Last year, I found myself with a crippling amount of credit card, IRS and school debt with very little income or hope. Week after week my paycheck went to pay my bills, my rent and nothing else.
I ate nothing but ramen until I became entirely nutrient deficient. I wore the same clothes I’ve owned since high school. Overall, I became a weird, skinny hermit who wore strangely fitting clothing and made vague excuses for not being able to go out on Saturday night (drinks are expensive!). It was not a period I’m proud of.
Still, none of my frugal measures made a dent in my debt and when I factored in Manhattan rent (mine was only $1,000 at the time) there was no light at the end of the tunnel. Not even a little one. I was looking at 10 years ahead of me filled with nail biting, checkbook balancing, soup eating, no-social-live-having stress before I’d pay it off.
So I did the only possible thing I could come up with: I got rid of my apartment and sold half of my belongings. By putting the remainder of my stuff in storage, I was able to save $950.00/month. Nearly an extra $1,000 was suddenly going toward my debt every 4 weeks along with my entire paycheck excluding the 50 dollars I'd leave myself for food.
Technically homeless, I asked, pleaded and begged every friend I had to let me stay on their couch for a few days. My thinking was that if I could get four to five friends to oblige I'd have one month of extra money. If I could get more friends to agree, I'd have even more.
Or so that was the idea. But in reality, I had no concrete plans when I left my lease renewal unsigned. All I had was a personal belief that I wouldn’t end up living on the train. And if I did, well, my office had a shower.
Thankfully it didn't come to that.
The first three weeks, I stayed with friends exactly as I’d planned. I spent each week with a new host fixing sinks, making dinner, doing dishes and teaching Scrabble skills along the way. I tried to leave something helpful behind with each person as a thank you, considering buying anyone dinner was out of the question. I was living on hospitality and bartering.
I was saving a huge amount of money while reconnecting with friends along the way. It was an all together amazing experience compared to my previously non-homeless but non-social state.
Still, my debt remained.
The number was lower every day but it was still a constant pressure. Luckily for me, multiple coworkers who handled the travel requirements for my job suddenly came down with a case of pregnancy -– surprise! -- which meant I was required to pick up a huge amount of business travel. Which is perfect for a homeless person.
I spent the next few months spending 2-4 days a week in hotels. Which meant two to four days of living and eating for free every single week, while I got to spend my time exploring Toronto and CouchSurfing in Boston with a guy who let me ride his motorcycle. Tally up another $20/week towards my debt and I paid off one of my three credit cards.
By that point, I thought I'd discover some sort of warm, fuzzy feeling. Something that felt like accomplishment.
I just felt poor, homeless and tired. Aside from the adventure, I hated every minute of it. So I did the only thing left to do, I picked up odd jobs wherever I could find them -- liquor promotions, event gigs, transcribing reports. Anything someone would pay me for, I'd do it. And I'd be darn happy about it.
The extra money was exactly what I needed. I worked and CouchSurfed and traveled until three months later I turned in my last payment. Contrary to expectation no bells went off, no champagne was uncorked, no congratulations were to be had. Life went on like usual until I signed my lease for another apartment and closed a few credit cards. I kept waiting for that moment where I felt like my hard work was worthwhile, but it never came. All I felt was the lightening of a burden, but nothing more.
That is, until my parents received one of my checks from a random job (considering I didn't have an address, I had to send my mail to family members). Like usual, my dad called me up to let me know he'd deposit the money as soon as possible. Like usual, I begged him to go to a bank the same day. After all, I really needed the money for...
And that's when it hit me. I didn't need the money that day and I didn't need it the day after. In fact, he could completely forget to deposit the check and I would still be OK. It's a weird thing to feel. Financial security.
Nobody gave me a high five or bought me a cake. No fireworks were lit. But finally, after everything I'd put into it, the effort paid off.
I was, and am, entirely debt free. Which is 100% worth all the homelessness.
And to anyone else in the same position, keep your head up. I realize nothing about the sacrifices along the way feel good, but someday it does get better. Eventually you can look at your bank account without cringing, even if it takes a year of sleeping on floors to get there.