This blog adventure is definitely inspired and driven Mr. SoS’s passion for financial freedom and his desire to teach the great wide world beyond how to live frugally, save money and retire early while forcing us to practice what we preach.
“What’s that??!” you ask! “You aren’t NATURALLY good at saving? You need ACCOUNTABILITY to help you make the right choices?”
We ARE human, after all so our collective answer is YES. But there is a bit more to this story, on which each of our individual backgrounds may shed some light. I’m sharing mine today.
Dr. SoS’s Financial History
I was born to a traditional blue-collar family of the 1970’s. My dad worked in manufacturing and mom stayed at home with the kids. My mom made all our food from scratch, sewed and knitted much of our clothing, we burned firewood for heat (and even cooking!) in the winters, and our family vacations consisted of annual camping trips to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I started babysitting for money at 12, scooping ice cream at 13, I worked in cherry orchards and restaurants from 14 through 16 and then moved on to lifeguarding and restaurant work until I turned 20. I earned 2 years of tuition free attendance at a local community college through hard work and good grades, moved out to live on my own at 18, and always had a full-time job to ensure my self-sufficiency.
At 21 I married a more “financially challenged” individual and started a family. At age 27 I found myself in a predicament: with 4 children ages 7 and under, a mortgage, a heavy debt load, and a husband with not just spending problems but with overall poor judgement regarding employment and legal issues. I knew I needed to go back to school to finish the degree on which I set my sights in order to be able to provide for my children and myself, so that’s what I did. As a family, we moved across the country to Kansas City where I attended chiropractic college, and within 6 months my husband and I were separated and 6 months later divorced.
This is where my financial skills kicked into high gear. At this point in my life, I was in charge of my own personal finances again, and I was the only person spending money in my household. (Or, so I thought. More on that to come.) I had full time custody of the 4 kids, and a VERY tight, albeit predictable budget which was my quarterly student loan disbursement. After tuition and fees were paid, and I selected only the most essential used textbooks to purchase, my “overage” to live off of each trimester averaged about $5,500. That means I supported the 5 of us on about $17,000 per year for my three and a half years as single parent and student. What about child support, you ask? Please reference the questionable behaviors regarding employment and legal stuff mentioned above, and you get the idea. Anyway, I made it work until the collections calls started coming in.
When my husband and I divorced, we each took half of the debt. For me, that meant using student loan dollars to make minimum payments on the two credit cards I was left with in order to stay current. Not ideal, but it was all I could do at the time. I was not aware, and my attorney did not forewarn me, that any joint accounts with zero balances but open credit lines needed to be called to close the accounts to prevent additional joint debt accumulation. You see where this is going… About a year before completion of my Doctorate program, I learned my ex-husband had accumulated tens of thousands of dollars in joint credit debt on cards I had not seen or used for years, defaulted on payments, and filed bankruptcy. Of course, with my name also on the accounts, they came after me next. The bankruptcy attorney I consulted did not blink or pause for a second before saying my situation mandated I also file for bankruptcy. Being a year from graduation, with no current viable degree to gain sufficient employment in the workplace, a pile of student loans used toward that degree, and with no source of income save from my very part time job that I juggled around kids and school, my hands were tied. For three years I had used borrowed dollars to pay minimum payments on debt in order to stay current, only to have to file bankruptcy on the whole pile and ruin my credit. Of course, that pile did not include the student loans I incurred. Those, I get to keep until paid in full.
Eight hundred miles from the nearest family member, a single mom of four graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2006 and entered the workplace. It came as a bit of “sticker shock” to me to see how little associate chiropractors make considering the high cost of earning the degree. But, as in all things, I worked hard. I built a practice which could (mostly) sustain me and my kids. I loved the practice I built, but after 5 years when I was offered a position in a corporate setting with a set salary, a regular schedule, no marketing responsibilities, and a tremendous benefit package, I took the leap. This change allowed me to sever all financial ties to my ex-husband. I would no longer need to cross my fingers about child support payments and active health insurance coverage for the kids. I was the provider, period. And there was enough to make it work.
I rebuilt my credit through strict budgeting, opening a “credit building” credit card to use for groceries (which was paid in full monthly according to my budget), and always stayed current with all of my rent, phone, and utility bills. I was able to buy newer, more reliable transportation when ongoing repair expenses for my old minivan exceeded a monthly car payment. I was even looking at pre-qualifying for a mortgage. My lifelong experiences around working hard, budgeting, planning and saving had turned my situation around in just a handful of years.
Enter Mr. SoS
He will tell you his own side of the story, but I will share this much. We became close friends long before our first “date”, which was really just the first day of the rest of our lives together, though neither one of us ever thought we would get married again. He did not shy away from the idea of inheriting 4 kids – all pre-teens and teens at this point, and has been a solid provider and role model for them ever since the start. We share a passion for swimming, and he introduced me to his world of Open Water Swimming which we have enjoyed doing together in both events and in our back-yard lake over the last several years.
I think Mr. SoS’s “sticker shock” moment came when we combined our finances, when we moved in together, and refinanced his lake house on a 15-year mortgage using both of our incomes to qualify. We were using a joint American Express account for all of our usual “cash” transactions in order to get points for cash back, so he could finally easily see at a glance just how much we were spending on groceries. Gulp. Those 4 kids that he inherited came with teenage appetites. A BIG difference from his bachelor grocery bill.
Another big difference was discretionary income. As a bachelor, Mr. SoS could travel around the country for Open Water Swimming events. He enjoyed collecting music, books, DVD’s and video games. He had TIME to enjoy these things, and he had flexibility in his finances to afford them.
Here’s the fun part: Mr. SoS LOVES doing the finances. I, on the other hand, burned myself out looking at all things financial after recovering from the chaos of my first marriage. Together we discuss all purchases, we budget (sort of), but he pays the bills. He moves the money to the highest interest accounts, he invests, he shops for deals on essentials. But historically, Mr. SoS is the spender. Ironically, Dr. SoS here is the saver, but who also has student loans totaling more than many mortgages. The blogs to follow will outline more about his journey, OUR journey, and our recent changes in course.
One Open Water Swimming tidbit to ponder… When you are swimming in water without visual markers to follow such as lane lines on the bottom of the pool, you have to pick a landmark above the water to “sight” upon. Look for a tall house or building, or a uniquely colored boat, buoy or dock. Once you reach that landmark, you have to pick a new one farther ahead in order to keep on course and track your progress.
Begin saving and once you start stay true to your course and you can go anywhere!