I’ve been on a journey to pay off all my debt for a few years now. Unfortunately, the road does not get easier along the way. However, I’ve learned so much about life and finances as a result of getting into debt and even launched a career writing about money so I can’t necessarily say I regret my experience. My parents split up when I was young; when my mom became a single mom, my view on money shifted greatly. I started to think of money as scarce and highly desired.
Then, I became a single mom myself at a young age and resented the fact that money didn’t come easily to me. I felt like I’d truly hit rock bottom.
Whenever I came across money, my lack of a solid financial foundation prompted me to spend it unwisely by splurging on unnecessary things and spending more than I brought in. With a child to take care of and bad money habits, I felt even more stressed and doubtful about my ability to make ends meet and provide for us.
Given the way I grew up and what I experienced, it seemed like I was prone to getting into debt because I saw no other option. I decided to go straight to college and balance motherhood with my classes. I had to take out student loans to finish college in four years like my peers.
To me, it was worth it since I knew it would be easier to increase my income with a college degree. I also took out a car loan right after college, which added to my amount of debt.
The decisions which led me into debt offered temporary relief; dealing with it has not been fun. But I’m grateful for once having a bad financial situation because it’s taught me so much about money and how to manage it properly to create a better life.
Money Lessons From Being a Single Mom
I was a single mom for about five years as I learned how to create better money habits. Here are four life lessons I learned throughout the process.
1. Things Don’t Make You Happy
From the time we are born, we are taught that things are supposed to make us feel happy and fulfilled. We grow up always wanting more and more and never being satisfied with what we have. It often takes a huge life-changing event to put things into perspective.
At 23, I found out I needed an unexpected surgery. I was young, felt super healthy and was completely blindsided. I realized that people can be here one day and gone the next and all those ‘things’ don’t really matter because they get left behind, lost or forgotten.
What really mattered was being around for my son, enjoying life and creating memories together. From then on, I prioritized my health and time with my family over things. Those two decisions are priceless and with the exception of some experiences, don’t cost any money.
2. It Doesn’t Matter What People Think
People are always judging. I used to care about what people thought of me. I wanted to be the best and brightest and I wanted my parents and everyone I knew to be proud of me.
As to be expected, having a child early and becoming a single mom who needed to depend on welfare to survive opened the door to lots of judgment, but I realized that I would never truly get ahead if I focused on everyone’s opinions and suggestions for me.
I realized that by trying to serve everyone else, I wasn’t going make myself happy.
People may tell you to go to law school, purchase designer clothing for your kids, buy a house young or view you as a more successful person if you finance a $40,000 car.
The thing is, they aren’t stuck paying the bill. You’re stuck with the house payment, the student loan bills, the responsibility of maintaining your 3,000 square foot home and so on. This is why it’s important to get clear on what’s important to you and what will make you happy long-term.
3. You Can’t Build a Dream Life With a Credit Card
When I got my first credit card at 19, I was excited and initially thought about all the new things I could treat myself to with it. I financed a couch and bought a bunch of other meaningless crap. I also used the credit card to supplement my lifestyle so I could pay for things like groceries and gas when I couldn’t afford it.
While I did my best to avoid getting into credit card debt, I eventually became even more broke than when I started out because I couldn’t shake the idea that my credit card was ‘free money’ that I could use to build my dream life.
In all honesty, you can’t build your dream life or improve your finances with a credit card. It’s a tool, but it’s not a miracle worker. Instead, you must create a budget, open a savings account, prioritize your spending and take steps to increase your income.
4. Debt Isn’t the Answer
We are often taught that debt is the answer to the ‘more’ we are seeking in life. We think we can’t get ahead on our own with delayed gratification, hard work and determination so we resort to taking out a loan or using a credit card.
While it’s easy to rack up debt, it’s 10 times harder to get out of debt. Yet and still, it’s not impossible. Over the past two years, $25,000 has been shaved off my household’s debt amount and it took a lot of hard work and dedication.
It seems difficult at first, but the key to improving your finances and avoiding debt is saving your money and spending it intentionally.
When did you learn these life lessons? Has debt played a role in your life too? Did you ever willingly get into debt for what you thought was a good reason?