The Double Debt Single Woman Money Manifesto

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Below is a re-posting of something that I wrote at the beginning of 2013. Looking back on it, I was writing a mini money manifesto. When I wrote this I’d just started this blog and was still living in the Pacific Northwest. I’d finally done some math and had the day of reckoning in which I realized that debt had its hand around my neck and was starting to squeeze. I’d just decided to move out of my overpriced downtown studio to start a new financial future.

I’ve found myself re-reading this little post from time to time to stoke the fires of wanting to be debt-free. So here it is again for you to enjoy as well.

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Out with the Old and In with the New

This will indeed be a new year. This will be the first year of my financial future. After my rude awakening with respect to my finances and debt, I FINALLY started to make some real changes in my life.

I moved to this West Coast city two years ago to start a new job. Instead of continuing to live like a grad student, I inflated my lifestyle. Life mistake #412. I moved into a “posh” apartment building in the heart of downtown. I couldn’t afford furniture or a car or travel or nice clothing, but I didn’t care. I loved my posh digs. It took me two years of living paycheck to paycheck to buy furniture for a studio apartment. And the kicker, I’ve had my student loans in forbearance this entire time. Yes, I put my massive student loans in forbearance, accumulating interest continuously, so that I could buy nice furniture for an overpriced shoebox apartment. The stupidity!

Today I marvel at how much my thinking has changed and evolved. This has undoubtedly come from reading many personal finance blogs and listening to the gurus. I had the head knowledge of what I should be doing with my money, but I wasn’t uncomfortable enough to change.  I wasn’t fully realizing what I was giving up to live like that (opportunity cost). All I could afford to do was work and come home to my posh apartment. Occasionally, I’ll have a rough day at work – taking crap from clients, my manager, etc., and I’ll fantasize about leaving and finding another job, but I quickly realize that I can’t take the risk of leaving. I  am wholly dependent on my employer for my livelihood. So I keep my mouth shut and my head down in those situations at work. I hate it.

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I have been reading blogs such as Man vs. Debt. Bloggers like these have been able to travel extensively (my passion) and lead a lower stress life thanks to lack of debt and financial freedom. I realized that I would never be able to live that type of lifestyle while shackled to this mountain of debt. That made me sad. What made me angry was the realization of how much interest I’ve paid to make others wealthy and not myself.

I finally got uncomfortable. I got angry. I’m still angry. I’m done being a tool. I’m done being a profit center for corporate fat cats. I’m done funding everyone else’s retirement but my own.

When I am out of debt I vow to never pay another red cent in interest for ANYTHING.

I do not own a car, but in the future when I am able to afford one, it will be used, very small, economical, and paid for in full, in cash.  I don’t know if I’ll ever own a home or if I’ll ever want to, but if I do I will pay for that with cash, as it too would be very small, simple and functional.

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I’m done with consumerism and materialism. I’ve come to embrace simplicity, minimalism and frugality. While I still like nice things, my definition of nice has changed from what it once was.

I now realize that no fancy apartment or electronics or furnishings are worth what I’m losing. What am I losing? I’m not funding my retirement. I’m 37. I have no emergency savings, so I have no peace of mind. I can’t travel. I have old clothes that are so out of fashion that people stare at me sometimes. The list goes on. And #1, I don’t have control over my own life. It’s too risky to try for a new job in a new city or a different country. And when you can’t stand up for yourself or push-back in the workplace because you are entirely dependent on that job, a bit of your self-esteem crumbles away, little by little. To the financial powers that be. You can have your treadmill back. I’m done with all of it.

So, out with the old and in with the new!

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That was one of my earliest posts from January 1, 2013.  I can’t believe that almost two years have passed. My goal for 2013 was to pay off my credit card debt $30,340. Unfortunately that was a big fail for reasons I’ve written about elsewhere – including here, here, and here. However, I’m now a little older and hopefully a little wiser about things. I now have a better job and live in a different state. Only now do I feel like I’m back on track to get out of debt in this lifetime.

If you are in a similar place in life, then I am one person who can relate to what you are going through. Hang in there.

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“Debtor’s prison is real, and opportunity cost is a bitch.” (DDSW)

The Single Woman with Double Debt

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For too many of us, this is how we feel when trying to tackle our finances. I am a single woman with double debt. If you are reading this blog, you are likely a single woman (or man) with double debt. If not, consider yourself lucky. High debt loads are stressful enough for many couples to tackle together. Imagine shouldering six figures of debt on your own.  For many of us, student loan debt is the biggest component of debt totals this high, but regardless of what got you here, you’re here now.  And you have company.

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Image credit:fallendeath13.deviantart.com

It’s that time of year. Just when you think your wounds are healing from spending another holiday season  and New Year’s eve single and lonely – Valentine’s Day rolls around and it’s chocolate and rose-less passing reminds you that you are getting another year older – alone. Although being a single woman can be a great time of freedom, it can be depressing too. For those of us experiencing moderate to extreme debt burdens, facing it alone can be an additional challenge. What follows are some of the issues that we single women with deep debt have to face.

 

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We have no partner to offer emotional or financial support
I am firm in the fact that I got myself into debt alone, so I will get myself out of it alone.  However, having someone to keep me motivated, feels worth its weight in gold sometimes. Too many of us keep the extent of our debt secret out of shame, causing us to bottle up our fears and frustrations.

Most get out of debt articles and blogs with substantial debt payoff are about couples working together to make it happen. Their accomplishments are great, but I cannot relate to those stories. Having two incomes to tackle debt and sharing expenses is a luxury that we singletons don’t have. Being single can keep us in debt longer, and being in debt can keep us single longer. Fun huh?

And let’s not forget that women can stay trapped in stressful, abusive jobs because they have little or no safety net in the form of  a partner to support them.

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Pay inequality means that debt bites us harder and longer
Repayment affects us more because on average we earn less than men for the same work. Paying off the same debt burden as a man takes more money out of each of our paychecks and/or for a longer period of time. The gap may be shrinking, but there is still a ways to go.

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The ticking biological clock or expense of raising kids adds pressure
Ladies, those of us in our 30’s and up are dancing the debt payoff two-step to a to a ticking biological clock. Forty-three percent (43%) of Generation X women don’t have children. Debt has been one factor in that. What if you are six figures in debt and pushing 40? By the time you pay off all your debt you’ll be peri-menopausal in your mid-forties at the earliest. Are you really expected to wait that long? Should you freeze your eggs and use surrogates? Some women with deep debt make the painful decision to never have children. Others become proponents of being child-free. If having children is extremely important to you, then have them; but be prepared for the financial effects and sacrifices that you’ll have to make.

If you already have children, you are more likely than men are to be their primary caregiver. Raising children today is more expensive than ever. Without a partner, even accounting for child support, women disproportionately shoulder the financial responsibility of child rearing, thus slowing down debt repayment.

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Dating with debt is more difficult
Research shows that women shackled with debt are less likely to marry. It doesn’t matter how sexy you are, debt is not attractive. Wait, what was I thinking. Of course how sexy you are matters. If you’re a Beyonce or Megan Fox clone, nothing on this list applies to you.  For the rest of us, unfortunately, especially those of us dragging around a $100k+ ball and chain of debt and misery; we don’t look like a rockin’ good time to potential partners. We aren’t going to be on vacation with them running on an exotic beach anytime soon.

We often ask ourselves, ‘Am I undateable? Am I unmarriageble? Do I need to to pay off all my debt before pursuing relationships?’ As long as you are taking action to pay the debt off aggressively (not just talking about taking action), the answer to those questions is a resounding “No”.  The same goes for anyone you may be interested in dating. 

For all of us single ladies without a ring on it, debt does affect our romantic lives. If you can’t afford to travel or get involved with activities, it limits the pool of potential partners that you’ll have the opportunity to meet (online dating nothwithstanding).

Words of warning to my fellow single sisters in debt. Don’t let romantic partners use money as a way to control you. It’s not worth it. Don’t get into relationships for money. As a wise man Dr. Phil says, if you marry for money, you’ll earn every penny of it.

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And, hey, if you can’t trust Dr. Phil, who can you trust?

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Debt can damage our independence and self-actualization

Deep debt can change the dynamics of your relationships with other people.  If enduring disdainful condescension or looks of pity aren’t bad enough, others may try to treat you like you are less than or helpless. You can’t afford to do the things that your friends and family can, and you may feel that your nose is being rubbed in it. 

And if you are single woman and in deep debt, family, especially your parents, may have the view that because you don’t have a man/partner in your life to support you, that you still need their control help. Really? How many of us enjoy those conversations? Ladies, if this is the case, it’s time to start setting some boundaries.

Being a single woman is not easy. We all know that time is money, and commonly our time is not respected. Family volunteer you for things or pressure you into visiting far more often than you can afford to with respect to time and money. For some of us, the only trips we’ve taken in recent years have been guilt trips (bought and paid for by parents/family). First class.

Like potential romantic partners, some family members with ulterior motives may use money to try to control you and incur a sense of obligation on your part. Again, this is not worth it. Even if you repay the money, you may never be able repay the emotional debt (of their ‘saving you’) as far as the other person is concerned, which they will use to control you. Be very wary of taking monetary “gifts” from anyone that you don’t trust 100%.  And of course, a
void taking loans from friends or family unless you want to ruin that relationship.

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Harassment by debt collectors takes an emotional toll

 We’ve seen the lawsuits and new stories. Women seem to be the targets of unduly nasty debt collector practices. Bullying, intimidation, and threats of sexual violence have driven some debtors to suicide, or the courtroom. Unfortunately, most women suffer in quiet anger, not knowing their rights or to whom to turn. 

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That is just some of what we deal with. Did I miss any? Are you experiencing any of these? Let me know in the comments.

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“Debtor’s prison is real, and opportunity cost is a bitch.” (DDSW)

How to be an Extreme Saver – A Quick Primer

Although I’ve written a couple of posts already about Extreme Frugality [see: Is Extreme Frugality for You? and 3 Types of Extreme Savers], I thought I’d write a brief primer on how to be an extreme saver for anyone curious about this way of living. I define Extreme Saver here as someone who sets aside 60%-90% of their income for a specific period of time for some other purpose (savings, investments, debt payoff, etc). These tips are written assuming you are single with no children, so adjust accordingly if that assumption does not fit you.

Extreme moniker aside, my points are actually somewhat moderate. I don’t have anything here about being voluntarily homeless or dumpster diving. I advocate a life re-design that is based on simplicity, not on risk-taking.

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1. [YOUR PLAN] Before you begin your foray into extreme saving, you must have a plan and a goal/time limit for ending this lifestyle. Know why you are doing this. Is it to get out of extreme debt, to retire early, or for a personal challenge? This will help you explain your actions to those you care about. If they understand that this way of life is for a specific period of time and for a specific goal, the more support you can get from others.  If your goals frequently change, then set a time limit of between 1 – 10 years to do this. Regardless of your goals, you should not do this for more than 10 years. Beyond that, you are on what Dave Ramsey calls a ‘Deferred Life Plan’. Remember that life is for living. You want to have plenty to time for fun while you can enjoy it.

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2. [YOUR HOUSING] Rent a Room – That’s right. You don’t need to own a house. You don’t need to rent an apartment – at least not by yourself. If you want to be an extreme saver, you must cut down drastically on your major expenses.  Rent a room in someone else’s house – the smaller the better. Save a ton on housing. Eliminate the hassle having to deal with utilities by having that built into the rent. The next best option is to rent a room in an apartment with multiple roommates. You don’t need to be comfortable in this small space because you should be living (working/playing) outside anyway. You may be able to get free or low room rent in exchange for part-time cleaning, handyman, or care-giving work.

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3. [YOUR STUFF] Become a Minimalist – No furniture. No storage. No property insurance. Get a room that is already furnished in someone’s home. The less stuff you have, the smaller (and cheaper) of a room you can get. It is very freeing to be so mobile. Do some serious de-cluttering, selling, and donating. There are many sources online that will walk you through the process. Read up on minimalism first to make sure that you are prepared for the journey. It’s not just about getting rid of stuff, but its about making room in your life (physically, emotionally, financially, time-wise) for only what is important to you so that you live with purpose. Less is more. This includes removing people and situations from your life that are not adding to it.

Read This:  How to Become a Minimalist – This article boils it all down and doesn’t mince words. (Warning: Contains a sprinkling of four-letter words.)

It would be an easy assumption that the vast majority of extreme savers practice some combination of minimalism and simplicity, so there is a lot of overlap here.

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4. [YOUR SOCIAL LIFE] Live life cheaply. The best things in life are free. Hang out with your friends and plan activities, not events ($). If you live in a large town or city, it is likely that you have access to Meetup groups, where you can do a lot of free activities. If you have a hobby that requires gear you can access them through groups like these for a small fee.

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5. [YOUR FOOD & HEALTH] Eat simply but NOT cheaply. Eat a diet high in fresh organic vegetables and low in sugar. Stay away from anything in a package. Food is a budget item that most of us struggle to keep under control – including me.  Stay healthy and exercise to avoid medical expenses. Unexpected medical bills are the #1 cause of bankruptcy. If you have insurance, go get those annual checkups (physical, eye, dental). Don’t let an illness take a bite out of your wallet.

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6. [YOUR TRANSIT] Take public transit and walk where you need to go. Rent your room within walking/biking distance from work. Public transit is possible if you live in a medium to large city. Take advantage of it. Ditch the car completely. They are a money pit.  You can rent a car by the week, day or even by the hour (ZipCar) if you really need wheels.

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7. [YOUR INCOME] Make more money and tell it what to do.  You should always be working at least two jobs. Preferably you should have one full-time job, one part-time job, and an additional intermittent side hustle that focuses on generating passive income. Make sure that you have a spending plan for your income. Automate your monthly investments and bill pay where ever possible.

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8. [YOUR SUPPORT SYSTEM] Find others online or IRL (in real life) who understand what extreme saving is about, yet can give you a sanity check every now and then. Communicate with these people to make sure that you aren’t going off the deep end and sacrificing too much or losing relationships because of your choices.  There are extreme saver bloggers out here (myself included) who are supportive and eager to help others.

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9. [YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES] Don’t have children – at least not now. This is not for the faint of heart, but remember that you will only be in extreme mode for a limited amount of time. If you are fairly young, early 30’s and younger, you still have time to wait. The rest of us will have to make some tough decisions. Some may choose not to have pets during this time.

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10. [YOUR SPENDING]  Stop buying crap. Your spending should be very limited at this time. If you haven’t already, get rid of your television (also known as the Idiot Box or the Electronic Pacifier). This will remove a LOT of advertising and materialist messaging from your day-to-day life.  You will be spending according to your spending plan, so make sure that you are only buying things that serve a truly needed purpose (nutritious food, a winter coat etc.). Stay away from any stores and malls unless you are going there to get one or two needed items. No more shopping as a past-time. You should be working instead.

That’s it.

This was my super quick 10 point primer on extreme saving. MUCH much more information is available on each of these areas. Perhaps I will dedicate some future posts to examining them in more detail.

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“Debtor’s prison is real, and opportunity cost is a bitch.” (DDSW)