September katie-moum-DLNoV-SFQ-U-unsplash

My Journey From Broke and Broken to Financial Health

You know how some people refer to September as a time of renewal? A time when you can leave all past disappointments behind, turn the page and write a new chapter for your life?

That’s exactly what I did twenty years ago this September and it changed my life.

 

My journey to financial health started with a crisis

Two years before my page-turning moment, again in September (what is it with that month?), I sat on the floor of my home office, where I had spent every day for three consecutive weeks.

I just sat on the floor and cried.

I was inconsolable after the loss of my husband.

Nothing made sense. I couldn’t quite figure out the world.

What had just happened? Why was I suddenly alone? What on earth would I do?

Sitting on the floor one morning, it dawned on me: Holy crap, I owe a whack ton of money!

My husband’s business, which I had foolishly insisted on referring to as “our” business after walking away from a funded doctoral program to support him through his illness, was now my business.

It was failing because the mastermind, the engine of the train, had just died.

Everything ground to a complete stop.

Everything, that is, except the business debts. Those kept on chugging along without skipping a beat, accruing interest and adding to the mess.

How the hell did this happen?

 

I want a do-over

As I sat on the floor that September morning, I did some quick math. My heart started to beat faster as the numbers added up. By the time I got to six figures, I was in a full-blown panic.

$400,000.

That’s roughly how much I owed after digging through all the documents to sort out what I was dealing with.

And that’s when I started begging the Universe.

“I’ve made a terrible mistake. I cannot explain why I abandoned a prestigious scholarship, a successful research project with a supportive thesis supervisor, and a clear path to financial and professional success. For a business which isn’t mine and doesn’t resonate with me one little bit. WTF was I thinking?! I am an effing idiot. Please give me a do-over.”

 

Careful what you wish for

Nope. No can do.

The thing about the Universe, as I’ve learned, is that it provides ample opportunity to learn.

I had insisted on viewing the business as our business, and here it was – all mine.

Just. Perfect.

Over the course of a decade, I had gone from being a successful academic with my finances in order, to a broke and broken widow with bleak prospects for the future.

Have you ever sat in a luxuriously hot bath, enjoying it so much that you got lost in thought, only to find yourself shivering and freezing sometime much later when your thoughts finally made their way back to the present?

You had no awareness of the water becoming cold. The last time you checked, it was awesome – so warm, relaxing, soothing.

When you stop paying attention, your world gets cold one imperceptible degree at a time until one day, you wake up and wonder, “How the hell did this happen?”

That’s what I had done with my finances and my life.

I had stopped paying attention.

And the Universe sent me one hell of a wake-up call:

“Dear Doris, your bath water is freezing. Suggest you do something about it.”

 

The hard part

Procrastination is putting off or avoiding what you should do because it’s hard, inconvenient, or unpleasant.

Regret is wishing you had done the work or made the hard choices in the first place.

As I faced my new reality as a young, heavily indebted widow, I experienced a great deal of regret on top of the usual emotions that come with the loss of a loved one.

Why hadn’t I paid attention?

Why hadn’t I asked difficult questions before walking away from my PhD?

How could I have moved from a position of relative strength to total vulnerability in less than a decade?

When you find yourself in front of a slammed door, you have a choice to make: Progress or Regress.

Do you sit down and give up or do you pull yourself back up and find a way forward, even if you have no idea how to do that?

In my moment of decision, indignation propelled me forward.

This will not break me, I told myself.

There is no way that this is my story. Just, NO!

I’m going to write a different ending to this story.

I am not a quitter, I insisted, even though a priest told me that’s precisely what I was when I was thirteen, after I handed him the daft mini blue cape he had girls wear for the menial task they were allowed to do during service while boys got to be “altar boys”. I wanted to be an altar “boy” too, and if he didn’t allow that, which he didn’t, then he could keep the cape and his inequality.

It was imperative that I figure it out.

And I did.

I worked my tail off to sell as much as I could.

It took me two years, but I repaid every dime owed. (I tell the story of how I did that in my book, Protect Your Purse.)

Then, I sat down and made a list. It was time to rebuild my life.

Things would be very different moving forward.

I would never again be financially vulnerable.

 

Two decades later

It has taken three different businesses to find my joy.

It has taken two decades to fully rebuild my life.

While I wouldn’t recommend this path to anyone, I am grateful for what it’s given me: a seven figure net worth, a real estate portfolio, a stock portfolio, a family I cherish, a business I love, an incredible community, and a burning passion for what I do.

Now my goal is to do the same for other women; to help them get to a point where they can live life on their terms, surrounded by the people they choose, with great options available to them come what may.

I want to give them the confidence to believe that they can do it, show them the way, and inspire them to walk the path of courage.

 

3 Lessons in Getting to Financial Health

In the process of rebuilding my finances, I learned some valuable lessons that are at the heart of what I share through my Women’s Money Group and this blog.

 

1. Pay Regular Attention to Your Finances and Create a System

Bake time into your schedule to review both the big picture and the monthly details.

I used to ensure that my cheque book was balanced, back when those were a thing, and I always checked my credit card bills to ensure they were accurate, but I didn’t really think of my money as a system with an overriding goal, which is ironic because that’s precisely the sort of structure I was creating as an academic working on a thesis.

Somehow, I ended up on automatic financially. Since I wasn’t spending too much and I invested some of my money, I felt I was fine.

The Universe showed me otherwise.

Being financially healthy requires ongoing effort, much like being fit does.

Another key element is thinking systematically and strategically about your money.

What does that mean?

  • Have goals in place in answer to the questions, “What do I want my money to do for me? What does that entail? Which actions do I need to take to make that happen?”
  • Decide what’s important. If you don’t know what really matters to you, then money can’t do its job as a powerful tool at your disposal. When it doesn’t have a specific job to do, money disappears into the cracks of life. This is why the money system I teach is based on your core values. They’re central to your success.
  • Create a system to track your spending. You need this information as raw data to determine if your money is serving you well.
  • Create a system to track your savings and investments. Wealth – or the way that I like to think of it is “Good Options” – can only be achieved by making your money work for you through investing.

 

2. Build key skills

It is a game-changer when you have key skills at your disposal.

I’m talking about skills to help you manage your money – core financial literacy.

And skills to help you grow both your wealth and your options – marketable skills to make more money; investing skills to build wealth.

Chief among the skills that helped me to rebuild my finances is knowing how to negotiate.

I know, that may as well be a four-letter word for many women. Generally speaking, we dislike conflict so much that simple questions like, “What would you like to do?” can lead to ridiculously painful exchanges such as:

“I’m easy. What would you prefer?”

“I don’t care. Happy to do whatever you like. What are you up for?”

“Totally flexible. Anything at all.”

Which makes me want to scream: OH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WILL SOMEBODY PLEASE MAKE A DECISION???

For the record, if you ask me what I want, I will tell you my preference. Exchanges like the above make me CA-RA-ZY.

Back to negotiating: It affects every aspect of your finances. In my next post, I’ll share some of my wins courtesy of years of study and practice when it comes to negotiating.

For my money, this is a non-negotiable for women. So important.

Which is why I’m hosting a workshop this month on how to negotiate like a pro. More on that soon.

 

3. Find a Support Team

For years after my first husband died, I tried to do it alone, mostly out of pride and embarrassment. I figured I had made stupid decisions that left me exposed, so it was up to me to figure out how to pull myself out.

I also didn’t want to be a burden to anyone.

So wrong-headed! The thing I avoided was precisely the thing I needed.

I now recognize that it would be like saying to a teenager, “Why bother having a teacher for calculus. You can learn it yourself.” Yes, but really?? Use the teacher!

If I could turn back the clock and have a conversation with myself twenty years ago, I would urge myself to do the following:

  • Ask for guidance. Find someone who has solved a problem like the one you’re tackling and learn everything they have to teach you. It will speed up your progress.
  • Find your tribe. Surround yourself with a group of people who have similar goals or aspirations. When you’re in the throes of paying off debts, it’s difficult to be around peers who have no clue what you’re going through because they have ample disposable cash and they’re spending up a storm. Ditto if you’re trying to build your investments and you spend time around people who don’t know the first thing about it, but nonetheless feel it’s cool to criticize your efforts – “Do you know how risky that is? That’s just like gambling!”
  • Build a cheer team – people who will cheer you on as you tackle the hard work involved in achieving your goals. We all have days where we think life sucks, we suck,  and everything we do sucks. You need a cheer team to step in and remind you of the good in your world. And it’s essential to have them around to do a Pom Pom Dance when as you achieve the milestones on your journey.
  • Pick positive people to be the major influencers in your world. Negative people rob you of energy. It’s important to minimize exposure to toxic people.

 

Next September

Despite a rough go with a few Septembers on record, I now look forward to this time of year.

It is absolutely a time of reflection and opportunity; a time to consider your story.

Do you need a reset?

Is it time to turn the page and write a new chapter in your journey to financial health?

Continue a good one?

In September 2021, what will your life look like? Which goals will you have achieved?

How will you feel about your life and your progress?

What do you need to do differently to make that happen?

Send me an email or leave a comment below to complete this sentence: In September of 2021, I will….

 

If you’re looking for a community of support, come join my FREE, private Facebook Group:  Women’s Money Group Community  It’s a safe space for women to connect and talk about money, ask your questions, get support, swap tips, and participate in our growing community of women who want to take their money and their life to the next level. I look forward to seeing you on the inside!

 

Photo by Katie Moum on Unsplash

 

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