Financial instability is a life-eating disease we must eliminate

Do you worry about paying your bills? Are you financially stable or unstable? They say money can’t buy happiness, but the lack of it sure can pile on overwhelming stress. One of the toughest problems to confront is not being able to pay basic expenses, especially when it is coupled with the uncertainty of not knowing when the situation will improve. It was the hardest challenge I ever faced in my life, especially because I constantly told myself that money didn’t matter in the scheme of things.

As a young person, I wasn’t really focused on money. I had typical jobs as a teenager, like cashier at a fast-food restaurant, so I could afford to go out with my friends. In college I was a waitress, so I could pay for books and entertainment not covered by my student loans. I became a journalist knowing it was a low-paying industry, because I loved the work and believed the common adage that money doesn’t have anything to do with happiness.

Despite my salary barely being able to cover the basics — like rent and car — I was happy. I didn’t feel deprived because I was resourceful. I got clothes from friends or resale shops, and I got to eat and drink free nearly every night because I was invited to splashy events as an entertainment reporter. If I wanted something special like a new gadget, I waited until I could request it for my birthday or Christmas. I didn’t worry about savings or debt because I was enjoying my life.

When I wanted children, my lack of money was the only thing that made me wonder if I was ready. I decided I couldn’t wait until everything was perfect, so I pursued my dream of becoming a mother knowing I was with the right person and at the right stage of maturity in life.

After kids came along, money worries began to mount. I wanted a house and a safer car, and sports and music lessons for my kids. I still found resources like the library and freecycle to get toys, books, clothes and enriching activities without having to pay for them. But the money we both made as reporter and editor was not keeping pace as our list of needs grew to include insurance and family vacations and childcare. So I started a side hustle buying rental properties with no money down. It was a good plan until the real estate market crashed.

As our tenants lost jobs and our vacancies grew, rents dropped so low they were no longer covering the mortgages. Then we lost our jobs, too, and the only way to pay our bills was credit cards. In a few short years, we went from no debt to more than $100,000 in credit card debt. The banks eventually cancelled the cards, and then I had to spend hours every day playing the game of determining who to stop paying and for how long to try to avoid utility shut offs and foreclosure notices.

I was never able to find a full-time position again, despite sending hundreds of resumes and going on dozens of interviews for jobs I was qualified for (reporter, editor), over-qualified for (secretary, waitress), and under-qualified for (marketing director, publicity manager).

I took what I could find and ended up with seven part-time gigs — chess teacher, tour guide, trivia host, freelance writer, video producer, order taker, property manager. None of them provided consistent income. We never knew from week to week how much we would make.

I learned the hard lesson that not knowing if you will have enough money to pay your bills does impact happiness — and safety, health, self-worth, and relationships. There is a boundary — a financial level of comfort — that is truly dangerous to fall below. Especially for parents, the stress faced at that financial level is life-altering, and it takes years to climb out of it — if it doesn’t debilitate or kill you first.

Despite the financial hardship, I was fortunate that my inability to make enough money to pay the bills (despite working more than 40 hours a week) did not reduce my intellect, creativity, motivation, optimism (though it rattled it for a while), and my willingness to ask for help from family, who watched my kids for free and often drove them to and from school and activities when I was busy working.

I ache for mothers who don’t have family or friends to help them during times of crisis or need, especially now as more and more people face financial hardships in the midst of a recession. It pains me to know so many families are heading towards a long, painful journey of financial instability similar to the fate that my family endured for eight years.

So I am on a mission to try to ease some of that burden. I believe affordable childcare is a critical safety net to prevent families from falling into the financial abyss that takes years to escape. The most affordable childcare of all is free help from loved ones, but many mothers do not have access to that.

So I created a service to help mothers build a village of supportive friends that they know or get to know at their child’s school, in their neighborhood, or through a local organization or workplace. It’s called MomSub, and my vision is to replace moms’ stress, doubt and hopelessness with calm, confidence and clarity by finally revolutionizing childcare in America. I hope you’ll join me for the ride at MomSub.com.

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