – nothing by vinyl. I checked under the seat, then under the car, then around the ground near the car. Zip, zilch, and bubbkiss.

Then a scary thought occurred to me….I can’t remember taking the cash from the machine. By this time Jane had followed me back to the car. And I told her what was going on. We hopped back into the car and peeled out of the parking lot in a silly effort to return to the bank ATM to see if the money was still there. It wasn’t.

I had lost my last $40 dollars. I was broke. Welcome to rock-bottom. Jane, the most amazing women ever, says “Don’t worry – I’ll buy tonight” and so she did. I was embarrassed and angry.  Embarrassed that I couldn’t even afford to treat this wonderful person who, despite my failings, stuck by me. I was angry that I had let myself come to this state.

Choosing Change

That night, even old stories and the laughter of my friends couldn’t take me away from the reality of my empty wallet. Things had to change. I just couldn’t do it anymore. And so while the party progressed around me until the wee hours of the morning, I decided three things. The first was that I was done with my business (for now) and it was time to get a real job, full-time with good prospects. Secondly, I decided that Jane deserved better – and that I was going to work hard to create a high quality of life for both of us. Finally I decided that I would never be broke again. Actually – it was a promise I made to myself. I will never let myself feel that useless and disempowered again.  Never!

That moment was catalyst for my journey to financial independence. It was the epicenter for my personal economic revolution.

This has been a painful memory for a long time. I have not talked about this with anyone because I have felt shame thinking about it, never mind sharing it.

It’s time to move this memory from the “bad” memory list to the “good” list. Yes it was low-point, but look at the good it has caused. That experience changed my life forever. It drives me to achieve today. It was my moment of clarity and I now I wouldn’t trade that experience in for anything in the world. I didn’t lose 40 dollars that day – I bought an amazing life lesson and it was cheap.

What money memories drive your financial choices?

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  • Erin @ My Alternate Life

    Thanks for sharing this, Jack! No reason to be embarrassed, so many PFers had a rock bottom experience before they got their acts together. It seems like you did a complete 180 and you should be so proud :)

    • Jack

      Thanks Erin! It’s taken a while for me to come to the point where I can see that experience as a good thing. Life is so much better on the other side of that tunnel. :)

    • Jack

      I’ve responded three times now to this post – and for whatever reason it keeps going MIA. Thanks for your support Erin. It was really tough to press the publish button, but I feel really good about it. Blogging is so much cheaper than therapy! :)

      • Minsc

        Hey Jack, great post.

        Hitting that publish button can certainly be difficult yet doing so can be exactly what we need to take another step forward.

        I’ll share one one of my tipping points in life. A few years ago I acquired my plumbing Red Seal at the same time the company I apprenticed closed it’s doors. I decided to go back focus more on farming and start up my own plumbing side business.

        Here I was, six months later, with a $2.5k balance (and growing) on my personal line of credit. For the first time in my life I was in the situation where more money was going out than came in. With this and other things in life my mind was racing. Combining this with my seemingly natural tendency to not discuss my problems with others lead me to want to yell out at the top of my lungs to relieve the pressure. One night while laying in bed I did (for 10 seconds to 60 seconds, I don’t remember). With that out of the way I went to the bathroom. As soon as I looked in the mirror I started shrieking uncontrollably. How long this went on? Again, I can’t say. It was months before I could look myself straight in the mirror again.

        That would be my “last straw” story. Hitting the post button on that one is no longer an issue as I’ve shared it numerous times all ready. :) I’ve definitely improved over the past few years, though progress feels slower than it should be. Your post my be be the final push I need to start a blog of my own. Since discovering personal finance blogs over the past year I’ve done a lot of reading. It’s long past time I get a plan written down instead of flying by the seat of my pants. I still have many crutches to let go. What better way than exposing them to the open. ;)

        • Jack

          Thank you Minsc. Thank you for reading and for sharing your story with us. You sound much like me in this past December. I
          finally just pinched my nose and jumped in. Bought the domain and hosting package on a whim and since I’d spent the money – I just had to start. It’s an amazing release to share the thoughts you keep lockup inside your head. You just take all your anxiety, excitement, wonder and optimism and you focus it into your keyboard. Don’t worry about impressing anyone, don’t worry about making money. Tell your authentic story and just keep finding new ways to improve and hone your craft. Eventually people stop by and read and eventually you put something out there that stirs people. It’s an amazing feeling. I encourage you to just jump in. The skill to do comes from doing.

          • Minsc

            I actually went ahead yesterday and set up a WordPress account. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while so I finally bit the bullet. Definitely not doing it to make money. The way I see it any personal growth and lessons learned will be far more valuable than a monetary reward.

          • Jack

            That’s awesome! Well, when it’s ready to share, be sure to stop by and let us know – I’m looking forward to reading you stuff!

          • Minsc

            Hey Jack!

            It took a couple months but I’m finally starting to write. Once I get a few things ironed out I’ll be sure to share it. :)

          • Jack

            Perfect. Looking forward to reading it!

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  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer

    Jack, thank you so much for sharing this. You are helping so many people who’ve been in similar situations by showing them that things can change. Huge congrats to you on turning things around, and congrats on marrying a wise, selfless woman. :-)

    • Jack

      Thanks Laurie! It was hard to post – but with all the positive feedback I’m feeling really good about it. Yes – investing the time and energy in wooing Jane has paid huge dividends. :) in all seriousness though – I know I’m a very lucky man.

    • Jack

      Thank you for those very kind words Laurie. If one person reads this and feels inspired – then the embarrassment of committing it to screen was worth it. Also, marrying Jane is easily the smartest “investment” (of time, energy, and commitment) I’ve ever made.

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  • J. Money

    Good for you for sharing this man, seriously. Way to put it out there and OWN it! I really really enjoyed reading this… and I really really can’t wait for the time you say you have $1 Million in the bank to pull from at the ATM :) (And hopefully not leave it in the bin!)

    • Jack

      lol….no I’ve learned my lesson. I double check every time I use the ATM. :) Thanks J – I appreciate your support! Means a lot coming from you.

  • Alicia

    Thanks for sharing – that is a huge moment. Horrible at the time, but it’s amazing how things can change when we are forced into a corner. I haven’t been quite so low, but I’ve definitely done major juggling.

    • Jack

      Thanks Alicia. Some of us are slow learners I guess. :) But you’re right – we are never truly sure about the power within each of us until we find ourselves without options.

  • Sam

    This was a very moving post. (Makes me want to go read everything else you’ve written, Jack. I’ll have to subscribe!) I just want to reiterate your final sentiment: ” I didn’t lose 40 dollars that day – I bought an amazing life lesson and it was cheep.” Brilliant attitude shift and I will be thinking of this all day.

    • Jack

      Thanks Sam. I hope you do subscribe. As humans we like to attribute meaning to everything – but the reality is the meaning is whatever we think it is. Looking back – I truly won’t want to change what happened.

  • Free to Pursue

    Jack, it’s the “not easy to post” stories that reach people on a deeper level. Who knows how many people you will inspire by sharing your story. The message that a person is not defined by their current financial situation is so powerful. Thank you for having had the courage to share.

    • Jack

      Thank you for these kind words. :) Thank you for reading and for your support!

  • Done by Forty

    Such a good story. Amazing what we find at the bottom, right?

    • Jack

      Indeed! We find courage, strength and the will to fight. :)

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