There was a time ... no really, I used to be really good with my little bit of money. Sometimes I tell myself that I am still good with money, but that I had a few "bad years" where I just wasn't being myself. But there were "good years" and I will call on them for inspiration as I move us into our new budget lifestyle.
I went out on my own when I was seventeen years old. Back then a monthly social assistance cheque was just under $700 and included medical benefits. I rented a three-room apartment just outside the big city for $435 a month plus about $20 for hydro. My basic phone bill was just under $20. I didn't have cable television, and back then, there was no internet. I found a store in Chinatown that sold cartons of cigarettes for $25, and I bought one a month and rationed. I had a boyfriend who loved to cook and kept me well-fed with big, cheap, vegan meals. This was also the days before debit cards, so when I did spend money, which was a rare occasion, I used cash. I had an excellent habit of keeping my dollar coins and quarters in a cash box, and within a year had enough saved up to buy myself a bass amp so that I could play in a band.
When I was nineteen I got a job in a retail store that paid about $7 an hour. For a couple of years I lived on less than $900 a month. I shared a two-bedroom apartment in the heart of downtown Toronto, and my roommate and I paid $450 each, utilities included (that apartment is probably about $2000 a month now, twelve years later). I lived on the "envelope system," long before I had even heard anyone else speak of it. It just made sense to me. Every two weeks when I got paid I cashed my cheque and divided up the money into five blue letter-sized envelopes which I kept in my bedroom: one each for rent, food, phone bill, transit pass and spending money. My only spending weakness (besides cigarettes) was an almost daily visit to the sub shop to have a sandwich for lunch. If I wanted to buy something, like a purse, I would forfeit my subs for a few days until I had enough money to buy what I wanted. I continued to save coins, which I would roll up from time to time and deposit into a savings account. In one year I saved over $1000 which I used to rent recording equipment to make a demo tape for my band.
It was at the age of twenty-one that I decided to apply for a student loan to go to college. I don't know why I didn't try to save up to go, but I wish now that I had. I think I was afraid that I would never have enough to pay for school, and having the loans meant I could start my education immediately instead of having to wait - and work - a few more years. I think as well it was this first loan that started to change my mind about money, because it was so easy to get, the amount was so substantial ($7000 - more money than I had ever seen all at once), and I believed that it was "good debt." I knew I would be in school (and in debt) a long time, with my academic background, but I was thinking of becoming a teacher, and I assumed I would make a lot of money and would be able to pay back the student loans quickly.
Now, more than thirteen years later, I am not a teacher, but a secretary. But I have been taught a lot. I know now that it was my lack of self-awareness that let my mindset about my finances spiral out of control. I have learned my lesson just in time, so that I can now teach my son very valuable lessons about money.