My journey to financial wellness – Part 2
So going back to my Damascus moment in Part 1 that morning of 2016, I took out all my ‘debt’ cards (yes at 3am) and cut them up in so many pieces you would not be able to identify which one fit where. I wanted to make sure I did a thorough job. I was crying throughout this exercise. Real sobs of desperation and exhaustion. After performing this plastic surgery, I pulled out my laptop and downloaded my 3 months’ bank statement and started recording on an excel spreadsheet what I was spending money on each month. This was a very eye-opening exercise because apart from the debit orders, I realized I was spending a lot of money on take outs and buying gifts for people – on credit.
Now in hindsight I realize I got into this trap in four ways. One, I am a natural giver so I love putting smiles on people’s faces even if it is to my detriment. That is not healthy, neither is it God-honouring because you cannot pour from an empty cup. Two, I had a deep seated root of wanting to be liked and to belong. I would spend money I didn’t necessarily have on pleasing others or by accepting coffee or lunch dates even when my budget did not allow. Three, like many others, I was just keeping up appearances that I was doing ok and wanting that to show externally even though I was not doing ok. And four, I just did not know how to handle finances. When one gets their first income and becomes an adult, it is expected that one should intuitively know now to handle money, but most of us do not know and we end up making blunders that take years to clean up.
After combing through my bank statements, I downloaded my free credit report from Transunion to have a complete picture of what I was faced with. The last time I had pulled it out was in 2013 and it had been so ugly I did not have the strength to revisit it. But I had to force myself to look under the hood. When the dreadful picture of where I was financially became clear, I was terrified. If anything happened to me or anyone in my family or we had an emergency situation, I would not be in a position to help without getting into more debt. Although I was easily generous, I had zero savings and how was this truly wise? I was one salary away from financial ruin.
If you were not paid your salary for one to three months would you have a hernia? I knew I would. I would never be able to survive without even one salary not being paid. An amount of about R641 000 in debt stood tall before me. I was in DEEP. Perhaps this figure is scary for you too, or maybe this is peanuts for your budget. For me, it was unsurmountable. At this rate, I would be paying off this debt for YEARS. Sure, this included R450 000 of the bond (mortgage) to my flat, but still, that left me with about R190 000 of consumer debt, which did NOT include a car. I was still driving my old Renault Megane at the time that I had for 10 years and was becoming problematic.
Looking at the mountain that was before me was difficult. I had to reckon with the decisions I had made as it related to money. I had made those purchases. There was no gun put to my head to make them. I had spent far more than I could afford and was living beyond my means. I had fallen for offers such as the one below and had a false sense of accomplishment.
I would catch myself complaining about my salary not being enough but was that true? Was my salary not enough or was I just spending more than I was earning? The truth is that I wanted a lot of things and I wanted them NOW. This ‘Want-it-all-want-it-now’ syndrome has us believing a lie that you can have it all and just charge it. Now we are here, facing the mountain. R641 000 in the red. What to do?