For my entire life I have been the ‘broke’ friend in the group. Growing up, my family never had a lot of money. I started my first job when I was 14 and I’ve been working ever since. This year, my 27th of life and my 13th of work, is set up to be my highest earning yet and I still won’t crack 30K. Sigh.
I’ve written before about the difference between broke and poor. Nowadays I’m happily living my frugal life and it’s very clear to me that there is a difference between broke and frugal. With only $4,010 left in debt I’m beginning to think ahead to my next financial moves. If I don’t prioritize savings with the same focus that I did my debt, I will never move beyond broke.
I truly don’t mind hard work- when it’s moving towards a goal that I want and believe in. I am happy to work my butt off right now so I can become debt free ASAP. I am happy to work beyond a normal 9-5 in the next few years so I can maximize my savings. I would like to become financially independent in the next ten to thirteen years, and I know that will take a lot of hard work. That’s work I don’t mind doing at all. It leads to greater freedom and control over my own life.
The thing is, when you grow up with no money, and then graduate from college into the worst job market of the last twenty five years, the need for financial security becomes really, REALLY apparent. I’ve worried about money literally my whole life. I want to let go of that worry.
It’s embarrassing to constantly have to turn down opportunities to do things with friends because you can’t afford them. While I am happy in my now frugal lifestyle, I do want to relax a little on my tightly controlled spending. I would like to go to Barton Springs ($3) with my friends once in awhile. I would like to be able to split a pizza and a bottle of wine ($20) with two friends occasionally. For the past four years I have always had to say no to these things, or indulge in them while feeling guilty about my debt.
Since I graduated college in 2011 the only full-time job I’ve had is waiting tables. I have yet to make over $25,000 in annual pay. Since in that time I’ve also had debt, I have always been a broke adult. I can’t guarantee that I’ll have a job (let alone a well-paying job) for the rest of my life.
That makes the thought of financial independence so important to me. I want security. I want to build a stable future for myself. I don’t want to live paycheck to paycheck, or worry that if I call out of work I won’t bring home any money that day. I don’t want to feel guilty for spending my money, and I want to have money to spend as I see fit.
While I am fortunate to have caring and understanding friends who don’t push me to live outside my means, there has still always been a distinction between us. It’s a tale of the have’s and the have not’s. I have always been the have not. No one has ever made me feel bad about it. No one has ever shamed me for it. My friends are wonderful people who are happy to partake in my frugal activities and work around my financial limits.
The thing is, I don’t want them to have to do that. I don’t want to be limited by my lesser means. I want to make smart choices with my money and live simply, but I want to have money to make choices with. That’s a flexibility I have never had.
This past weekend was pretty typical of my life these days. Saturday morning I coached at 11am, which is a three hour commitment. Then I had a five hour break before I catered from 6:30pm-2am. Sunday I slept until 11am and headed to catering from 2:30-11pm. Now my ‘actual’ work week starts today and goes through next Friday. In the last 21 days I’ve had one day off.
Working so much has meant that I made unbelievable headway on my loans so far this year, and I’m so excited about it. I want to be out of debt more than anything. However, the truth of the matter is that even after I’m out of debt I will be broke for the rest of the year. I don’t get my weekends free like a lot of my friends. I don’t get to spend my money frivolously or even seriously. I can’t save right now and I can’t invest in my own business ideas. My debt and my low income hold me back.
That sucks! It just does. It’s a way of living that I am overly familiar with. I would like out, please! I’ve talked a lot about gifting myself a debt free future, and what that means to me in terms of long term future plans. The short term matters a lot to me too: to be able to take a weekend off work, to be able to buy a cup of coffee in a pinch, to be able to treat my friend to lunch. These are things I would like to have the ability to do and know that it won’t wreck my financial status.
Being broke sucks. As my debt comes to an end I want my time being broke to come to an end as well. I am over this phase of life. I want to make enough, have enough, and be enough.
Kara Perez is the original founder of From Frugal To Free. She is a money expert, speaker and founder of Bravely Go, a feminist financial education company. Her work has been featured on NPR, Business Insider, Forbes, and Elite Daily.