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.
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?