BROKE #01 | an introduction

bills

I’ve been pretty broke my entire adult life. But when you consider that I dropped out of high school by 16, had my first kid at 18, and didn’t start college until all my peers were halfway through grad school — and it was only community college at that — it’s not particularly surprising that I’ve been pretty broke my entire adult life. But these last few years have been especially rough, and the last year has been extra especially rough.

I have a primary job that pays pennies on the dollars (and a part time one that doesn’t take out taxes or pay enough for me to set aside those taxes myself), two toddlers in full time childcare, and I live just outside of the 6th most expensive city in America, where the cost of living is nearly 50% above the national average; where the median home price is just under $700,000; and where the median household income is close to twice what I rake in from two jobs and my Army Reserve duty combined. I work 50 hours a week (at least) between my full time job + part time gig, and one full from-sun-up-to-sun-down weekend a month with the Reserves, and I still don’t make enough money to save a single cent…ever. I make barely enough money to pay my monthly expenses — the necessities like rent, daycare, insurance, etc. — and I struggle each week to find money to buy gas to get to work and food to feed my kids. Accumulating debt is a natural consequence of this set-up and, unfortunately, paying off that accumulating debt and putting money into savings are luxuries I literally can’t afford. When I say “I’m broke” I mean it: I’m fucking broke. And I’m sick of it.

I’m sick of the never-ending cycle of stress and anger and resentment and regret. I’m sick of constantly feeling stuck. I’m sick of working my ass off and not even bringing in enough cash to make a dent in my debt or to stash in the bank; of perpetually treading the same choppy waters. I’m sick of throwing money away with rent each month instead of investing in a place that’s mine. I’m sick of wondering if my kids will remember these rough days and hate me — or feel embarrassed — when they’re older for feeding them pancakes or cereal or shredded cheese on a slice of bread for dinner every night. I’m sick of smiling and waving at the neighbors, pretending like we’re doing just fine. I’m sick of offering Ohhh, I’m so sorry I didn’t have time to run out a get a gift for your child’s party. I’ve had all three kids by myself this weekend. You know how that goes… when Bri is invited to a birthday party and shows up without a gift. I’m sick of gushing about how I shop at Goodwill for the kids because it’s such a great deal when the reality is I’m embarrassed every time I set foot through the door but it’s the only place I can afford. I’m sick of having at least one mental breakdown induced by financial stress Every. Single. Fucking. Day. I’m sick of feeling like a failure.

And I’m sick of feeling alone. I’m sick of Googling ways to get out of debt and reading articles about frugality and simple living, only for all the search results and all the articles to proselytize on the assumption that I have “extra” money at the end of the month to put toward debt or into savings, or the ability to easily pick up another job for some “quick” extra cash. I DON’T. For all intents and purposes, I’m a single parent living 2,000 miles away from my nearest family member (which means “free” or “built-in” help isn’t available). I don’t need what all these sites out there offer; I don’t need to learn to redistribute my income in order to optimize it. I need more fucking money. It’s not that I make a measly salary (although for the area I live in, I do). It’s that my salary, which would cut it almost anywhere else in the nation, doesn’t cut it here. According to federal, state, and local guidelines I make far too much money for every single public/government assistance program available (daycare subsidy, food stamps, energy assistance, housing, medicaid), except I don’t even make enough to pay my regular bills. Not extras like a morning coffee or monthly haircuts (neither of which I’ve ever indulged in anyway). Regular bills — rent, daycare, groceries, insurance, blahblahblah… How in the fuck I’m not “poor enough” baffles me; how in the fuck the government determines that I make too much money to qualify for assistance when I don’t even make enough money to pay basic living expenses and forego food for a few days each month so that my kids don’t have to baffles me. It’s incredulous and demeaning and frustrating.

I’m sick of there not being an accurate depiction of my situation out there for me to reference or to follow along with. So fuck it. I’ll make it. Right here. Welcome to BROKE, a new series here on the blog. Over the next however-the-fuck-long it takes for me to stop being so fucking poor, I’m going to document my experience here. Maybe it’ll be a year. Most likely it’ll be five. At least. During that time I plan on providing a complete and detailed overview of my financial situation and a list of my financial goals so that I can figure out how to achieve those goals and create a roadmap to get there.

I’m not one for censoring myself, which means shy of handing over my Social Security Number I’m going to lay it all out there for everyone to follow along with, or to ignore. Whatever you want to do is your choice. My choice is share it all here. Not so much for accountability, but more so because “talking it out” has a way of generating new ideas, spurring engagement and discussion which in turn inspire AH HA! moments, and clearing the haze so that I’m able to approach my hot mess life with a new perspective and/or approach. Because working it all out here forces me to take a closer and honest look at my finances. Because I’m almost 30 years old and have no positive financial equity in my life, which is a clear indication that my current set-up obviously isn’t working (FINANCE: YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG, KELSEY). Because I won’t let money and finances and debt ruin my relationship with Shannon (because money ruins relationships, especially when couples aren’t honest with each other about how much of it they do or don’t have). Because I won’t entertain the idea of moving in with her — even though it’s something we both desperately want — until I’m 1,000% certain that I won’t be scraping by every month; that I won’t be letting my responsibilities burden her to the point where her future, or our relationship, is gassed. Because I’m sick of worrying that I’m setting my children up for failure. Because my kids, Shannon, and I all deserve better.

But before we get started, a few notes/points of clarification:

What this series IS:
  • Raw, real, and honest. That means that sometimes (most times) it will be underwritten with tones of negativity or anger. ↑ Case in point.
  • A way for other people who have been through similar situations, or who are living through similar situations right now, to connect, engage, share, inspire and offer inspiration, and find motivation.
What this series is NOT:
  • A pity party.
  • A fishing expedition for handouts.
  • A cry for attention.

My situation isn’t ideal and most days there’s no way to sugarcoat it, so don’t expect me to try to paint a different picture here. There will be cuss words — lots of them — and YELLING and even EXTRA LOUD YELLING. I’ll probably sound frustrated and resentful and hopeless a lot of the time because — SPOILER ALERT — that’s exactly what I am a lot of the time. It’ll get better one day blahblahblah. I get it. But that day isn’t today and I don’t see a point in pretending it is.

NOW.

That being said, I’m legit excited to see where this series takes me and those of you who will be following along. I’ve put a lot of thought and planning and preparation into this new endeavor in hopes of providing a somewhat chronological, cohesive story and so far, so good. This week I introduced you (and myself) to this new project, BROKE. Next week I’ll start breaking down my current financial picture — income, assets, expenses, debts — so that I can start keeping closer track of my current spending habits and routines in order to determine trends, find places where I can cut expenses and boost income, and revise/optimize my current budget plan; so that I know exactly where I stand. After that, I’ll start introducing a little more of the story surrounding the set-up we have at home with Shannon and I being a couple and my still-legal husband living in the basement, and will elaborate on my current + [very] urgent housing dilemma, and the options that are available to me to solve it. I’ll talk (type?) through ways to cut expenses, and hash out ideas for ways to bring in more income. You’re welcome to follow along if you want (and please — share your tips if you have any!!). I can’t promise a feel-good, happy-ending story. But I can promise that it won’t be boring. So you know. At least there’s that.

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BROKE is a series that takes an honest look at the details of my hot mess financial life and documents my struggles and successes at a serious attempt at getting out of debt so that I can save money and stop living less than paycheck-to-paycheck. My goal is to have a new post ready for y’all each week, but life is life and that might be too ambitious so don’t hold it against me if I miss a week, mmmk? Kthanxbye.

Read through all BROKE posts here.

18 Comments

  1. tassha August 6, 2014

    I know we all love you for being the most honest, down-to-earth, chic we know. There are all sorts of methods, like we discussed briefly. I find myself keeping a spreadsheet. I log into my bank account EVERYDAY, to see what came out, and why? I log it into a spreadsheet using Google Docs because I can access that anywhere.

    I think it is awesome you are being so honest, and honestly it will probably help other people to be more responsible for their spending. I am still not AS responsible as I should be, and I am paying for it, literally. Trying to buckle down so I don’t have to suffer the great embarrassment of 2007 again. Long story short I had to borrow money from a family member, who did exactly what he SHOULD do; and that was agree to let me borrow money if I agreed to his “pay-me-back terms”. I am 31 now! If I have to borrow money again from anyone, I will be disappointed in myself. I am working on NOT being irresponsible anymore.

    Reply
  2. Naomi August 6, 2014

    This is a great idea, if only to help you sort your **** out. Makes you accountable etc too. And me, I just like the approach you take, no nonsense – no bull****. Love it!

    Reply
    • Kelsey August 12, 2014

      Thanks, Naomi! Taking the no bullshit approach is the only way this thing will work, I think!

      Reply
  3. Vicmarie August 6, 2014

    This is another reason why I’m grateful I found this blog. This is another subject that I can relate to (this more than any other) around here. And I encourage you to keep doing what you do, especially this new series. Now I’m living with the consequences of financial irresponsibility during my college years and as I get closer to my 30s, I get closer to insanity due to the frustration that money and the lack of it brings to my life. I’m underpaid to buy my own car/home but I’m overpaid for government aid too. I have almost 25k in debt, an old car which soon will probably need to be replaced and I live in a considerably cheap rental apartment from where I could be kicked out any time soon. So I totally understand your situation and can’t wait to read more about this, and read about what people could share! Keep going girl!

    Reply
    • Kelsey August 12, 2014

      Thanks, girl! Along with Rachel, you’ve also been such a big help through all of this, even if it’s just serving as a sounding board for all my “whoa is me” whining. So, so glad that you reached out to me those few months ago, and that we’ve been able to stay in touch :)

      Reply
  4. Theresa August 6, 2014

    Love this post!!! Sadly this is the new normal I think! The cost of living far exceeds the increases we receive at work. I try to keep us on track by using a spreadsheet and following a cash budget. I write down everything and login to our account EVERYDAY to make sure we aren’t spending more than we should be.
    It works some months. Some months are a total bust! We just keep plugging away and hope to do better. Being broke sucks ass!

    Reply
    • Kelsey August 12, 2014

      Doesn’t it just totally suck that in some ways, being dirt poor — like, poor enough to qualify for government assistance and subsidies — puts you in a “better” position than being in the middle class? It’s so fucking frustrating, and sometimes it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel — or have enough faith that there actually IS light at the end of the tunnel. Being broke DOES suck. But hopefully we can all navigate through this series together and figure out ways to STOP being so broke. Teamwork makes the dream work, right?

      Reply
  5. this series is a fantastic idea – this kind of real life sh!t is exactly what I want to read on a blog. I’ve struggled with money my whole life too for different reasons; I spent a long time in school accumulating debt (to my parents and not student loans thankfully) and when i finally got my first full time job at age 26 I was devastated when I didn’t even end up breaking even at the end of the month let alone paying back my parents. I’m lucky in that I moved in South Carolina which has a very low cost of living so I very very slowly started paying back my parents and trying to save. It’s taken a long time to just get on an even keel and that is with just myself to look after so I can’t even imagine how much harder it is with little ones.

    Reply
  6. Rachel DG August 6, 2014

    Girl, i’m proud of you, and excited to see where this takes you. I know we text about this every day but I do hope this helps you find some kind of clarity and peace!

    Reply
    • Kelsey August 12, 2014

      Oh, Rachel. I don’t know where I’d be without you and your patience with me and my billion “whoa is me” texts I send you on the daily. You’re a big help, even from thousands of miles away and I truly appreciate you for taking the time to listen and help me brainstorm :)

      Reply
  7. Ashley August 6, 2014

    Can’t wait to follow this! I just had baby #2 in May so we’re dealing with the added expenses of a 2nd child and I’m re-working our budget. Have you checked out YNAB? It’s what I use for budgeting and it is AWESOME!

    Reply
    • Kelsey August 12, 2014

      Oh girl…baby #2 and all the added expenses on top of all the added stress on top of all the lost sleep. Been there. Done that. TWICE. So glad that’s over ;) But now we’re dealing with two HUGE daycare bills and I’m counting down the days until next September when my middle child will start Kindergarten. Ha!

      I checked out YNAB. It’s such a great concept and service, but it’s a little outside of what I need. Thanks for sharing the link!

      Reply
  8. andrea August 6, 2014

    This will be such a great series, I can already tell. And although I’m not broke I think there will be still some things I can relate to or can use for me.

    It takes a lot of courage to write about these things and I’m proud of you that you do.

    Reply
    • Kelsey August 12, 2014

      Thanks, Andrea :)

      I’m so glad you’re here and following along. This is definitely a tough topic to write about and I know most people would be horrified by the idea — let alone the actual act — of sharing such personal information, but I really am sick of not feeling represented when I read all of the “get out of debt” and “stop living paycheck to paycheck” tips. Because there’s a whole demographic of us out there who aren’t spending money on frivolous things; people who make a decent wage but can’t keep up with the cost of living to pay for just the bare necessities. I’m so excited for this series and, again, love that you’re here for it :)

      Reply
  9. Kellie Winnell August 6, 2014

    Kelsey, this is such a powerful blog post. I can relate in many ways. The start of the year was horrible for us, and I hated to complain as I know many people go through worse and we still had a roof over our heads, etc. But sometimes your aloud to get angry and feel sorry for yourself right? And god dammit cry as well! I think I have cried more times this year than in my WHOLE life, no lie, all over the stresses of life and 5 times out of 10 it would have something to do with money. Something broke, something popped up, kids fees etc. On and on. I’d try and keep myself positive but it’s not always easy.

    I look forward to your blog posts and your courage is amazing Kelsey, truly inspiring.

    Reply
    • Kelsey August 12, 2014

      THANK YOU, KELLIE!

      [insert Internet hug here.]

      Seriously, girl. Thank you. And man, we must be on the same wavelength this year from a financial perspective because GOD DAMN, it’s been a tough one. Hang in there, and I hope you keep following along with the series. I’m not sure where it will go, but I know this is something that I HAVE to put out there.

      Reply
  10. Daisy August 11, 2014

    Thank you for being so open and honest here. I look forward to the series. Your story had me thinking of a recent post on Apartment Therapy – a site I use for inspiration not for practical things I can afford to buy. (I too rarely, if ever, have money to put into savings.) The comments had me in tears as I read story after story of how people really live. http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/living-on-minimum-wage-206197

    Reply
    • Kelsey August 12, 2014

      Whoa! — that link, such powerful stories shared in the comments of that post. Thanks so much for sharing! And thanks for taking the time to read through my big mess of words, and to comment :)

      Reply

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