This is part 2 of a 4 part series, Becoming Centsible: My Frugal Journey.
My mom had me when she was very young. Then, when I was still young, my parents divorced. For five years, it was just me and my mom living in a small house, which made us more of best friends than mother and daughter. In fact, when I got my first kiss, I didn’t grab the phone to dial up someone at school. I ran in and woke up my mother to tell her all about it.
Years later, I learned this wasn’t true, but at the time I viewed my mom’s philosophy, when it came to money, as don’t worry, be happy. We ate out, bought clothes, went to movies, and didn’t talk about how much a single mom worried about things like how she was going to pay the next bill that came our way. I was clueless.
As I grew, things only got better for us from my perspective. Our family grew and when I entered college, I concentrated completely on being a teenage, while my friends got jobs. If I wanted to go to the movies or out with friends, I asked and mom gave me money.
It was my Junior year, when financial fear started to creep into me. I knew my mom had absolutely no way to pay for my college. At the time, neither did my dad. They talked to me about things like loans and scholarships. And an image of me working myself weary to pay for college, while keeping up with school work formed in my head. I knew so many people did it, but to me, I’d never been there. I’d never done that. It was foreign and scary. I even went as far as to consider not going to college, because I knew I couldn’t afford it.
My prayers were answered in the form of Fairy Grandparents. My Grandparents, who at the time owned Midas shops, struck a deal with me. If I worked for them each summer from now until I graduated college, they’d pay my tuition. The idea of not starting my life drowning in school loans was undeniably appealing, so I eagerly agreed.
That summer, I moved in with them and started working full-time during the summer at their Midas shop as the receptionist. It was a great opportunity for me. For them, they got a loyal employee who they knew wouldn’t quit on them and would work hard. I learned a lot and eventually, even got to hire, train, and unfortunately fire new receptionists for other stores. But, most importantly, I was getting a pay check and saving my own money.
College came so quickly. I spent the summers at my Dad’s working at his Midas shop, where my step mom tried hard to teach me financial responsibility. She helped me balance my check book, track my spending, and save. Each month, when my bank statement rolled in, we had our monthly meetings.
The winters were spent at college, where I had no one to answer to but me. I knew the dangers of credit cards. I’d be told about financial responsibility. I was armed with everything I needed. But everywhere I looked were signs telling me that all I had to do was fill out one application and I’d get a free t-shirt. My friend and I hit every single possible free t-shirt opportunity, buying our books at two separate stores to get them and even filling out a few credit card applications. Our wardrobes were stocked with new t-shirts announcing our college name to the world.
Of course, without any credit history “good or bad, I was immediately approved, and credit cards started appearing in the mail. My freshman year, I was good. I didn’t touch them. I took them all and tucked them in my sock drawer, just in case I needed them some day. And there they stayed…