The sad saga of how we lost $90K in less than a year

Originally written in 2012

People seem to think that getting a quick infusion of cash, like winning the lottery, is the best and quickest way to change your life.

In reality, this isn't nearly as true as we'd hope.

When you get a lot of money all at once, you might be able to afford new things, superficial markers of recognition...but the truth is, earning more money generally just brings you MORE of what you're already experiencing.

If you have shitty relationships, for example - having more money will ensure you have more shitty relationships, or else, that your shitty relationships get even worse.

If you eat like crap now, you are not likely to switch overnight to an all-organic whole-foods diet...even if you insist it's "only" money that prevents you from eating healthier.

If you don't love yourself when you're broke, you won't automatically find the wherewithal to start a yoga practice, meet new, uplifting friends, and find your authentic self just because you're richer.

It's just not true.

Money is an amplifier - not a magic ticket to awesomeness.

You've got to add your own bit of awesome, regardless of how much money you have - to experience awesomeness in any capacity.

So, I know I've had a lot of "baggage" with money. I was indulged as an only child, and money was used to manipulate and disempower me - first by my parents and next, by my ex-husband.

I feel like there's certain stories in our past, for all of us, that need to be told - released, like a catharsis - to be able to heal, grow, and move past them.

This is one of them - a terribly humiliating story to share...

It's the story of how we blew nearly 100 grand in less than a year.

Sounds positively appalling, doesn't it? Shameful. Irresponsible. Ridiculous. Stupid.*

*These are all judgements, and unhelpful to cling to about anyone

I had a relatively "rich" childhood. A gilded cage, if you will.

When I moved out at 19, I *thought* I was poor. Then I got divorced and realized a whole new level of poverty.

I got remarried at 26, but not "back on my feet" - not by a longshot.

Back then, we lived in west Texas, in a section-8 apartment complex that had several meth busts in the short time we lived there.

Two adults, three children - the blessing of food stamp benefits, and one minimum-wage, dead-end job between us.

Sometimes we had three mismatched cans of food, a bottle of pancake syrup, and a bag of cereal to stretch over two days. We had no couches, and while the kids had mattresses, we slept on the floor.

We were perpetually anxious, had little access to help, and saw no light at the end of the tunnel.

Then, something huge happened: My husband finally got a settlement check, for a legal case that we wish hadn't even had to happen.

His share was a lump sum of over $90K.

We were so broke we had to borrow money for gasoline to drive an hour away to find a bank to cash the check.

Our own bank wouldn't honor it cause we were so overdrawn - and we were so jaded and distrustful of banks at that point, we felt terrified to even open a new account to deposit the money into.

It actually felt safer to drive home with so much cash it barely fit in our glovebox.

However - we 'KNEW' what this meant: This would be the END of all our bullshit money troubles!

We would never have to tell the kids no about minor things again.

We would get out of debt; buy a proper home, a new vehicle that wasn't slowly dying, finally honor our hobbies and pursue our interests - we could travel.

We would take a trip to the coast, see the ocean, stay in a beach cottage, and give the kids amazing, fun memories to cherish.

FREEDOM...such sweet escape, we dreamed of.

We did pay off our credit cards immediately. I put just what I needed to pay them all off into a new account, and did so with a few quick phone-calls...boy, did that feel great.

We kept our clunker car for backup, found a modest but nice minivan that fit our family, and paid cash for that too.

Literal cash, with little papers binding the bills in thousand-dollar bricks.

The sales associate didn't know whether to peg us as crazy conspiracy theorists or bank robbers!

We even found the perfect home - older, smallish, out in the country, far away from friends and shopping - but it had everything we truly needed. Space for the kids, a great yard and garden, etc.

We imagined, even if we had no furniture or stuff, how wonderful it would be to never fear the possibility of losing our home for failure to pay every month - because we had enough to buy the house outright.

Incredibly, we were the first ones to notice the little gem, and we made our offer - they accepted!

We even signed a contract on it, but then - I freaked out BIG TIME.

I was paralyzed with fear. I realized that after paying closing costs and moving expenses, we might not even be able to afford to buy the one other big-ticket thing I really felt we needed: a nice mattress.

We'd been sleeping on the floor for over a year, living in project apartments.

Scared to assert myself more than necessary, I gave up most of my furniture in the divorce, and we had yet to replace any of it. We were constantly scrambling, and it seemed like there was never even enough money to buy an air mattress and pump, in all that time...

I was mentally and emotionally destroyed, and nothing my patient, rational husband said to me could talk me off that ledge.

In Texas, you have three days to nullify a contract on a home, for whatever reason.

We voided the contract.

Passed up the house at my insistence, and bolstered by my parents' bad advice.

This decision is high on my {actually very short} list of life regrets.

Instead, we decided to rent a place from my father-in-law, who turned out to be not as interested in philanthropy as I initially assumed.

I deluded myself that he'd eventually sell us the house at a loss, since he didn't want to live in it.

I decorated the place inside and out.

It felt wonderful, like I was creating a personal sanctuary for my family that could never be destroyed or taken away. We made loads of repairs, bought furniture, even set up an above-ground pool for the kids.

We got pet cats, which we'd always wanted but couldn't afford to feed or take care of before.

Then the bills started rolling in:

The house seemed to lack insulation; I was flabbergasted at the $450-$600+ electricity bills, when we'd previously been paying just over $100/month.

The pool upkeep cost tons of money every week, with chlorine, filters, and bottles of chemicals.

Our 'friends' expected us to entertain, and we did. Barbecues and parties...

We drank a lot at that house - first because it was fun to revel in not having to worry - and then, because we WERE worried.

Eventually, my FIL asked us to either pay double or move out. He said he could find a tenant willing to pay over twice what we were having extreme trouble paying him every month.

At first, we thought we could take what money we had left and use it as a down payment to buy another modest home, and finance the rest.

However, our previous credit and distrust of banks proved to be our undoing. We got financed, but for an amount just barely enough to buy a home at all.

In two months, we offered on SIX homes, and were outbid every time by some opportunist investor-flipper with cash to spare (whom I referred to as ASSHOLES at the time).

I cried every time we got the bad news.

My husband's illness got worse. Seizures at work. We were already bleeding money, and then he had to quit his job.

The credit cards that I'd almost cut up started to be used in constant succession for everything, as I had no other way to buy groceries.

It got colder, and we resorted to buying firewood to use in the 'decorative' fireplace - because we were terrified to turn up the heat another degree and be slammed with another $600+ utility bill we couldn't pay.

The kids and I cried bitterly, very hard, when we had to re-home our kittens.

I shut off that part of myself for many, many years afterward - the animal lover. Intangible losses...

I was in utter disbelief. HOW could this be happening to us?

We tried so hard to make the right decisions, but research shows what happened to us is {sadly} quite predictable.

(just search 'lottery winners bankruptcy').

It's actually very hard to change your internal "set-point", whether we are talking about financial comfort or relationship comfort.

Now, I'm using 'comfort' here to mean a sense of familiarity.

You might not feel comfortable when you know the bills are due next week and you have "just enough" to pay them - but you're familiar with that feeling.

It's normal to you - and therefore, it's weird and uncomfortable to suddenly be aware that you have so much money, you feel like you could do/buy/have almost anything.

Surviving poverty with any shred of dignity, or hope for a brighter future, takes extreme creativity - and it's full of mental gymnastics that would exhaust any Wall street broker or CEO.

When you have coped with extreme lack for a long time, you are extremely likely to end up back where you started even in spite of your best efforts, no matter how much money you receive.

At the time, however - I was intensely self-punishing, because when I cast around for something to blame, my damned fear seemed to be the most likely culprit.

Back to my story...

We SWORE we'd never go back to living in financial desperation again...yet, it was time to regroup and make some practical-yet-depressing decisions.

My husband found some apartments that offered reduced rent to 'low-income applicants', which we were, since he was unable to work, and I was working part-time at the college.

Did I mention I fell pregnant with our fourth baby in the midst of all this?

Yeahhh.

We got back on food stamps.

We sold many, many things at a pathetic, desperate loss - things I'd bought with a satisfied smile on my face, feeling so certain that I'd never have to sell my things to make ends meet again.

Here we were, in the very hell we thought we'd escaped forever. Ironically, it felt about 100 times worse, being here after experiencing 'better'.

I had to ask my parents for immediate help with our bills until state assistance kicked in.

I had to swallow my pride and admit, with extreme nausea, that we were down to less than $400, when less than a year ago we had had $90K.

Just writing these words is so hard for me, even all this time later. Hot tears prick my eyes, and a wave of deep, disgusted shame is coursing through me still.

I realize that my deepest fear about earning more money is that I'll just lose it all again somehow.

It's not even an unfounded fear - for I've lived through this nauseatingly shameful scenario in real life, MORE than once.

It's humiliating to admit that even though we had the funds needed to make just about anything happen - we utterly, completely, profoundly FAILED.

I RESOLVE TO CHANGE MY STORY.

I AM worth more than this.

I deserve more than what I've been receiving...and I KNOW that I will never let fear hold me back from making the right decisions again.

I am a good steward of money - I can and will do wonderful, worthy things with it, for mySelf, my family, and for others as well.

The more I have, the more I can responsibly give back to the world.

With great power comes great responsibility.

I release this story of the past, and embrace my new reality of financial abundance, prosperity, and responsibility!


It's now 2021. The things in this blog happened in 2006-2008.

A lot, a LOT of healing, learning, and self-compassion has been embraced since then. I am no longer ashamed of my story.

I did the best I could with what felt like limitless finances, but with support that registered as less-than-zero from friends and family.

I didn't know enough to hire a financial advisor - my distrust ran so deep.

So all things considered, I forgive myself for not knowing what I know now - including that I didn’t understand how the guilt and shame I felt were destroying me even more than my finances.

Me to me: "I'm sorry. I love you. I forgive you. Thank you." ~xo

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