*Other than football, because it’s just so short.
**Or the modern day, trendy equivalent, YOLO.
I’m going through a bit of that right now. As mentioned yesterday, a hard winter’s come to an end. We’re back from the big Ireland trip we’ve been looking forward to. Now it’s settling back into normalcy and routines. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not saying I’m depressed or unhappy or anything like that. It’s just, there’s a certain spark of life that I’m missing. Sometimes, it seems, the best way to break out of that sort of malaise is to look back at the real valleys of life.
As I’m sure would come as a shock to many, I haven’t always had a ton of money. I still wouldn’t say I have a ton of money, but we do okay now. There’s no stress about paying our bills, we can pick up pretty well anything that looks appealing at the grocery store, we put money back, we keep a decent balance in the bank. It wasn’t always this easy for me.
I can very clearly remember walking into Walmart in late 2008 with no food at home whatsoever and having all of $17 to my name. This was primarily because I had just spent most of my money getting my first apartment. I had saved up a little money from my couple months working in a lab at Purdue to where I felt like I could finally take the plunge and get a place of my own instead of either living with an uncle* or crashing at Kristine’s college apartment, which had been my bridge period. Between the security deposit and first month’s rent, I initially shelled out a little over $800 to get a fairly nice two bedroom apartment in an okay neighborhood. Nothing glamourous, and it didn’t have a washer/dryer hookup, but it would certainly do. The $535 a month also provided internet and all utilities other than electricity, which I could generally control by being judicious with my heat and air conditioning. And it had a fireplace, if things ever got to that level. Between that and filling up my car, I literally had $17 and some change left in my bank account to put food in my new fridge to go along with secondhand furniture that was mostly stuff my grandma was more than happy to give away.
*Which I did for a job in Indy (or, well, Carmel, technically) that I honestly should have never accepted.
I don’t remember what I walked out with, but it obviously wasn’t much. I think I had a package of hot dogs, buns, ketchup, mustard, a box of spaghetti, and a bottle of pasta sauce. Probably some ramen. That may well have been the whole list of what I had to subsist on until I was paid again. I didn’t have TV, or a couch, but I did have internet and video games. It was enough to entertain me, but I did have some moments of doubt. I had thought out the numbers, I thought I could do this place, but I really did wonder if I had made the right decision or if I had just ensured I would be getting myself kicked out.
I didn’t make much at the lab, but it turns out you can make $12 an hour go decently far, at least in this part of the country. I didn’t upgrade any furniture,* but I did buy a new mattress. So instead of sleeping on a lumpy, broken-down twin mattress on the floor, I was sleeping on a $200 double mattress that came vacuum sealed in a box on the floor.** After a little time, I even sprung for DirecTV in that apartment, complete with DVR for the main TV, even. I got my own cell phone. I had food and drink in the fridge, and I was still regularly eating fast food and the occasional nice meal out. Bills weren’t an issue. I typically had three or four hundred dollars in the bank at any given time after bills. I don’t think anybody would confuse it with a glamorous life, but I was getting by just fine. There were moments then, just as now, I would look back on that trip to Walmart, counting every penny, to make sure I didn’t overdraw and still had something to eat for the week or so until I had money again. I had to smile thinking then about how far I’d come during that time.
*Though my mom did get me a futon for Christmas, I think it was.
**Which, all mocking aside, has been a damn good mattress. I loved that thing, and it’s now in our guest room. It seems to get nothing but good reviews from people who stay with us.
As cozy as I’d made myself, I didn’t want to be stuck in that life forever. So, I took a risk. I jumped from my Purdue job to a tech start up in downtown Lafayette. The pay there was $13 an hour, which was fine, but it really wasn’t a jump for the pay. I had dreams of getting in on the ground floor and growing with this company, to go along with all the great experience that I would surely gain and what a nice bit it would be to put on my resume. Which was all fine and good, but there is a reason it they call it a risk. A couple weeks later, I was met in the parking lot by the guy who was just so excited to be hiring his first employee now telling me he just couldn’t afford to keep me. It was quite the blow. I had just signed onto another’s year’s lease in my apartment, but unless something came quickly, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. I lasted two or three months there, but it was useless. Nothing came to fruition. I now had zero dollars in my account. I had to call the landlord and let him know that I would be forced to break my lease and I would pay him back as soon as I was able, which he was surprisingly cool about. My bills were going unpaid. I had no choice but to move home.
As luck would have it, I actually did find another job almost the same day as I got resettled at my mom’s house. And it paid $15 an hour. Which, after a couple months of not making a damn thing, sounded amazing. Without having to pay rent, I was able to pretty quickly knock out my overdue electric and TV bills, which then left me just to pay back the landlord. It took a few months, but I was able to get both him and my maxed out credit cards paid off as well. I let my bank account get back to something healthy, and then I moved into another apartment. I think my mom would have rather I stayed with her and let my money build, but I didn’t want to live with my parents any more than your average 24 year old. I was getting out as soon as I could. This apartment wasn’t as nice as the Lafayette one, but it was also cheaper. And somebody in the area had an unsecured wireless, so that worked out in my favor, too. Before long, not only was I debt free, but I had upgraded from mattress on the floor to an honest-to-goodness bed frame, which also still serves in the guest room. I had also bought and quickly paid off an engagement ring and did my part in paying for the resulting wedding. Again, it was nice to see how things could rebound from having less than nothing. We had a wonderful wedding, mostly paid for it ourselves, and had a wonderful honeymoon in the Bahamas to boot. We moved to a very nice three bedroom apartment in Crawfordsville, close to campus. Things were good.
If you’ve followed this blog from the beginning, or just know me well enough, you know that job ended rather suddenly and unexpectedly. I can’t say I missed that job, and I wouldn’t have said it at the time. I had been actively looking for other jobs, and I firmly believe this was what cost me my job. The timing was awfully suspect, anyway. I went from having nothing but good reviews to suddenly being a problem. This all seemed to pivot after having an interview for a job I wasn’t even sure I wanted.* In any case, I was out of a job again, but this time I had help in that Kristine was working. Plus, I received unemployment during this bout of staying home. Instead of watching our bank account slowly wither down to nothing, we actually saved money. We went from around $3,000 in the bank from when we got married to around $10,000 when I finally landed another job about eight months later.** On the back of that and some other savings, we actually were able to buy our house just a few months after I started working again.
*And didn’t get offered.
**What’s scary is that my story of unemployment was fairly typical at the time. Some people were seeing their unemployment benefits being extended to 100 weeks and things like that. It was not a good time.
So, sure, life is a grind sometimes. It’s hard to see the forest for the trees sometimes and all that. But when you look back on it, you realize everything you have built, what all that grinding has been about. And it’s a pretty proud feeling. I look around now. Healthy bank account. Four bedroom house. Furnishing that house with adult stuff. When you start thinking about what you can build when you just grind it out, well, suddenly it doesn’t feel like that much of a grind any more.