How We Hit Financial Rock Bottom

bouncing back from rock bottom

My husband and I met the old fashioned way: in a bar. He was the drummer for a band playing all the good clubs around town and I was enamored with the music and the players. One night, after a set I went up and talked to my future husband on a whim. That started a whirlwind courtship that ended with the two of us barefoot on the beach in Malibu vowing to love, honor, cherish each other in sickness and in health — no matter what.

Both of us had had credit card trouble early in our 20s and decided around the time we started planning our wedding that we would no longer have credit cards. We agreed not to put anything for the wedding on a credit card, so we wouldn’t bring debt into our marriage. It made it tricky at times and many of the wonderful things at our wedding were gifts. My sister gifted us our wedding cake. His parents gifted us the airfare for our honeymoon. It was a lovely affair and we succeeded in created a debt-free wedding.  

We continued on our credit card free life and, by our second anniversary, had two wonderful little boys. We were both working and making a good living at our day jobs, but we were not saving a penny. We fell into a scary cycle of living paycheck to paycheck.  

Six months later, the situation would get even scarier. My husband became very ill and landed in the ICU for 11 days due to thyroid disease, heart disease and complications from diabetes. The following month, just after his second birthday, our oldest son was diagnosed on the autism spectrum.  

In sickness and in health. Do we realize what those words truly mean before the sickness happens? The barrage of doctors, specialists, scans, tests and medications was enough to empty our coffers, but we didn’t have savings. We didn’t think about the rainy day or emergency fund. We were young. We were naive.

Our son was not sick. However, he was in serious need of early intervention consisting of occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, sensory integration therapy, specialized developmental preschool, nutritional therapy and specialized supervision. These were additional expenses that we could not afford to take on.  But how do you justify not getting therapies and services that might produce a more independent and functioning child?  

The next few years we became very creative financially. We cut back on most of our extraneous expenses including entertainment and travel. We moved to a less expensive apartment. We sold music equipment and CD collections to help pay bills. We also pawned music equipment in hopes that we would be able to cover a bill and get the items back.  

At one point I joked with my husband that an upside to marrying a musician was that we had plenty to sell and pawn if needed. (Trying to make light of our desperate situation.) I even pawned my engagement ring. I felt that since my husband was parting with his dream, piece by piece, I also needed to have skin in the game so he wasn’t the only one sacrificing. We had turned to a payday loan as well and started the perpetual cycle of re-loaning.

We were lucky to have support from family from time to time. However, we always hated making the call to tell them that, once again, we were late on bills or needed help with rent. That’s not to say that family didn’t come through for us, but after the economy crashed everyone was financially struggling.

We tried to build our credit by getting a second car, but the only car loan we could obtain was through an online lender with a 26-percent interest rate because we had no credit history (an unintended side effect of not getting credit cards — especially since we didn’t have a mortgage).  

Nine months after getting the car, my husband’s health took a bad turn and he was subsequently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He has not been able to work since.  

We fell behind on the car payments. I reached out to the lender and asked if we could surrender the car. They refused and we had to go through the process and humiliation of having the car repossessed in front of our neighbors. At that point I felt I had hit rock bottom.  

So I did something drastic. 

We moved. We moved all the way across the country from Southern California to New England. My older sister had settled in New England and told me that it would be easier than the rat race I was drowning in.  

We are still a family of four on one income with no credit cards and no emergency fund, but we’ve adopted a cash-only mentality to get through the roughest times. When I go to the grocery store I take only cash. I also take a set amount. This causes me to make some hard choices, but in the end I also eliminate spending on items we don’t really need.  

We have also had to say “no” to the boys more often than we would like and had conversations with them explaining the difference between “want” and “need.” Surprisingly, the economic crash has actually helped in some ways. Pharmaceutical companies now have payment assistance plans so many of my husband’s multiple sclerosis medicinal protocols have been partially subsidized. We have also had many random acts of kindness from friends, family and strangers — including gifts for the boys at the holidays and anonymous gift cards to help buy school clothes for the boys in the fall.

I am slowly building up my career in higher education and taking online classes to also help me climb the ladder. The boys are thriving, my husband’s health is currently stable and that sustains me. It isn’t easy, but each day brings us further away from the bottom and that much closer to the top.

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