From financial stress to peace: Erin’s story of taking control of her money

Her Facebook post caught my attention. Erin had started tackling some financial challenges and had finally arrived to a place of peace, with expenses under control and savings in the bank.

That’s really cool, but more important is the list of steps she shared to get herself back in the financial driver’s seat. What did they all have in common? They are all simple actions that are doable by everyone.

I have long maintained that financial freedom is about developing good habits, having the right mindset, and taking consistent action toward a clearly defined goal. The net effect? Better financial options and peace of mind.

After reading her post, I reached out to Erin to have a chat. Here’s the backstory on how she achieved financial peace.

Erin grew up in a loving home where Mom and Dad went above and beyond to provide for their two children despite some financial challenges in the early days.

When Erin was ten, her parents went back to school to educate themselves. As a result, they were able to move to a larger center and secure great careers with stronger incomes. By watching her parents get motivated to improve their situation, Erin learned that you can enhance your circumstances through hard work and perseverance.

By the time Erin left to go to college, she had worked at many jobs to help her parents pay for school and she felt that she had a good base as far as earning money was concerned. She soon discovered, however, that she didn’t quite have the financial management foundation that she needed to navigate life on her own.

College was awesome! Along with sudden freedom came a line of credit and credit cards – seemingly free money. How great is that? Thankfully, the credit limits were small enough to prevent Erin from getting herself into significant trouble, but she did manage to accumulate roughly $5,000 of debt.

In the interim, she changed colleges, obtained the piece of paper she was looking for, and started to work in her field. Despite the fact that she was earning decent money, she noticed that her credit card bills weren’t going down. In hindsight, Erin realizes that when the cash started coming in, she started to want stuff: an apartment, a great car, and nice clothes. All those possessions took a toll on her cash flow.

Erin’s entrepreneurial spirit blossomed at the age of twenty-one, when she developed her own company. Within six months, she had enough business to leave her $55,000 a year job. Once again, though, she didn’t handle the increase in income very well.

Says Erin, “I thought that the only thing to do with money is spend it. And I did!” The expenses included upgrading apartments – size and cost – three times in two years. Her rent went from $525 per month for an apartment, to $1,625 per month for a townhouse. She had moved in with her boyfriend, so there were two people paying the expenses, but as she points out, her expenses doubled twice in less than three years.

It was clear that Erin had experienced a shift in mindset, moving from a scarcity mentality, which centers on the belief that money is hard to come by, to one where money is easy to make and is in abundant supply. This would have been a terrific shift if Erin also possessed foundational money management skills. By her own assessment, those skills weren’t developed as a young adult.

Everything changed for Erin the day she became pregnant. Suddenly, the attitude of easy come, easy go shifted profoundly. Erin calls it her epiphany in which she began evaluating every aspect of her life, including her beliefs. She got rid of her BMW, sold all her designer clothing, and decided that she would shed her consumer mentality.

One of the key things that Erin did during this time is work with a psychotherapist for roughly one year. She’s very open about this, making it clear that I should include this detail as it made a big difference in helping her to heal her relationship with success. Work is now a vehicle to establish a secure base from which to raise her child; it is no longer simply a mechanism for growing money with which to buy more possessions.

It was also time to clear up the debt. It had never grown to a huge amount, but it was nonetheless present. She also realized that she had no permanent assets. In order to address these two issues before the birth of the baby, Erin and her then-husband moved in with her parents, paid off all the debts, saved enough money for a down payment, and bought a house, all within eight months.

The next step was to save money for both her retirement fund and an education fund for her daughter. She turned to her financial advisor as well as money management books to teach her the basics. Finally, as she notes, she had a financial foundation at the age of twenty-nine!

Just when things were going well, she decided she wanted a divorce. Thankfully, both she and her ex were committed to pulling off an amicable separation. They lived together for another year to sort out all of the finances and ensure that both parties were secure. They even wrote their own separation agreement, ensuring that not a penny went to a lawyer.

As hard as it is to imagine, they pulled it off. Today, she’s in the house that they purchased together, having bought him out, and he lives eight doors away in his own house. It was the best possible outcome for everyone involved.

Emotionally, however, Erin was having a hard time. She was burned out after dealing with all the changes, paying for everything in the house on her own, and managing a business. She hit a wall, suffering a major bout of depression in the process. That’s when she realized she was vulnerable by virtue of not having any liquid savings.

Put yourself in her shoes for a moment: You have a child to provide for, yet you are unable to work. You can’t exactly tell your clients about your situation since you rely on their business for your survival, so you push through.

“I had no choice, I had to push through. Two things helped me: I read a quote that said, “The only way out is through.” That’s when I realized that I could do this. Second, I decided to accomplish only one thing every day. I felt trapped and I didn’t know what to do, but those two things – the quote and the decision to finish a single thing every day – got me through.”

Today, Erin is in a great place. She has a thriving business, she is in a new relationship, and she has set her sights on even bigger financial goals – she is on track to pay off her house within ten years.

When I asked her about the financial lessons she’s learned, she offered the following:

  1. You don’t need stuff. Build security and develop your financial foundation.
  2. Take control of your finances. Remember that it’s never too late. You can do it.
  3. Don’t let set-backs discourage you. They happen to everyone.
  4. Understand your relationship with money. Many people don’t see the psychological effect that money has on their life.
  5. Save money!
  6. Stop trying to keep up with everyone.

“I wish I had realized sooner how great it feels to have financial security, that feeling you get when you don’t have to worry about money all the time and when you’re not using it to fill a void. You can’t buy that feeling.”

I love this story because it demonstrates that financial fitness is achievable with a few simple steps. The only thing I would add to Erin’s list above is the need for women to understand how to grow their money; that is, know the basics of investing. Don’t just rely on someone else to do it for you. If you do that, you’ll never really know if they’re doing a good job.

It’s all about basic skills and perseverance. Erin’s story is a great example of that. Start today, do one thing every day, and watch your situation improve.

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