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Once upon a time I was good with money

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.


  1. Financial Peace is not a success only journey. The important thing is that you have learned how you want to manage your life going forward and how you want to model money/life management for your son. You should be proud that you are taking your future into your own hands! Good for you!

  2. Thanks for your kind words. It's been a tough go at times, and any and all encouragement is much appreciated.

  3. Take peace in the knowledge that you are acting now to get out of debt. I personally think that student loan debt is a good debt. I wouldn't be where I'm at now and where I plan to be in the future without the help of student loans. I take things one day @ a time, and make baby steps when it comes to money. You have success in the past, it'll happen again. Snuggle with your little bean and enjoy the journey :)

  4. This is a fabulous story, but I don't think you should have regrets about your student loans. You are going to get out of this hole. The light is already at the end of the tunnel.

  5. Thanks everyone for the encouragement. It is easy to have regrets, and much harder to be proud of what I have accomplished.

  6. You've already been there so it'll be easy to get back. Think of it that way :)

    You're going to be fine because the light is there, as Kate says.

    I have plenty of regrets but the journey is what matters. Corny but true. Now I have the 'tools' for my whole life.


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