In these pandemic times, it’s going to be quite easy for some people to completely run out of money. It’s going to be fast and it’s going to be quick. I should know. I ran out of money twice in my lifetime. I can honestly tell you that it’s not a pretty sight.
I went broke first in 1987 when the stock market crashed. I owned my own business back then and 100% of my customers were companies listed on the stock exchange. So, when the market crashed, so did my customers. They literally had no money and within a month, neither did I. I was out of business. I was so broke that when a good friend of mine offered to loan me $50 bucks, I didn’t have the guts to tell him I didn’t have the fifty cents I needed to pay for a bridge toll in order to get to his house and pick up the cash.
I went broke the second time in 2000. That’s when the Dot Com Bubble exploded and again, I owned my own computer business and I was caught again with absolutely no money. I went from making $2,000,000 in 1999 to barely $500 a month at the end of 2000. As a double whammy, it was right around Christmas time and I had no money for holiday presents nor a holiday tree. My family and I had to go to my aunt’s house so we could at least have a Christmas dinner.
All these years I have blamed myself for these two failures. If there’s one thing this pandemic has taught me, it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t do anything wrong to go so broke. Yes, I should have had more money in savings but when you are self-employed, that’s not always possible. I felt a lot of shame over these last few years. I felt equally embarrassed to my two daughters. They used to taunt me and tell me they felt their mother was a failure. Their friends at school used to make fun of them when they found out their mother went broke and could no longer afford their tuition.
Fast forward to today, and my oldest daughter, who is a top notch NYC wedding photographer, found herself without a client as more and more grooms and brides cancelled all their wedding plans with her and demanded their deposits back. Within weeks my daughter was out of work and out of money. All through no fault of her own. And just like that she looked at me and finally understood what true financial ruin is all about.
It’s not always your fault when you lose your business, your job, your career or your ability to earn money. It’s not always your fault to find yourself broke. Say these things to yourself first, right now, if you are finding yourself in the same situations as I have listed above. Once you understand that things happen, you can move forward.
The first thing I did back in 1987 to address my insolvency dilemma was to take a bunch of loose leaf sheets of paper and write in bold letters across the top page: GARAGE SALE. I listed my address, date of sale, along with the hours and drove around my neighborhood posting the signs on every available tree. The next morning, at 6AM, my doorbell rang. It was my first customer. She bought some of my sewing equipment and handed me a $20 bill! By the end of that day, I had earned $600 in cash by selling as many of my possessions that I could. I solved my business dilemma by filing for Chapter 13 protection (I was granted five years to pay back my debts. I found a job and paid back 100% of my debts in three years). I made a vow to never take on debt again and build up a savings account.
Do you think I learned my lesson? Nope. In 2000 I had racked up credit card debt again, bought myself a nice fancy black Nissan complete with a car loan, bought a Wellfleet speedboat, also with a loan and I refinanced my home and took on a 30 year mortgage when I only had 9 years left on my original mortgage. I was riding high. And why not? I was earning millions a year and had attracted a buyer of my thriving computer business. I took on all that debt because I knew when I closed my business sale, I’d have enough cash to pay back everything. Then the Dot Com bubble burst. Computer companies were toxic. Sales plummeted. The deal was off and I found myself in deep doo doo.
My car and boat were repossessed. My bank accounts were seized. I was forced to sell my precious, beautiful home because without a large income I could no longer afford the new mortgage. My house sold in five hours and we closed one day before it was scheduled to go into foreclosure. Thankfully I had enough equity to pay off my debts, buy a used car, move to a less expensive area, buy land (3.5 acres) and erect a modular home on the property. This time I learned my lesson well! I paid cash for everything because this time I was determined never to find myself in such dire financial straits ever again.
My husband erected the modular home himself (electrical, plumbing, General Contracting) while I kept losing one job after another. Mentally, the stress from this particular financial loss was just too much for either one of us to bare. Once the new house was completed, without a mortgage or car loan debt, I could let go and stress less. I finally found a part time job I could handle. I was fifty years old.
Hubby however, had it a bit tougher. He was out of work for 2.5 years till he found a job. I remember well when he went for that job interview. We were down to our last fifteen dollars after just having spent our remaining cash on buying hubby a pair of shoes and a dress shirt from WalMart so he would look decent on the job interview. We were praying he would earn at least $400 a week. He was offered a job that day. The pay was $900 a week. With benefits and a retirement plan. The year was 2003. We haven’t looked back since. And we have never incurred any form of debt again either.
You have to live simply and you have to live small. For us, it’s our only way to hedge against ‘not-our-fault’ disasters. We went from a 9 room house to a 4 room house. We went from a $5,600 a month expense habit (in 2001 dollars) to a $2,500 a month expense habit (in 2020 dollars). You have to have a savings account. You have to plan and live as if the next crisis is right around the corner because 9 times out of 10, it is. We sailed through the 2008 Great Recession and we are faring equally as well during this Global Pandemic. I have always stated that I went broke two times in my lifetime. Three times is NOT going to be the charm.
My husband and I didn’t have family members who could help us out. There was no government assistance at that time. We most surely didn’t have friends to help us out either. In fact, they used to mock us for not taking out a mortgage or a car loan as a means of making our lives easier. We suffered greatly. While we were having our house built, we had put all our possessions into storage. Unbeknownst to us, the storage facility was wiped out from a flood. When we finally scheduled having our furniture and possessions shipped to us, there was nothing to ship. We lost everything.
We literally started our lives over from the ground up. It has taken us years to rebuild our life. My daughters helped us out as best they could. My youngest bought us a washer and dryer. My oldest bought us our stove. My MIL gave us her old refrigerator and a dining room table and chairs. Each year when we got our tax refund, we would buy furniture. One year we bought a couch. Next year a bedroom set. The year after that, a new mattress. Everything else, such as dishes and cookware, we bought from either Goodwill or thrift stores.
Right before my father died, he came to see my new house. It was just a shell then, sitting on a plot of mud. He told me he was going to leave me enough money to finish the house and he kept his word. He passed away three months later.
When you are faced with a financial emergency, as many are or will be during this pandemic, you have to take care of your four walls first. By that I mean you have to have a (1) roof over your head, (2) food on the table, (3) basic utility bills paid and (4) transportation. Forget everything else. Even your charge cards. Stop all un-necessary spending. We put an antenna on our TV and watched free YouTube videos streamed in over the internet. We cook from scratch. I learned to sew and make some of our clothes (especially pajamas). Learn as much DIY as possible (do your own oil changes, car repairs, home repairs, cleaning, cooking etc). No job is beneath you. NONE.
If you qualify for government assistance, take it! That’s what it is there for. To help you out and get you by. If you have to give up some things or sell some things, do it. If you have to move and relocate to a less expensive area, move! If your kids are old enough to understand, be honest with them and tell them the truth. My two daughters rose up to the occasion this last time around and helped us out. My youngest had to live with my sister for her last two years of college because we couldn’t afford the tuition anymore. She worked all summers and part time over the year as a waitress so that she could pay her own tuition (less subsidies). Everybody pitched in and did what they had to do to get to the other side.
Wear a mask. Wash your hands often. Social distance. Use hand sanitizer. Do whatever it is you have to do to keep yourself and your family alive. Follow the four wall philosophy. Stay out of debt. Eat healthy. Learn to garden. Hang in there. Never give up. I promise you, there is redemption on the other side. You WILL get there!
As a side note: If you are asking yourself or wondering how I got through all this disparity, there was only one way for me. And that was to take my burdens and put them all on God’s shoulders. There was no way I could have gotten through any of this alone. Once I trusted in God, prayed every day for guidance AND took it one day at a time, I made it through to the other side, which is prosperity and freedom from fear. Trust in God. He will never fail you. The lessons I learned above helped me get through The 2008 Great Recession and The Pandemic Of All Time……now!