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About seven years ago I was renovating my tiny studio apartment in Manhattan. This was the first time I have ever gone through a renovation (hopefully the last) and anything and everything that could have gone wrong did. For starters, my contractor and his partner were total a**holes. They had the worst attitudes but I’ll get more into that later.
The custom tiles that I ordered were shattered on the ship they were on from Italy, so I had to wait another month for the replacement to arrive. I could not even live in my apartment because of all the work that was going on and I did not have the space to sleep there since it was such a small studio. So I was forced to couch surf with friends, but I mostly stayed on my dear friend Amanda’s couch. Thanks girl! I will never forget it.
My home renovation was supposed to be completed in two months max. But it went on for five months! I know, crazy right? The contractors would come to my apartment once a week and complete one little thing because they had other projects to tend too. And of course the final cost almost doubled the amount than what I had planned on. All the while they were nickel and diming me for every little thing on a daily basis.
But the best part of it all was I got laid off from my job in the middle of this whole thing. So there I was, homeless and jobless and constantly bickering with my contractors because they were taking their sweet time renovating my apartment and trying to charge me more than what we agreed upon.
I had no choice but to go find a new job while living on Amanda’s couch. This debacle happened during the summertime so I had to schlep around wearing a wool suit in the god awful heat, going from one bad interview to the next. I would often sit in McDonald’s or Starbucks because they offered free Wi-Fi while I applied to jobs online. Not to mention I was running low on cash reserves because the contractor was sucking me dry and I still had to pay my mortgage and all my other monthly bills on top of it. I wanted to kick myself many times because I remember wishing I had saved more money in my emergency fund.
I was too proud to tell my parents and ask them for help. But most especially, I did not want them worrying about me. In that moment I think I just went into survival mode. I spent all my energy trying to find a new job and keeping my spending to an absolute minimum. I lived off the dollar menu at McDonald’s and Wendy’s and I would occasionally buy a $5 dollar foot long sandwich at Subway and save the other half for dinner. Desperate times calls for desperate measures.
This struggle went on for three more months. I finally found a job in the nick of time because I was getting close to depleting all my cash. Everything changed for the better after that. The contractors were finally done renovating my apartment and I paid them in full, hopefully I will never see them again. But they did do a great job by the way. They may have been tough to deal with but I was very happy with the end product. I also started putting as much money as I could in my emergency fund .
That summer was probably the most tumultuous time in my life thus far. Thank goodness for my friends because I don’t think I would have survived without them. As horrible as this situation was for me, I learned so much from it and it made me a stronger person. It really is true what they say, ‘what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.’ I never ever want to be destitute again. But the thought is always lurking in my mind that I could be back there again. This pushes me every day to save more money in my emergency fund. If life throws me another curve ball, I am now better prepared to handle it. I have enough money now to support myself comfortably without worrying for too long.
I know I will always have that fear of being back to where I was seven years ago. But fear can be a good thing if it reinforces positive behaviors. Due to my enormous fear of being broke and homeless again, I am now much more economically sensitive. I always think twice before making any large purchases and more importantly, I rarely buy anything that is not a need. Instead, that money could always go into my emergency fund or investments.
Another fear I have is being old (over 65 years old) and having no money or job to support myself. This fear forces me to contribute even more money to my retirement accounts. I once read an article that interviewed a large number of retirees, and their biggest regret was not saving more money for retirement. I do not want the same thing happening to me and that is why I am always funding my retirement accounts to the max.
It’s the classic story of turning something that seems unfortunate and making it work for your benefit. In this case, it made me never want to be without money ever again. I believe nobody can truly understand that fear until it happens to them. So if a similar situation has happened to you, turn it into a positive. And if you’ve never had this happen to you, I hope you can use my story and eventually become a better saver so you will be much more prepared than I was if you ever become homeless and jobless.