Source: © Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash
In my 240-plus posts here, I don’t believe I’ve ever written one about money. It’s time to be transparent about money, in the same way I strive to be transparent about mental health.
I didn’t go into social work for the money. None of us do. For a job that requires a master’s degree, the pay is shockingly low. I honestly don’t recall how much I earned at my first position, right out of graduate school in 2000. After a prolonged depressive episode from 2005 through 2007, when I returned to work in 2008 on a part-time basis, I was working two jobs. When I was hired by an outpatient clinic full-time in 2009, my starting salary there was in the low $40K range.
I don’t remember how I paid my bills. I know my brother was helping me out with therapy. Making ends meet was tough, especially since I was driving from Westchester to Queens five days a week, paying for gas and tolls. I got decent raises most every year, anywhere from 5% to 7%. Enter 2014, when I made my suicide attempt and the executive director of the clinic said I could only return to work part-time. At that time, I had credit-card and medical debt and with a part-time salary was unable to make all the payments. I was in tears one day during my psychotherapy session, under a great deal of stress from my financial difficulties, when Dr. Lev suggested I consider bankruptcy.
I talked it over with my brother and decided to pursue this course of action. I knew the bankruptcy would tank my credit rating (not that it was anything to brag about at that time) and would stay on my record for seven years. The bankruptcy lawyer cost between $2K and $3K and I paid him with my tax refund from that year, money that went out as quickly as it came in. I still had to pay off my student loans from grad school; those don’t get wiped out.
As soon as the lawyer and I left the court building, I felt relieved. I wasn’t totally educated on what a long road back it would be. I went back to work full-time at the end of 2014, but the atmosphere had become tense and unbearable. My next job, which I interviewed for and was verbally offered in January 2015, didn’t actually start until May. But it was a 30% increase in salary, so I was patient. I’d finally be able to pay my bills, stop taking money from my brother, and even have a little left over.
With this raise, I was finally in a position to start building up my credit. In 2018, I applied for a credit card and was approved, with my brother as a co-signer and with a small limit. I made sure to pay off the balance in full each month. I also bought a used car; again my brother had to co-sign. The car turned out to be a lemon: It started blowing back carbon monoxide into the interior through the vents. I got rid of it, but not before throwing a lot of money at it, and leased a new car (I swore off used cars after this experience); my brother had to co-sign as well.
At the end of 2019, I got a second credit card – no co-signer, and the credit limit on both cards has been upped since then. And at the end of 2020, my car lease was up and my brother didn’t have to sign the lease for the new one because my credit score had increased significantly. I’d also made sure to pay all my bills on time over the years.
One good thing about this job is that I was able to put a good amount of money in my 401K. I’m not planning to retire anytime soon, but it’s gratifying to know I have at least the start of a nest egg. I lost a lot of time to mental illness during which I would have ordinarily been contributing to a 401K, so that going forward I need to be super-aggressive in my contributions.
I left that job in May of this year and in order to stay around the same salary, I’m working harder at my new job. I’m working six—well, five-and-a-half—days a week, and longer days in general, but I have autonomy at this job which is well-worth the additional hours and the resulting lower stress.
It’s nice to see my credit score back in a range where I no longer need my brother to co-sign for me and it’s really nice to finally be earning a salary where I can afford to pay my bills, save some money, afford to care for my dog, and have a little something to put away for emergencies and to indulge once in a while. I don’t really take vacations. If I buy clothes, it’s shirts and sweaters now because I do Zoom. I just bought some makeup, because that Zoom is up close and personal! A lot of my money goes to fund my mental health advocacy and awareness organization, which I hope will be sustainable in the near future.
Source: © Andrea Rosenhaft
Thanks for reading.