I remember the day it happened with amazing clarity. As the morning sun heated my face, I stared unbelievingly at the bank statement that indicated a balance of -$1,540. What? There’s no way my account is negative! I have $15,000 in there!
What happened? Someone had stolen my identity! While pretending to be me, this individual had written hot checks and committed other crimes in my name. He had substituted his picture for mine on my driver’s license. The IRS came after me for unpaid taxes as he had taken two jobs in my name. My business failed, I was evicted from my home, my car was repossessed, I was arrested multiple times, and it became difficult to find consistent employment. How did I recover from this tragedy and pull myself back above the poverty line? By recovering my identity and frugal living.
First, I sold all the unnecessary stuff: music CDs, books, jewelry, DVDs, a PlayStation console, etc. If I didn’t need it, it was sold, period! The money I made from selling merchandise was set aside for fuel since I would need a car for job interviews.
Second, I cancelled any non-essential subscriptions like satellite TV, magazines, Netflix, internet, etc. It would take a while to find work and having added expenses would negatively impact any income.
Third, I combed the local papers and labor halls for odd jobs. I took any job I could find and put aside as much as I could. Two of my main concerns were food and fuel costs for anyone who would give me a ride to where I needed to go…and of course I searched for the lowest priced fuel. I also made a commitment to walk to any job interview that was less than two miles away in order to cut back on the fuel expense.
One of the hardest things for me to deal with during this time was suddenly not having money for certain activities with my young son. Like all good fathers, I wanted my son’s respect and my financial situation made me feel as if I was losing it. Fortunately, my frugal mindset taught me to find free or low-cost events, close to home, for us to attend together.
During this time I learned to exchange my talents and services for goods I needed…the art of bartering. If a parent couldn’t pay cash, I taught private martial arts lessons to their child in exchange for dinner for me and my son. This meant the meager groceries I’d already bought would last a bit longer than originally planned.
While going through all this I insisted on saving as much as I could. I literally had numerous hiding places for my cash: jars, a hole in the back yard (no I’m not kidding), and an actual piggy bank. For a long time I struggled, got a few steps ahead, got pushed back a few steps, and repeated the process over and over.
In the midst of all the setbacks, drama, and inconveniences I noticed something…my savings was building! I saw the light at the end of the tunnel and told myself, “This living frugally really does work. Keep it up.”
How long did it take me to fully recover, to get back on my feet? Tune into Living Frugally next Saturday and we’ll continue the conversation.