I grew up about as middle class as it gets. I had your basic 80s upbringing where, while we were never flush with extras, we were always well provided for and comfortable. Growing up, I never had any inkling if my parents ever had any issue making ends meet.....if they ever did, they didn't let on. Which is how it should be.
When Christmas came around, we always got that one special gift we asked Santa for. I went to a private grade school (though, to be fair, I was far from the rich kid there....I think my parents really scrimped and saved to send me there). We always had clean clothes (even if they were hand me downs from my fashionable older cousin...Guess Jeans? YES PLEASE.) and regular haircuts.
We wanted for nothing and I never would have called us poor. How could anyone poor have such a sweet toilet cozie?
When I got out on my own at 17 I realized that if I was ever going to end up in a situation of not being perpetually broke, I was going to have to hustle. Big time. Problem was, I really didn't know what that meant.
While we never wanted for anything, I had no idea how to do it all on my own. I wasn't set up to go off to college, get a degree and waltz into a great job. A future like that seemed like it was definitely for other people....not for people like me.
So, I entered a cycle of "broke".
Right out of high school I shared an apartment with a friend. Said apartment could only be described, lovingly, as a cess pool. We had river rats. RIVER. RATS. I lasted about 3 weeks there before I decided rats was a deal breaker. I was working at a music store and making about $8.00 an hour. I had rent, I had a car payment, I had utilities and insurance and the normal type stuff. No extras were had, but I never really felt wanting. Probably because everyone else around me was young and broke too and we listened to punk rock and we drank cheap beer and that's what you when you were 18 and stupid and underemployed. Some of our friends went off to college and those of us who stayed behind seemingly entered a cycle of low-pay jobs and really crappy apartments.
I worked so many odd jobs that I could have probably made art installations out of the myriad of nametags I collected.
I lived above an old man's garage in about a 400 square foot space and any extra cash I had I ordered pizza because I didn't know how to cook. I shudder to think what I spent on pizza that year.
I worked at Walgreens. I worked at a factory that made brake parts. I worked at a pizza place. I worked at a bar. Sometimes I worked three at a time.
I got married. I got divorced. I made some REALLY stupid decisions. Because twenties.
I worked at a country club and this is where things started to change. It was the first time in my life that I saw things probably could be different. It was the first time in my life I allowed myself to ask "what if". What if I got a job that came with a salary and benefits? I mean....CRAZY I know...but what if? What if I actually went to college? What if I decided I wanted better?
I met people who had started their own businesses. I met people who drove nice cars and had big houses and money for golf memberships and I thought "what if". Of course, at the same time (because I was 22 and stupid) I also thought "Grrr.....evil rich people!"......but I also let it motivate me.
The "what if" is where I started to claw my way away from broke.
I find when people lament that no one can possibly get ahead in this current economy....much less work a debt-repayment/budgeting plan: they have no sense of hope. Somewhere in their life, their hope-button ceased to be pushed.....all hope died....and their batteries ran down.
Here's the thing: I never considered that a politician was going to save me. I never thought that it was up to anyone else but me. Mostly because I'm a giant control freak, but also because it's the simple truth. YOU control YOU....and I knew that if I wanted to break free from broke, the only one who was going to get that done was me.
So, I started college classes. I applied for grants (and got some) but mostly relied on loans. Looking back this was dumb and if I could do it all over again I probably would have filtered more of my income to paying for school with cash. I worked the entire time and I fit in classes where I could. I started as an English major....moved to Criminal Justice....and finally landed in Sociology. I made the mistake of going after college courses that interested me rather than those that would translate into a lucrative career. Live and learn.
But I went. I went when I could and I went when other people were out partying and having a heck of a lot more fun. I didn't get the whole "living in dorms" college experience.....it was all business....all goal oriented. Then I met the man I would end up marrying and we moved into an apartment that we could easily afford on our modest incomes. I remember I landed my first "big girl" job at a medical company and I made $27,000 a year and I thought this was absolutely ASTOUNDING. I remember writing in my journal "I'M RICH!"
$27,000 a year.
Perspective. Not broke? A state of mind.
What's my point?
That along the way, the one driving force to get me from Rats-in-my-Pantry to a college grad with a lot of options out there that I could chase was HOPE. I would get defeated sometimes....especially as it took me 10 years to get my degree. I would get worried. I would get tired.
But I always held on to HOPE.....because once all hope was lost....so was all momentum.
In our current presidential race we have people promising the sun, moon, and stars to folks....folks who have hope deferred. They have stopped believing that they have any power to move their own life forward. Instead....a politician is their only glimmer of hope.
And this is a scary and sad place to be. Because the chances of this happening are really slim.
Everyone has their special set of circumstances....and I'm not naive enough to think I didn't have some advantages along the way. I had a 2 parent household. I had a husband with very supportive parents. I had a car that ran (though had a penchant for blowing tires on the side of the freeway...never buy an old school Dodge Avenger). I had a wicked strong work ethic and a healthy body and mind to go with it. I didn't have any kids to support until I was well into a job with a salary and benefits. All things that definitely helped my circumstances.
But I also had hope.....and it made a boatload of difference.
If you are mired in broke.....believe me...it doesn't have to be a lifelong affliction. All you have to do is hope...and then START. START wondering "what if".....start writing down what you have, what you owe, what you want. Start believing you can do more....and then do more.
Just hope. And start.