Lesson 2 - My Financial Sobriety StoryMar 28, 2023
Welcome to Lesson 2 of Financial Sobriety School.
This lesson I wanted to tell my story. I have told my story before but what's really beautiful this time when I tell my story is that my story has come full circle, for now. What I mean by that is, I have come from a place of being close to bankruptcy close, losing my home, close to losing everything.
I've been working on my financial sobriety now for over five years. When I say working, I literally mean working on my financial sobriety, to get to a place where I was able to pay off my credit cards. As you'll read in my story today, it took a long time to do that, because the addiction to spending money was so, so strong and I accumulated a lot of debt.
I'm going to start my story when I was just a wee baby. My parents were babies raising babies back in the day. My mom was pregnant with me at 15 and my dad was 18. My mom was 16, when she gave birth to me. SO YOUNG! When I think about that statistic in general all I can say is wow, just wow. Right? I joke around about being in my crib with a blacklight poster in the background. Babies raising babies and I know they did the best they could and I'm so grateful for them being able to do what they did for me.
My parents had a lot of inexperience, a lot of not knowing what to do, and a lot of alcohol being involved (as it was at 16 and 18!). The two of them had to fly by the seat of their pants and figure things out. It was so much for them, all of a sudden married, having a newborn, my dad was 18, and started to try to find a job to support a family. He went into the logging industry.
I've always felt that stressful energy from money very, very early on. My parents being so young, and trying to navigate the world that they're in, the stress with money actually went on quite a bit in my childhood, into my early teens. The energy of money being really stressful was always there. But then there was another side to it that always felt like money was always there, when I actually had no idea what the monetary value of it was.
I remember all the time, back in the day at the corner store, my Mom would need me to go and get things at the corner store and I'd be able to charge everything and it was just like, sign here and off I went with milk, smokes etc. I had no understanding where the money would come from to pay for it. I just learned that charging things was okay. That's just what you did. You went to the corner store, and the way you bought stuff was signing something. Even at our local grocery store, the Co-op and we were able to charge things there too. I remember there would be a lot of charges and then when it came time to pay the tab my mom would say “oh my goodness, how did that much get charged?” and felt a pang of guilt because I was the one being sent in to get groceries and charging on the tab.
I always understood that money was stressful, but at the same time I just sign for it right? Just put it on the tab. Thank goodness that grocery stores aren't doing that now, but now we just have credit cards right? We just have those little plastic cards that we pull out. It's the exact same thing.
When I was 13 or 14, back in the day, when Columbia House was really popular. It was get 15 CDs for 99 cents, WHAT A DEAL! And then you would have to purchase one CD a month. I thought great! I get 15 CDs for 99 cents. From there, I just I never bought one of the extra CDS. I remember getting put to collections for that for breach of contract. I think I was 15 or 16 once it finally went to collections, just completely ignoring all the other mailings that I was getting. I babysat a lot as a teenager, and I had money. I was off spending it. I was off spending it at the corner store, I was off spending it at Au Cotton. Here on Vancouver Island, and I think in Canada in general, Au Cotton was really popular. I'm very, very proud to say that I was voted best dressed in my grad. Ridiculous. I think back to that and all I did was spend my money on clothes. I had a job at a restaurant in high school and then when I turned 16, that's when drinking started and spending my money on drinking and clothes because I needed to look good. Meanwhile, I'm 16 years old, and I have collections with Columbia House.
When I graduated, I lived in Victoria for a while and used my student loan as partying money. That's really when the drinking escalated.
Let's be honest, when I first started drinking, I drank heavily and blacked out a lot. Addictively drinking. When I was in Victoria, I think it was there for two, maybe three years, and partied the entire time. I actually don't remember when I actually didn't go to the bar. I was going to the bar Monday through Sunday, every single night I was going to the bar at first with fake ID and all my money went to alcohol and clothes because I needed to look good. I got my office administration certificate out of my first year but when I was done that office administration certificate, I thought, I need to still keep going to school because I can get money with my student loan. Brilliant!
I decided I was going to study psychology and then because I was partying so much I was put on academic probation. That feels icky. As I write this, I can feel the raw feelings that came up during that embarrassment, but at the same time I had money, I was partying, and meanwhile, not paying the utility bills, not keeping up to my end of the bargain financially with roommates, etc. I remember asking my parents for money once for the electricity bill, electricity bill was in my name, and my roommates gave me money for it. I spent that money partying. I didn't have the money for the electricity bill when it was due. I remember phoning my parents just distraught, losing my mind. I asked them to borrow money for the electricity bill and they told me no. They told me no, we can't give you money for that, you know you were already given money, you need to figure this out. It was the worst thing at that moment, but at the same time, it was the best thing that they ever did for me because I needed to learn this lesson. I remember that moment. So clearly. Did it stop me? Absolutely not. I still kept going.
After being in Victoria I went to Australia and continued to spend a bunch of money. I went through a really big breakup and then was I was ready to go to Australia for a year and thank you American Express. You were able to fund my whole trip, if not more. They kept upping my limit and upping my limit. This was back in the day where they didn't ask you if they could increase your limit and all of a sudden have $10,000 available. I thought that was my money. I thought that this was my money to buy clothes, clothes are a real theme here. I was completely delusional that I thought credit cards were my money.
I was traveled to different places, I made a lot of money when I worked in Australia, because I worked on a visitor's visa that you could work with and I was spending it all on traveling, alcohol and clothes.
When I got home from my year in Australia, American Express got put into collections. I think at that point, it was probably a balance of $18,000. Plus, I had my student loans that I was supposed to be paying. I just felt like I was going nowhere super quickly and made a deal with American Express, because it went to collections. I made a deal with the collections company of paying a certain amount every month and thought that was really going to fix everything.
You would have hoped that that would have been a wake-up call for me. It wasn't, it was not. I am 25 and at this point, it's time to be an adult, it's time to get a good job and all of the expectations of that age. This is when I first started working at the bank. Six months later, after I started working at the bank was when I met who's my husband now.
My husband has two daughters. And they were five and seven at the time when I first met them. I was 25. And it was so much fun. It was I was so in love, I still am in love, there's no spoiler alerts on this one;) It just felt really good. I had a really good job. I had a man who loved me, I had two girls, I was the bonus mom coming in. There was also some stress, with working in a bank. It was a very, very high stress job. The drinking started to really pick up then. It was hard, it was hard to try to balance everything. All of a sudden was in a role as a stepmom, I was in a committed relationship, I had a really good job.
Next thing up was that I needed a car because I was going to start to commute back and forth for my job and couldn't get a loan approved because I had collections from my trip to Australia. I had what I like to call the “ Prince Charming moment” where someone comes in, swoops in and rescues you.
That person was actually one of the branch managers that I worked with at the bank, who worked a bunch of magic for it to be approved my loan for my car, and to pay off all of my student loans. The credit department decided to overlook my collections that I had. I was so grateful at the time but I know now that that wasn't teaching me anything again. I get a new car. I get everything paid off. I was off to the races again.
I call this the prince charming effect because sometimes we expect when we are going into debt we think something's going to come and save us, an inheritance, a relationship, the lotter. To me at that moment, it was the bank that rescued me. And that really started my codependent relationship with the bank.
Sunny and I got married. We got married, so beautiful, and bought our home, had a mortgage with an equity plan. This is where you can have a line of credit that's attached to the equity on your home, and it just automatically increases as you make mortgage payments. This was the beginning of my completely out of control spending addiction. I was using my house as my wallet. When I said before about the codependent relationship with the bank it’s because I knew how to use the system, I knew how to get approvals, I knew how to increase my equity, I knew to get what I needed to support my spending addiction. This went on for a good five years, maybe a little bit less. Full blown spending addiction.
What that looked like was lavish vacations. Not even thinking twice about buying things online, not thinking twice about buying things to make my home look just right, I thought I was the Joneses. People were trying to keep up with me and I was spending so much money. To the point where I didn't have any connection to it.
Every once in a while, my husband and I would have a conversation, and it would get stressful for a minute when I admitted the balances on the credit cards. Then we were able to put a band aid on it with the equity from our home. This continued.
On March 17, 2014 was the day that I said, I need to quit drinking, I'm addicted to alcohol. I'm an alcoholic. Some people don’t resonate with that word but I feel very comfortable calling myself an alcoholic. Being an alcoholic in my sobriety is the best thing that's ever happened to me.
Once I got sober, and was starting to feel the feels instead of numbing stuff out. It got to be too overwhelming for me. Then the spending addiction kicked up even more. Like my drinking and those habits and those behaviors that were coming up with my drinking. It started to come out with my spending. I was buying anything and everything in my path.
I blacked out one time when I was off on one of my spending sprees completely have no idea. I remember pulling up in the parking lot. And that's the last thing I remember. It was after work one night, I usually went and went to my drug of choice = Winners, which is kind of like Target and Home goods in the States. I remember it being after work, because it was dark. I had had a horrible day. It was just like, I need to go and feel better. I remember pulling into the parking lot. I remember walking in the store, I have no idea what I bought, I have a slight memory of being in the change rooms. I don't remember anything until I got home. My husband said to me, Oh, you went to winners. And I remember having bags, I spent $800 on stuff for the house clothes, shoes, just crap that I did not need. I remember thinking like, oh my God, and I was sober at that point. I was stone cold, sober. Other than that dopamine, that cortisol, that stress going through my body and I completely dissociated. And I was out. That's how strong my spending addiction was
Every day on my lunchtime from work, I would go and buy a new outfit for the next day a new pair of shoes, because if I looked good, I was worth something. I felt like I was worth something if I looked the part. Meanwhile, I was absolutely crumbling inside.
This went on for about four years, actually now that I say that. And I was on a retreat with She Recovers and I was over on Salt Spring Island and had a moment with my mentor, Dawn Nickel. We were talking about She Recovers having recovery coaches, and she said oh you'll should be our financial coach. I said, well that would be great but I'm a disaster with money. She said to me “sometimes you need to teach what you need to learn”. That moment changed my life.
When I got home from the retreat I signed up and got money coaching myself, and working through that was monumental. It was the best thing that I could have done in that moment.
I then started training with the Money Coaching Institute, which was really, really focused on having behavioral coaching. Numbers are a big part of money, but how you feel about money is really important to work through.
If you're actually just trying to numb out and escape from feelings, having a budget or spending plan does nothing for you. That's what I needed was that behavioral piece. To this day, I'm still working on it. Every day I am working on my financial sobriety.
I needed to turn my message into my message, I need to help people with this. I knew my calling had arrived.
I have been working my financial recovery now for over 5 years. It's been a lot of work. What I'll say is that when I first started my financial sobriety, I was over $130,000, in credit card debt. When I say that I get a feeling right in my throat, just like kind of closing up. That shame still starts to creep in, that embarrassment. Saying that number out loud is really hard. The reason I share that number is you're not alone, I have been there. It was absolutely debilitating, to try to keep up with those payment, to try to regulate my emotions, to try to live my life.
I got hyper focused as I had hit bottom with my debt when I had started my money coaching, if not before I started my own coaching. Working at the bank was sucking my soul but knew that I needed to keep that job because I had so much debt and needed to build my business.
I stayed in my job as a financial advisor for 3 years when I was doing money coaching as a side hustle. I needed to take accountability for the choices I made with my debt. I could have done bankruptcy (no shame and no judgement, for those who do have bankruptcy as a part of their financial journey. It is there for a reason. It does help support people a lot, no judgment on that) I was privileged enough to be able to have a job, I was privileged enough to be able to do my business as a side hustle and start paying off my debt.
I made a debt payback plan. Money likes to know exactly what you want it to do. Money likes you to be really clear on what you expect of it. But life happens, right? Certain things happen in life that cost money that you don’t plan. It's things like that I would have to I adjust my spending and my debt repayment plan, but still try just still keep doing what I can. The next right decision.
My credit rating got really, really low, it probably was as low as someone who had claimed a bankruptcy, or someone who had collections. Your credit report is heavily based on how much of your credit you have used. When I first started this journey, I was completely maxed out on every credit product possible. My credit rating was so, so low.
What my goal was to at least get my credit rating to a point where I could actually have some credit available to be able to do some sort of refinance, because the credit card interest rates were really, really harming my debt payment plans. That was my first goal, was to just keep paying, keep paying, keep paying and paying more than my minimum payment, and I would have a money meeting all the time and figure out how much I could pay towards that debt.
It was stressful. I'm not going to lie, this work is not like rainbows and unicorns, and all feels good. Absolutely not. It was hard when I wanted to do certain things because I didn't want to come from a place of scarcity and deprivation. I kept very focused on making sure I was paying my debt payback plan. If I wanted to do different things, I would have to carve it out within my spending plan. I did not live beyond my means.
I kept with that for the last five and a half years and I am so grateful. This is where it comes full circle is on September 26, 2022 I was able to pay off the last of my credit cards!!!
To be able to say that the only debt that I have now is a mortgage an absolute dream. I was able to get here with my debt payback plan and also the stopping those thoughts and that impulse to spend money and to try to fill a void with spending money and stuff. That was the biggest piece of the work and that's the biggest piece of work with money overall.
The biggest piece was not seeing something shiny and grabbing it and just going for it right. I still had an allotment within my spending plan that I still spend on myself every month every week, whatever that looked like. I didn't want go completely without I want to live my life. Balance is important There was still that money that I knew I needed to put towards my debt. I had made that promise to myself, I had made that promise to my husband, I had made that promise. To be able to stand in my light right now, and say that I've done that feel SO GOOD.
This is exactly why I have financial sobriety school because I've been there. I know exactly what it feels like to feel so out of control that you have no idea what to do with money.
This is my story. This is why I'm doing the work I'm doing because spending addictions are exhausting. They are real. They are debilitating.
I'm here, I am here for you. Financial sobriety school is here for you.
These lessons are here for you, you matter.
In this world that we're living in with the consumerism, capitalism, all of that. We're being brainwashed to be in a spending addiction, right? We are cheered on to do all the things that give us that dopamine hit make, us feel better. We're wired to be in a ton of debt, and to spend way more than we have. You're not alone. It's normal. You're exactly where you're supposed to be. Reading this and considering financial sobriety.
Thank you so much for reading my story. I am so proud of it. So proud of you for reading it.