Where I’ve been

I wasn’t always treating money like it could buy my freedom.  I was treating it like most people do — a way to buy all the things I want.  When I ran out of money because I had no budget, I couldn’t pay bills.  Sure, I didn’t have many bills…but when you can’t pay for a $9 haircut every week (military requirement), things are bad.

I bought so much.  Computer parts, laptop, games, DVDs…oh the DVDs, computer games, game subscriptions, clothes, car accessories.  Needless to say, if I had money, I sought a way to spend it.  My thirst for stuff was unquenchable.  Worse, when I didn’t have money, I still bought things on credit.  I figured, “They’re not really going to charge me interest when I’m deployed, right?” and worse, “I’m probably going to die over there anyway, so let’s charge, baby!”  I saw people who didn’t spend like I did boring, and scared of the future.  When in reality, I should have been scared of the future.

I had nothing to my name.  In fact, I had less than nothing.

It seriously didn’t occur to me that I was spending too much, because that’s what I saw everybody doing.  Everybody was getting hammered at bars and paying for taxis.  Everybody was getting new clothes and gadgets.  But was everybody getting payday loans?  Were they buying unneeded laptops on credit and not paying it back?  Probably not.  I think I just went way overboard.

I went out every time.  I paid for other people’s drinks.  I bought movies that I was excited for, but I also bought movies that I knew were going to be ‘meh.’  I bought that laptop and a separate DVD player for deployment, and guess who was the only one who had one?  Sure, I was better entertained and the laptop did help me when I became the company clerk, but I could have done without it for sure.  I simply didn’t know when enough stuff was enough.

I had about $5000 in loans between the loan for the laptop and payday loans.  I had credit card debt around $3000.  I either paid the minimum or nothing at all because I forgot or didn’t care.  It got to be where when I did pay the debts back (the minimum), I had no fun money.  I made myself poor, and I hated that fact.  I had all my fun at once and now I was literally going to pay.

By no means is that a lot of debt, but it sure felt like it at the time.  There are people out there with MUCH more, especially if you’re a college graduate.  I just wasn’t accustomed to having more than $500 in my account, so $8000 in debt seemed like a mountain.  If I had $1000, I felt rich and responsible.

My military time should have been the best time to save

So yeah, that was my “bottom.”  Couldn’t afford necessities because of over-spending and not planning, racking up interest and bad credit…and the worst part was that what I bought to get me in this hole wasn’t worth it.  Also, I squandered the time in the military that could have been used to save a ton of money.

Think about it.  No rent costs (barracks).  No food costs (chow hall).  No gym membership (duh).  Hardly any transportation costs since there’s a PX near the barracks for necessities.  All you need to buy are haircuts and uniform maintenance…and those are tax deductions.  The rest could have gone into retirement accounts.  But, it went into bars.

And not just regular pay could have gone into savings.  Deployment pay could have went there to.  You stand to make about $10-50k extra depending on multiple factors in a span of 6-9 months, tax free.  What a jump-start to early freedom that could have been!

I squandered my huge opportunities and small opportunities alike.  I was not doing myself any favors and I didn’t stop there.

When I got out of the military, I had nothing less than nothing.  Just $5-9k of debt and not even a high-school diploma or a GED.  Penniless, and with all of my great wisdom, with roommates, I moved into an apartment I didn’t know if I could afford!  I did the math afterwards.

scrounged first month’s rent and deposit from god know’s where.  I think I sold a gaming console to help.  Great apartment, though.  Was very far from work and it had a pool table that we never played.  Still not doing myself any favors.

Then, I got an opportunity to make more money (to spend)

I ended up riding my brother’s coat tails at a tech company and was hired as an entry level QA “specialist.”  I didn’t fake my resume.  When they asked if I had done any schooling since high school, I said “no.”  It wasn’t lying, but I did omit not having a diploma from high school.

I began to develop financial sense

This is where things did change for the better, and I developed my theories on personal finance.  It wasn’t all roses, let me tell you.  I still spent like a king.  Over time, I did “see the light” on some key lifestyle changes, but I will save those for their own posts.

Not every financial guy with a blog was ironing his dollar bills that he got from his paper route

I was a jackass.  However, life is long and redemption tastes sweet.  Every day, I get better.  I want to write down my thoughts on personal finance so that I can articulate a point and then refer to it later…either to other people or to my future self who is going to maybe look at it and say, “Remember when I wrote that it was OK to buy $3000 doors for a rental?”

Have you had a similar “awakening?”  Let me know!

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