I filed for bankruptcy at 29, but it changed me for the better

  • My mom taught me to spend money but hide it when I was a kid, and I did that for years until my twenties.
  • Living beyond my means finally caught up with me and I filed for bankruptcy at 29.
  • Losing everything in bankruptcy ultimately showed me that I didn’t have to associate the expense with shame.
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“Take these bags and go straight to your room. Don’t let your father see.”

My mom had just bought me two shirts, Maybelline mascara in brownish black, and a new push-up bra from Target. At 13, I had learned that there was a certain magic to wearing a new shirt, a confidence born of the fabric, one that guaranteed a good day, and maybe a compliment or two.

Sneaking shopping bags of new, potential clothes past my dad on the couch was the first adrenaline rush I’ve associated with spending. Growing up we didn’t have much, but we did have each other, and the chaos and intimacy that came with four siblings in a tiny house was enough to distract us from what we didn’t have.

When I became a teenager, the desire to look like everyone else, to have “cool clothes” and “cool things” crept into my psyche. I remember being determined to turn my scientific calculator into Tamagotchi, and I was sure I could do it. What I mean is that my childhood was one of deep nostalgia.

My teenage spending habits continued into my adult life

On Fridays, at the toy store where I worked at 16, I cashed my check on my 30-minute break and went straight to Abercrombie & Fitch, where I spent everything. I didn’t mind giving up dinner or lunch to buy clothes – these physical representations of confidence, of “enough,” meant more to me than a meal.

The habits you develop as a teenager don’t go away in your twenties. My spending habits were hiding; they sprouted from seeds planted in childhood. My parents planted them, yes, but I have watered them, exposed them to the sun over the years, and they thrived. Prosperous, even.

After I graduated, I moved to San Francisco, a city with old houses and bay windows sticking out into the sidewalks like the bellies of pregnant women. And it was romantic at first, being 24 and looking around for the bus every morning. Have $ 11 in my bank account until I get paid at the end of the week. To only go to free events, to walk around, everywhere.

It’s not that I didn’t want a savings account, or a nice apartment with an efficient shower, it’s that no one had ever taught me to want it, or how. struggle to get it. I took credit cards to keep up with my most privileged friends. Staying at the same level as them was just as important to me as paying rent – having “enough” was the feeling that guided these decisions.

The idea that my curiosity had to be limited by money – for adventure, for travel, to seek and see the world – was overwhelming. I haven’t seen that money is often a boundary within which the limits of our care, physical and mental, can lie. Living beyond my means for so long meant that both would eventually decline too.

My overspending finally caught up with me

For years, I would wake up every morning with a suffocating weight on my chest. I postponed scheduled payments, canceled them, overdrawn my account, once, twice, three times – all in a week, without telling anyone, keeping my shame a secret. After years of trying to pay off my credit card debt, I met a financial advisor who recommended that I file for bankruptcy.

I had said yes to the holidays when I couldn’t afford it, I kept writing retreats, bought new shoes, expensive sweaters, fancy dinners, festival tickets, I attended bachelorette parties, and now it was time to pay. After almost 10 years of applying the logic I learned as a child, spend, but hide it, I was ready to face it.

There was also shame in that. For me, filing for bankruptcy was the biggest indicator of financial failure there was. I was 29, and even though the friends I tried so hard to keep up with would buy houses and start their lives, I realized I could never get away with mine if I didn’t. . At almost 30, I would have to start.

Even though I grew up in a low income home, we always had enough to eat, I was always taken care of, I has been privileged. And yet, there was this deep desire within me, rooted in not belonging, that made me spend money with shame.

But without shame, spending can be powerful. It can be intentional. I can have student loans and still buy $ 11 olives and I don’t have to feel guilty about it. And I really like the fancy olives. I can avoid bachelorette parties in Europe and I still have “enough”. I can still be “enough”.

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