Times I Thought I’d Go Broke: 2012-2014
My post-college financial life hasn’t been the overflowing pot of gold that the admissions marketing told when I was a wide-eyed high school student applying to lockdown my destiny. Most of my academic advisors and department chairs were the same, full of positive energy and congratulating me on making it through those “tough four years.” Interestingly enough, out of the professors from the four departments that were my academic home, the only honest and useful words about my future came from Classical Studies. Forever academics, they told us to give them a call when we needed advice on deferring our loans for graduate school. It turns out that deferment has been a key part of my financial life since then. But there have been other times I’ve been saved from financial ruin. I’d like to reflect on some of the times when what felt like literal pennies from heaven saved me from living in a trash can, or worse, back at home with my parents.
Situation: I first moved out of my parents’ house in 2012. I had lived at home and worked retail for less than year, and nearly maxed out the only credit card I had the previous year. During that first post-college year, even if my bank account was empty, I had a savings safety net in case I needed it. In the first weeks of living away from home (in Los Angeles no less), I had a growing panic that I would be broke and without a job thousands of miles away from my family. About a month in, my bank account slowly oozed out the last few dollars I had saved.
Saved by: My previous experience at a certain big box bookstore chain gave me an easy in at another location in Pasadena. It started okay, and I even sold some books to Casey Affleck.
Situation: The bookstore job had many problems, but the main issue was that the managers were as stingy as a puppy with a new toy with work hours, leaving me to barely make my rent every month (sharing a bedroom in Los Angeles costs more than some apartments).
Saved by: A retail clothing chain I had applied for called me for an interview (weeks after I had applied) and ended up giving me a sort of assistant manager job that required me to drive to Beverly Hills at the crack of dawn. Ironically, I handled thousands of dollars on a daily basis there.
Situation: Two retail jobs with conflicting hours was not only getting me sick, but it was angering the bosses. I quit one, but the hours and the holidays were getting to me. I was homesick and had been planning to propose to my girlfriend (whom I had moved to California for) during the holidays.
Saved by: My parents sacrificed airline miles for me and booked two of the three flights I needed. But in order to spend as much time with family and friends over the holidays, I needed money and time. So I quit the job and technically moved out of my house so that I could get the security deposit back to, ironically, buy an airplane flight back. The final divine assistance came in the form of my dad finding a ring owned by my deceased grandmother, and us agreeing that she would want me to use it to build an engagement ring.
Situation: Engaged, somewhat refreshed, and back in Los Angeles, I was couch surfing all over the place and again watching my bank account slowly dwindle.
Saved by: The story of the first part of 2013 for me was getting a gig editing the most bizarre video I’ve ever seen from a woman in my fiancee’s graduate program. Let’s just say it involved me green screening in videos of animals humping and the first words spoken involve a poorly written anal joke.
Situation: Surprisingly, the money from the video editing job lasted quite awhile. But as my time in California was dwindling and I was preparing to move back to Texas before getting married in the summer, I needed some cash to finance my basically bum lifestyle. I had applied at various coffee shops and retail spaces, to no avail. It’s pretty disheartening to not even hear back from a Wal-Mart application. But I was auditing an excellent class with renowned novelist Jonathan Lethem, which gave me a reason to get up some mornings and forced me to buckle down and read much more often than usual.
Saved by: I went through the trouble of making a website and posting ads on Craigslist offering to tutor kids in writing, English, etc. I ended up mostly teaching sixth grade math and occasionally seventh grade English for two kids from a very sweet family in the Inland Empire suburbs. I had to relearn certain bits of sixth grade math which was embarrassing but mainly just for me.
Situation: Fast forward to a month of living at home in Texas and hanging out with friends before heading up to Colorado to get married. My parents were generous and helped me out by helping me afford drinks with friends and paying for gas to get to Colorado in the first place. My bank account was a ticking time bomb, and I couldn’t stomach asking for more money from my parents. On the day of my wedding, I was driving my car to the hotel where we were having the ceremony and were staying that night, and the gas light turned on right before I got there. I knew I’d be driving it to and from the reception, which would need at least a few gallons. I checked my account on my iPhone and found that it was just enough for three gallons. I had around three dollars in my bank account as I headed to my own wedding.
Saved by: Sitting at the Denver Airport, we started looking through the envelopes that people had put on the gift table; someone in my wife’s family was smart enough to grab that and make sure we had it for the honeymoon. Between those gifts and a very generous gift from my dad, I breathed easy.
Situation: My wife’s savings managed to get us through the summer, which included a post-honeymoon vacation at my grandparents’ and time in both Texas and Colorado before packing up everything and heading to Seattle. The savings managed to pay our first months’ rent and furniture that wasn’t bought with gift cards or donated to us. But as we had moved to Seattle over a month before my wife started her job, the money started to dwindle and rent loomed on the horizon.
Saved by: We picked up the mail one day and tossed out the junk envelopes. We were about to throw out an unmarked envelope that looked like all the other junk mail that people get, but for some reason we opened it up, and saw a big fat check for $1,000. Stunned, we poked around and realized that it was a rent refund that my wife had apparently overpaid for her apartment in California, and the leasing office had been trying to send it to her for months before it made it to us. This covered most of our rent for that month, something that might not have happened otherwise.
Situation: After settling into the swing of things in our new home, various expenses started popping up. My wife’s job covered rent and then some, but it was still not a lot for two people in a moderately expensive city. I didn’t have a job, and was mainly doing housework and chores while applying to jobs, grad school and freelance writing gigs. We managed to do some great stuff, including rescuing a great little pup from an animal shelter and flying to Texas for our alma mater’s homecoming game. As Christmas started to come closer, we realized that we probably couldn’t afford to fly between expensive airline costs around the holidays and the little things that add up, like boarding or flying with a dog. We made our plans to drive, but even the cost of getting gas to drive from Seattle to Colorado to Fort Worth and then all the way back was a little daunting.
Saved by: I had often posted to job boards about trying to do freelance social media work, and for once received a message on Reddit (of all places) about a job opportunity. It wasn’t ideal and it wasn’t stimulating in any way, but it would pay well. The first bits of work I did covered all the extra holiday costs we had, and even allowed us to pick up some extra gifts for friends and family.
Situation: Things had been going pretty well: My little side gigs were providing a healthy income on the side for me to contribute to the family fund, as well as buy good Valentine’s Day and birthday gifts for my wife. But my job slowly dried up, hopefully temporarily, and the missing injection of cash was starting to show. A few weeks ago, we had just paid rent and were hanging on for dear life until the next paycheck came in. We were scrounging for food in our kitchen and I found myself eating stale chips for lunch one day.
Saved by: It finally happened, the years of writing for free online paid off. I was contacted by an editor who had seen my published writing online (i.e. on this very site!) and offered a gig that wasn’t exactly a full-time job, but had the potential to be good, consistent cash. It takes a lot more work but it’s a huge miracle in a time where we can definitely use it. It may dry up sooner or later, but my history tells me something will always come up.
Spenser Davis is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Rumpus, Structo Magazine, and World Soccer Talk. He can be found writing and tweeting about books, technology, and other unmarketable things in Seattle on Twitter.