Budget Nightmares: What Are You Doing At 2 A.M.?
When I left The Citadel (go Bulldogs!) to attend Michigan State (go Spartans!), I said goodbye to a lucrative track and cross country scholarship. I felt bad, but the writing was on the proverbial wall. My coach had given me “one more year” to run better at the end of year one, and I promptly pulled a quadricep muscle early into the fall campaign. I’d been a guy they thought was a (quoting the coach), “Diamond in the rough” anyway. Turns out I was pretty much just rough.
Immediately, I had money problems. My parents couldn’t afford to pay for MSU. I had this general notion that financial aid would cover everything. Imagine my bitterness when I found out that my dad made too much money to qualify for any need-based aid. My loan package quickly swelled as my first course of action was to get through school quickly. When I realized what a mess these loans would be, I made the tough decision to become a part time student working three jobs.
Here’s how I made that decision:
During one of my money woes, I tuned in to my favorite late night money talk show hosts on the radio: a guy named Bruce Williams. He sounded like that knowledgeable grandfather who’d give you either an arm around your shoulder or a swift kick in the butt. Maybe listening to him was the idea behind our podcast….I don’t know.
One night, drowning in my own debt and hopeless money situation, I heard a woman call in to the show. She and her husband both worked hard, but they weren’t making ends meet. Bills continually piled up and their reserves dwindled.
“What are you doing at 2 a.m.?” Bruce asked.
The woman stuttered. “What do you mean? We’re sleeping!”
“Why are you sleeping at 2 a.m. when your bills are getting further and further behind?”
The woman quickly answered, “We need all the sleep we can get so we work well at our job in the morning.”
Bruce sighed. “So you’re saying you need your job worse than your house and car? Then why don’t you sell your house or car?”
“I can’t sell my house or my car. Then I wouldn’t have any place to live!”
“My point exactly,” he said. “So, if you like your house and your car, what are you doing at 2 a.m.?”
“What are you getting at? I can’t do more than I’m doing.”
The radio host laughed. He had this chuckle that always sounded a little sad. “What I’m getting at is that you have serious money problems, but you don’t want to change anything. If you’re serious about solving your money problems, you’ll get a night job too, or you’ll find ways to make more money at your day job.”
The woman quickly interjected, “We’re both at the top of our pay scale. That’s why we need to hold on to these jobs.”
“You aren’t listening,” Bruce said. It was one of the few times I’ve ever heard him turning angry on the show. “You can’t work like you do, eat like you do and sleep like you do AND expect something to change.”
Unbelievably, she ranted at him. “I can’t believe this. I call you for serious advice and all you do is blame my job, blame my house, and blame me. We’re doing everything we can do and it isn’t getting any better.”
…and she hung up on him!
Maybe she wasn’t listening, but I sure was. I became a substitute paper boy and redoubled my efforts to advertise my disc jockey service better. I went around to fraternity houses and spoke directly with the social chairmen. I made mixed tapes with some cassettes I had laying around and brought them with me (that dates me, huh? I’m glad I didn’t say reel-to-reel tapes….). Later, I found out that my tapes were a hit around the school. More than that, extra money started to trickle into my hands, and my view of my financial situation changed.
Here’s what I learned:
- I’m in charge of my financial destiny.
- Sleep is overrated when you’re in over your head.
- Financial planning is easy. It’s either an income problem or an expense problem. If you can’t fix one, you have to fix the other by default or the plan won’t work.
If you’re reading this because you’re in broke week (a term coined by my friend Michelle over at See Debt Run), you can either fix it once today and have to fix it again next month, or you can change your money earning skills or spending habits. For short term needs, you could borrow cash, but remember that this isn’t the final solution: it’s duct tape until you’re able to get on your feet.
While we’re talking about duct tape on your financial situation, how about a cool $100 cash or Amazon money? Would that help you avoid your long term plan for a few more days? Ha! Maybe you can use it to buy a radio that’ll change your life, too….
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