My name is Cheri and if you have read any of my articles on this site or any others, you might notice that I take a “frugal mom” approach to most of my personal finance articles. That’s because I have been a single mom for more than 15 years and have grown accustomed to living on a one-income budget. I’m also a freelance writer with a degree in business administration and accounting.

As you can imagine, I have had some pretty tough financial times during my adult life. Here’s a little bit of my journey. Maybe you can relate.

Married Too Young

I was just like any other teenager in love with stars in my eyes, thinking life with my high school sweetheart would be a complete fairy tale. In fact, I married him right after senior year and had a baby not long after. Nobody tells you how difficult that kind of life is when you’re that young.

Oh wait…they do.

The problem is, we didn’t listen and predictably, we found ourselves divorced after less than a decade.

Struggling to Make Ends Meet

As you might have guessed, as a newly single mom, I felt like I was floundering out in the real world with no education and very little work experience.

My grandparents helped me buy a little house and helped out with childcare while I worked, but on a minimum wage salary and 10 hours a week, it was still a struggle to even pay my utilities.

Tanking My Credit

I inherited most of the credit card bills because I was the one who had foolishly ran up our debt. So, feeling guilty, I didn’t even mention them to my ex-husband and tried to shoulder the burden on my own. In fact, most of the debt was in my own name, so I felt 100% responsible for it. For months, I struggled to keep up with minimum credit card payments while still paying my utilities and buying groceries.

But eventually, it was more than I could do.

Even though I had hoped to get a better-paying job as quickly as possible, it would be almost a year before any doors opened up. In the meantime, I was left on a below-poverty income. So, not only was I not able to pay my credit cards down, I was having to charge more every month just to pay for the basic necessities of life. First I fell one payment behind on one card. Then two behind. Then every card I owned was maxed out and behind on payments.

Getting Help

After almost a year, I finally landed a better paying job and was able to pay my utilities without going to my family for help. But that didn’t change the fact that bill collectors were calling me every day and I couldn’t seem to get caught up. For a while, I just let it go. I quit worrying about those bills I couldn’t pay and focused on taking care of my family the best that I could. But a year or so later, it would all catch up.

I couldn’t buy a car that I desperately needed and I was ready to go back to college, which meant I would soon be racking up even more debt. I was exhausted, humiliated, and tired of being broke. If you’ve ever been there, you know just what I’m talking about!

Anyway, long story short — I called a credit counselor. He taught me a few helpful tips about dealing with intimidating bill collectors and getting debt paid down faster. Basically, he told me this:

  • Do not ever agree to pay more than you can, even if debt collectors are harassing you for a specific dollar amount.
  • Since my credit was already tanked, he told me I had nothing to lose by offering to pay $10 a month to each creditor. Most of them decided something was better than nothing.
  • Use the snowball method to pay down the smallest bill first by putting every spare dollar towards it until it was paid.
  • There is no debtor’s prison (I actually naively believed I would go to jail if I couldn’t pay a bill). A debtor can sue you, but you would have to then later be held in contempt by not paying a court settlement to be arrested.

Coming Out On Top

After cleaning up my credit and getting some debt paid down, I learned (for the most part) to live within my means, pay with cash, and find ways to earn money on the side. I have not since then been without a way to make extra cash when I get in a bind, and that is the best advice I can leave you with. Find something you are good at and that you can make money with and use that skill whenever you can. Whether it’s freelance writing like me, mowing lawns like Jimmy down the street, or selling street tacos on the corner, just make sure it’s a feasible activity for you. You’ll thank me later when you can use that extra dough for paying off debt, going on vacation, or covering wages from a lost job!

What was your biggest financial blunder?

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