What Was Your Breaking Point?
The following article is from Melanie, our staff writer. This post was written in 2014! The hustle culture was in full bloom back then. I’m bringing this back to contrast the Quiet Quitting post I published on Monday. The job market is really great now, but a tough time is looming. *Spoiler – Melanie is doing quite well these days. She paid off her debt and she is self-employed.
In the personal finance world, it seems like everyone is on some sort of journey. For Joe, it was quitting his corporate, soul-sucking job to retire by 40. For me, it’s climbing my way out of $81,000 in student loan debt. I’m more than halfway through my journey and have $35,000 to go.
I look at the road ahead of me and I’m tired just thinking about it. It’s nearly the same distance I’ve already walked, and yet, still more. But I look back at what I’ve accomplished and think, I’ve come this far, I can’t stop now.
But how did I get here? There was a time after graduating with my first degree that I paid only the minimum toward debt and chose to live in a nice neighborhood on my own, living abundantly on a small nonprofit salary in the rat race of Los Angeles. Ahh, the “good old days.” I was part ignorant and part nonchalant, not really caring about my debt load, which at the time was $23k.
It wasn’t until I left everything I knew behind to go to my “dream school”, NYU, that I started to think differently. I moved across the country and in an instant tripled my debt load. I at least had the wherewithal to save $14,000 before moving, so I wouldn’t have to take out as many loans for living expenses.
I had a great time in NYC and I go back and forth whether I regret going to graduate school. I can’t change the facts now.
While in NYC, I felt like I could never quite relax — It’s like I knew what I had gotten myself into, and I was working hard to make it okay.
I worked three jobs while attending graduate school, to ensure that I didn’t have to take out $100k in debt like most of my classmates. It was tough and tested my patience.
My real breaking point came after I graduated. I struggled to find a job in New York, despite going on interview after interview. I decided to cut my losses so I wouldn’t completely deplete my savings and moved to Portland to be with my partner. We had endured nearly two years of long-distance, which was also taking its toll.
I moved to Portland and the economy was even worse than New York. But I was “lucky” and got a part-time job as an administrative assistant at a nonprofit making $10/hr. After taxes, I was bringing home about $800.
It was just enough to pay rent and eat. I went without health insurance and tried to find ways to supplement my income. It was during this time that a friend from graduate school recommended I go on food stamps.
Me? I never even thought of the possibility. She encouraged me to apply and so I did. The application is fairly long and the application wants to know everything about your current situation. There is no sense of privacy when you are asking for financial help from the government.
I wanted to find somewhere in the application to tell my story — to let them know that this was temporary and I just needed a little help. I ended up getting approved for food stamps and had to go to the office to pick up my Oregon Trail card (clever name, huh?). Immediately upon entering the office, I looked around and I thought, I don’t belong here.
Yes, it sounds judgmental. It wasn’t so much that I was judging the others there, but that I never thought in a million years that after getting my master’s degree that I’d end up on food stamps. It was in that moment that I realized how low things had gotten after I thought I did everything right by furthering my education.
It’s hard to ask for help, especially when you are fiercely independent like me. But I wasn’t alone. Little did I know that Oregon is one of five states that has 19% of the population receiving food assistance. Once I received my card and started using it at the grocery store, I started to notice other people with the same card. I’d wonder what their story was. It felt like we were part of a secret club.
At the store, I’d try to quickly swipe my card, so other customers wouldn’t see that I wasn’t paying with a credit card. I was only on food stamps for a few months until I got a better paying job, but the assistance truly helped me. I was able to pay my bills, eat, and pay my student loans with some of the money I had saved. It was a truly humbling experience and one that I’m not proud of.
My breaking point, which shifted everything for me, was this incredibly difficult time in my personal and professional life. I vowed to myself to never be in that situation again and to work as hard as I could to overcome my obstacles and pay off debt as soon as possible.
Sometimes we have an opportunity to learn from our difficulties and be reborn — it’s a breaking point that sheds our old life and gives us a new vision for the future.
What was your breaking point, that shifted the way you thought about money? What was the moment that everything changed for you? The moment you said, I will not live this way any longer.
Currently she puts more than 50% of her income towards debt, while living a frugal, fun life. In addition to her love of personal finance, art and music, she is also a karaoke master.
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