I started from absolutely nothing. My parents taught me very little about money management so when I was in college I racked up $4,000 in credit card debt, took out too much in student loans, took out private loans, worked full time and then spent all my money. You know, all the things you’re not supposed to do. Then I got pregnant.
I was student teaching and therefore didn’t have a job. When I graduated, I went back and worked fast food where I had worked earlier in college because I knew they would let me take care of whatever I need to miss work for. And then I had this terrible realization: Not only was I $54,000 in debt and was going to have a baby, but I was making $700 a month and needed to not only support a child but to save enough money to be off work for at least 6 weeks.
Sounds pretty scary, right? Well, imagine what that felt like full of pregnancy hormones. Somewhere though I summoned the strength to take on the challenge head first instead of withering in defeat and that has made all the difference.
I put away enough money to survive unpaid maternity and then went back to work when my baby was 7 weeks old. I took a job at a daycare center that paid enough for me to start paying on my loans while still living with my mother, and my newborn baby was only two rooms away from me as I worked. I was overqualified and underpaid, but it was December, and they don’t hire teachers in December. Plus, I needed to work.
I kept up my strict budget and thankfully put away a small emergency fund. I’m glad I did, because 6 months later I lost my job and was rewarded with a whopping $118 a week in unemployment. Because of my year of careful planning, I had enough saved that I got to spend the rest of the summer at home with my small family.
In the fall I went to work for a REALLY nice private school. I teach part time, have no sick days and no benefits. I don’t make a lot of money, again, but I absolutely love my job and it is allowing me to spend more time with my family and is giving me time to start graduate school. Because of my experiences making much less than my current meager salary, I am able to continue making smart financial decisions.
I use a spreadsheet in Google Docs to keep track of my budget, selected a bank specifically for the visual representations their online interface offers, and have started following a cash envelope system. I see $22 dollars to spend on 4 days worth of groceries as an exciting challenge and am always 3 weeks ahead on stocking up on diapers.
I started my own personal blog as a way to synthesize and share the many things I have learned about being financially independent, physically organized and emotionally strong. I want to write here the different ways to save money in college and share the things I have learned about how to make life work better. I guess it’s the teacher in me, but I don’t feel I’ve really learned something until I’ve shared it in hopes that it will help someone else too.
Teresa Potter is a teacher, single mom, and technology addict. She spent too much money on her Bachelor’s Degree, didn’t find a job right out of college, and is now going back to grad school. In 2010 she resolved to find ways to be more financially and personally organized. Follow her on her home blog at A Game of Balance