It’s been one year of striving to gain financial freedom as a newly divorced and previous stay-at-home mom of two, and I can admit it has been a slow gain. Today, my emergency funds are pretty weak, and savings, well, when it is time to pay bills each month I cringe. There are moments when payday feels far away, but I’m proud of myself for cutting a new path while holding the reins as head of my household.
I will never regret caring for my children full-time as infants, toddlers, and into elementary school, but two things became clear this past year while rebuilding my life: I hadn’t financially protected myself, and it was a huge mistake.
I hadn’t considered what life would look like on my own. I hadn’t planned for a safety net for the unexpected. I wasn’t prepared for life crumbling, as it had, without a nest egg for a comeback. I was falling apart and scrambling to put the pieces of stable living in place and seam together the gaps of my work history.
The years I spent cleaning behinds and wiping mouths, nurturing, hosting BBQs and birthdays, joining the PTA, having nerf parties, pushing strollers for miles, and fundraising are all kept in my heart, but they don’t show up on my résumé. I knew it would take some serious career soul searching and a major reevaluation of my skills to keep a roof over my kids’ heads. Mostly, it would take a ton of self-confidence, and I was extremely intimated to reinvent myself.
In-between play dates and sweeping playground sand off the floor, I had done some freelance public relations work for a successful restaurant. I had worked contractually part-time as a content strategist for an advertising agency. I had written personal essays that had been published in national outlets, and because of these feats, all totaled together, I’d create my patched-together golden ticket.
Every time I pressed send to a job posting, my confidence grew, even though I bombed multiple interviews, I would continue to go back to my résumé after my kids were asleep and polish it for the next day. My prayers included reminders to myself that I didn’t regret my life, there was plenty of life left, and this setback was not going to define me.
With nerves racing, I took the elevator up to present myself to a boardroom as the person I had left behind and still knew I was capable of being — not as someone with gaps in my résumé, older than my coworkers, and showing up 10 years too late.
After I started working a salary job for a communications firm, I humbly asked for a letter of employment. With this piece of paper proving I could survive on my own, I secured my own place, an apartment just under my budget, a new beginning, a breath of fresh air coming in through the balcony. I was heading for the future I wanted, but I needed a reliable car to get me there.
The car I was driving at the time was almost 20 years old, pushing 200,000 miles. I felt each bump of the road like I was on a Jurassic Park tour. One Sunday, I couldn’t take the thumps anymore, and I went to the car dealership on a whim.
I wore my favorite dress for some luck. I had the letter of employment and my paycheck stubs folded in my handbag. I was nervous to see what type of car I could afford. I didn’t expect the pressure of sitting in a chair with my purpose in life analyzed — along with my full name, address, social security number, employer information, work information, and salary — just for the sales associate to let me know if I was worthy enough, at least for a test drive.
I was, for now. Maybe he thought my older but nicely conditioned handbag meant I could afford something. The truth was, this was the first time in my life I had been at a car dealership with the hopes of purchasing a vehicle.
“You want a nice car for your kids,” the sales associate said, and I agreed. He said I wouldn’t want the smaller cars we passed. “They are not as nice, not as special, and it doesn’t have all the features you need,” he explains. I went with it, but I told the sales associate he could drive.
Anxiety building in my gut, I worried my worthiness of a car would be judged by how well I drove around the block. Then came the real test: They checked my credit score. I sat there Googling “what is a good credit score” and waiting for the sales associate to explain my fate.
That day I would leave the dealership as the owner of a small car — the cheapest used car on the lot, but it had low mileage and was just a few years old. I had shocked myself. Driving out of the dealership was a glimmer of hope. It proved that moving forward, literally, will happen if I keep giving myself a chance.
Around that time, I had qualified for a credit card with limited credit, but still, it was something. I mainly use it for the cost of childcare each month. Next came transferring my phone off the family plan and into my own account. As my list of monthly bills in my name grew — rent, Wi-Fi, my car payment, car insurance — I was emerging month by month and becoming more self-sufficient.
From full-time Playdoh creation master to becoming financially independent, this year has been one based on courage and persistence. It takes guts to glide past the doubt when you start with almost zero in your bank account. I will never forget the many pep talks I gave myself in the parking lot before walking into another interview or before another credit check.
“In a year, I’ll be somewhere better,” I told myself, and to keep going, I would think of my kid’s faces and know I could catch a second wind in life.
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