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Finance + Money

Debt Diary: Day 1

I'm Katy

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I’ve only been in debt for about 28 years.

Considering I’m almost 46 that’s kind of a long time.

Ever since I could make money, I spent beyond my means. As a hard worker, I could never really understand why I was constantly behind on bills; I should have been rolling in it.

I’ve had many close calls when it comes to being broke but then something crazy happens; a refund check from the dentist would show up, an early birthday check from my dad, a long-lost insurance reimbursement. I have the Universe to thank for my life just always ‘working out’. Don’t get me wrong, I love it that way, but it’s risky.

AND, I’ve had enough almost-rock-bottoms to know that when it manifests physically in my body or infiltrates in to my relationships, I know it’s time to pay attention. This is exactly how I got sober; it wasn’t rock bottom but I skipped along it for a while.

And so, now I’m here on Day 1 of a Debt Diary. Let’s get mighty real here because being totally honest is really the only way I know how to bring the monster out from under the bed. That monster for me, and probably most of us with self-medicating and/or money issues, is shame. There’s no doubt I have made money mistakes to get me to where I am today however, that IS what they are. Mistakes.

Mis-takes. We get re-takes.

I am going to share all the numbers and my plan but first I’ll give you a little history.

I am the daughter of a financial planner. In my dad’s defense, he tried to teach me all the right ways to spend and save with all of his yellow legal pads, four of the same sentences he said over and over (that I mostly rolled my eyes at), a demonstration of compound interest, the percentages of each paycheck that should be going to savings, bills, housing and investments, etc. He also led by example and can do all the things he wants because he is truly financially free.

I thought I knew better than him.

I didn’t.

As soon as I could (at 17) I moved in to my first apartment with a friend working two jobs and still ended up not being able to cover rent. I got behind, had to crawl to daddy to bail me out of a $740 back rent issue and basically lost a friendship over spending more than I made. Fast forward a few years and I left for Army National Guard Basic training where I left my mom with all my bills and a plea to help me pay off $5000 worth of credit card debt and a real-bad vacuum purchase. I came home and married the man of my dreams who had $20k in the bank and promised me a wrap-around porch. I thought all my money woes were gone…somebody to save and take care of me. Yay.

Wrong.

Our newly-wedded bliss was sprinkled with the excitement of entrepreneurship and big commission checks only to be tainted by a $30k IRS tax bill we didn’t save for and $20k worth of credit card debt that bought what-I-don’t-know. (This was another one of those yellow legal pad lessons I ignored: save 30% for taxes when you’re self-employed. Whoops.) We had to crawl to my in-laws this time and graciously they bailed us out. And then, we bought a house high and took a bath on it in 2008. This time my in-laws bailed us out again by letting us live in their basement for two and a half years with our 6-week old son until that house sold for $30k less than we bought it for. But Dale had a good job and we had few bills so I thought we could get ahead a little.

Not so much.

(Geez. This is difficult to write out. I’m starting to sweat.)

We finally sold our house, moved in to a modest ranch, put some sweat equity in to it and then did a big remodel borrowing the money for that from my mom. When we sold that house we were able to pay her back and put a down payment on a new house (with a porch). We were pretty stretched but not enough to start paying attention.

It was fine.

Within five years we started a wine bar business which included purchasing a commercial building. The fact that I had the balls to even go to the bank made me pretty proud. The business actually made quite a profit during the pandemic and spending was fun so we bought a coffeeshop business. Both of those things fueled my confidence in business ownership enough to open an ice cream shop/candy store, purchase another commercial building and quit my real job. My husband left his real job and we both became 100% self-employed overnight.

The thing that no one tells you about a service based business like a bar, coffeeshop or ice cream store is that over everything else: staffing, rent, cash flow, product, inventory, customers, all of it, the number one energy and money suck are appliances. Freezers, coolers, blenders, panini makers, beer tappers, dipping coolers, microwaves, soup kettles. And the dishwashers. The fucking dishwashers. In less than 4 years I paid over $20k for new dishwashers.

Guess where all of those purchases went?

Right on to shiny, pretty, platinum-plastic credit cards. And because revenue was high and the construction market was great, I thought we deserved a retreat and I convinced us a little cabin 30 minutes from our house would be another successful business venture (AirBnB). So we tied up a significant amount of cash for the down payment and committed to another monthly payment.

Then we sold a business, got a nice chunk of change and instead of saving it or paying down our debt, we sunk it in to another expansion and remodel. I actually think this was one of our better business/financial decisions and we’ve already seen the fruits of that labor, however, it left us very, very house rich and cash poor. And with inflation at 18% over 3 years, our cash flow stopped flowing.

Cue: construction market slow-down because of the interest rates.

Ironically, my 2024 resolution was to pay attention to our finances. I don’t know if this coming-to-Jesus is because I opened my eyes and it’s been this bad before when I had my head in the sand or it just happened to get this bad while I was watching. Either way, I am actually grateful it worked out the way it did.

About a month ago, I could see in my husband’s eyes that he was scared. He came in to the bedroom and he looked so sad and defeated I actually said out loud, “Do you want me to be worried?” And he said, “I think it’s time.”

Even as I write this I just sighed really loud.

It was the wake up call I needed. I knew I would need a plan of action so I followed the steps below:

  1. Called my sister and showed her all of my finances. Everything. I had avoided her help for fear of judgement for too long. She’s been through this, on a smaller scale, but understands the behavior changes that are needed. And she loves me so she just wants me to be happy. I know that now.
  2. I wrote down every single thing we owe and since January I have been tracking our spending habits so May will begin a new spending plan (aka budget)
  3. We had a serious conversation and decided selling the cabin was the wisest decision for us. We hope to get around $35k back after all taxes and closing costs.
  4. I closed out my 401k and a $20k is on the way.
  5. We toyed with the idea of asking a parent for another loan to get out from under the extremely high interest rates of the credit cards but in the end, I NEED to do this on my own. Getting bailed out, even if it will save us money or is deemed the “smart” thing to do by society standards, will not solve this issue. I have 14 paragraphs of proof above here. I had to beg my husband to trust me to do this. That was hard. Staying in debt is harder.
  6. I started taking intentional action; from the littlest things to the more aggressive. I saw a penny on the floor of our cabin that was just about to be picked up by the Roomba. I stopped it, picked it up and put it on my phone so I could take it home. I took the change cup from my desk and traded it in for bills: $42 that has just been sitting there on my desk. I folded it neatly and in order and put it in my wallet. I started this journal in hopes that putting it out to the world wide web will bring the accountability I need to keep going. We cleaned the cabin, made some repairs and brought personal items home in preparation for listing it this week.
  7. I reframed my mindset around self-care. Financial security is one of the values I have been waiting for from someone else almost my entire life. I don’t need to be saved. I’ll be doing the rescuing myself from now on.

Here are the big picture steps you can use to customize your own plan:

  1. Continue Open Communication: Maintain open and honest conversations with your support system about your finances. Their support and understanding can be invaluable.
  2. Consolidate Your Debts: Consider consolidating your high-interest debts into a lower-interest loan if possible. This can make repayment more manageable and save money on interest over time. Beware that this is not a “bail-out”.
  3. Create a Detailed Spending Plan: Utilize the information you’ve gathered from tracking your spending (start tracking now) to create a comprehensive plan until your debt is paid off. Allocate funds for essential expenses and prioritize debt repayment.
  4. Utilize Windfall Funds Wisely: If you come in to a big chuck of change, use it wisely.
  5. Avoid Further Borrowing: Resist the temptation to seek additional loans, even from family members, to address your debt. Focus on managing your existing debt responsibly and developing healthy financial habits.
  6. Embrace Small Wins: Celebrate small victories along the way, such as finding spare change or converting it into bills. Every effort counts towards your goal of financial freedom.
  7. Stay Accountable: Journal your progress and share your journey with others for added accountability and support. Consider joining online communities or support groups focused on debt repayment for additional encouragement.
  8. Prioritize Self-Care: Remember to prioritize self-care throughout this process. Recognize that financial security is a personal responsibility, and empower yourself to take control of your financial future.
  9. Seek Professional Guidance: Consider consulting with a financial advisor or debt counselor for personalized guidance and strategies tailored to your specific situation. They can offer expert advice and help you develop a realistic plan for achieving your financial goals.

By following these steps and remaining committed to your goal, you can gradually work towards becoming debt-free and achieving greater financial stability. Keep believing in yourself and the progress you’ve already made. You’ve got this!

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably interested in the down and dirty numbers huh? Stay tuned for Day 2.

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i write therefore i am.

Hi, I'm Katy.
Your lifestyle designer and business mentor.

Writing is my way of unwinding and letting my thoughts roam free. Every so often, in the midst of this creative chaos, something clicks, and I'm like, "Hmm, maybe someone else will dig this too." So, I toss it out into the world, hoping it lands with someone who gets it.
I hope that's you.

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