How I Broke the Cycle of Being Broke

  • By Jackie Cummings Koski (as told to Sandy M. Fernández)
  • July 19, 2013

I grew up in the very opposite of what I define as financial freedom.  

I was one of six kids raised by my dad.  He was a great father, but he had his hands full trying to provide for us on a factory worker’s salary. It was almost impossible to make ends meet.  We bought groceries only after the refrigerator was empty or it was payday. We put clothes on layaway because we had no other choice. We didn’t have a home phone, so anytime we had to put down a number on an official form, we had to borrow a neighbor’s. As a teenager, that was hard: I felt so limited and restricted.  

I vowed that when I grew up, I’d never feel that way again. I wanted to be free.  

My father hadn’t gone to college, but listening to teachers and guidance counselors at school, I knew my future income would be largely dependent on getting a degree.  One thing my dad taught me was to work hard, so I didn’t mind working full time — at Shoney’s, at Subway, at Walmart — and going to school full time. My brother helped out by letting me live with him rent-free for three years. In exchange, I cooked and helped take care of the house. 

It was tough, but I graduated with almost no student loan debt. 

What really fueled the fire for me, though, was getting divorced and becoming a single mother in 2003. My daughter was nine then, and — though her father was and is involved — I truly felt responsible for providing her with a good life. 

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