I grew up in a very poor household. My mother never finished high school and was very dependent on a man to take care of her. Drugs and abuse caused my mother to lose her children. At the age of 16 I was living in a transition independent living program where I began to learn how to take care of myself financially. I went to high school everyday and worked at night and weekends as a grocery store bagger. My only vision for myself at that time was to make it out of high school and try to find a decent job to survive on. I wasn't even aware that someone like me could go to college, and especially didn't see myself as ever possibly being successful in a career.
Spring of my Sophomore year, everything changed. I met a teacher that challenged me and admired me for my independence and dedication. She began to mentor me and even became a very good friend to me. She couldn't understand why I never saw myself going to college and making a good future for myself. I told her of my past and my mother's level of education and she then inspired me that all the more reason to go to college and become successful in life. At 16 years old, I had no idea what I wanted to do when I "grew up". I began to really search my heart and explore several paths I could take in my life. I began to realize that the majority of my passion lied in helping others, especially those who come from backgrounds such as my own.
I began my college journey by taking a summer high-school college course. By the middle of my Junior year I was told I would be graduating in only three more months. I couldn't believe that I would not only be graduating high school, but I'd be graduating early. I went straight to a Junior college and began to work on my liberal arts degree. Because I had been in foster care, I was able to qualify for student financial aid. It was all so very unreal for me to be in college and doing something that could potentially give me a good future.
I struggled the first two years with what profession I truly wanted to go into. When I turned 18, I was essentially on my own and very frightened about this. I realized that being a full-time college student and trying to pay all the bills associated with becoming an adult was very hard. I tried to keep part-time jobs, but little success due to being completely overwhelmed and always having a schedule that changed.
I got my first credit card when I was 20 years old. I used it like it was free money and when that ran out I got another one and kept this up until I had over 5 different maxed out cards with no clue how this would affect me in the future. I was never taught about credit and how to manage it appropriately. To me this was money I could use now and when I had the money try to pay back, but it never occurred to me that I needed to be paying it back every month. When I no longer qualified for credit cards, I decided I needed to obtain student loans. I felt my studies were more important so I rarely worked. I began to write essays and submit applications for student scholarships and was awarded two to help with my tuition.
Five years later and I was already $20,000 in debt and the majority of my accounts were in collections. I graduated from CSUS in 2011 and fortunately was able to get a decent paying full-time job right away, but I had majored in Social Work and this job had nothing to do with that major. Instead of paying my debt off, I was excited that I was not making my own money and was able to afford things. My car was on the brink of falling apart and I decided it was time for me to get a new car. I was disappointed to learn that no one would give me a car loan. I couldn't understand why a mistake in my finances would still be haunting me five years later. I was so embarrassed when I had to ask my grandmother whom I had little contact with if she would be willing to co-sign a car with me. To my astonishment, she agreed and we were purchasing a nice shiny car together, but even with her near perfect credit and my good job, I was still given a mortifying interest rate.
Four months after my purchase, the unthinkable happened, I had lost my job and worst, my boyfriend decided he was going to move out without telling me. I was not jobless, with a car payment and rental bills I couldn't afford. In desperation, I began to post everything I owned on Craigslist.com. I knew that if I was going to become homeless, I didn't need anything, so I sold everything. For the next three months I lived in my car and on people's couches wondering how I got there. I had a college degree and I was sleeping in my car and asking for food stamps. I was embarrassed and ashamed. I tried to find a job related to my major but the jobs I found wanted a Master's degree. I began to think my Bachelor's degree was useless.
A friend of mine offered to help me, but he lived 1,500 miles away. He offered to pay my way to him and I could live with him rent-free while I got myself back together. With no other options, I took that trip to Georgia with no idea what was up ahead of me. When I got there, my car began to show signs of engine damage. I still owed $10,000 on it and began to fall into a very deep depression. I began to come to the realization, I was becoming my mother, I had a college degree and I was still becoming my mother, depending on a man to take care of me.
Eventually I began to wake up from my depression and began to look for a job. I found a good job working as a help desk technician for hospice patients. I decided that I had just lived poor, even with this job, I needed to act poor. I began to save up all of my money I made and began to pay off little debts I owed and could afford at that time. I saved up enough money to move back to California and begged my father whom I hadn't talked to in a very long time to allow me to live with him while I got reestablished in the area. To my surprise, he agreed and I moved in with him. I was left with the battle of trying to find work again, with a degree I felt was useless. I started buying and selling things on Ebay just to make ends meet, and somehow began to bring in quite a bit of money. I started a jewelry merchandising business as well and did whatever I could to bring in some extra money.
I had decided that maybe it was time for a career change because I didn't see myself getting a Master's degree. So I switched my major and began going back to school in the health field. I was on food stamps and signed up for a program called CFET where I was able to get help at a job club with finding work and learning how to interview. One of the workers asked me what I wanted to do and I disclosed to him the degree I already have. He gave me a listing of a job that was hiring and told me that I should apply. Without hesitation I applied thinking it would probably just be a waste of time. A couple of weeks later I was asked to come and take a test for the position. I had to go through a series of three different type of tests and then an interview, but the end of the process led me to a job. I was beyond excited about this job because I was going to be able to actually use my degree I had already earned.
As of today, I still work for that job as a resource eligibility specialist for the county. All of that time I had spent on public assistance getting food stamps and free health care, I am now on the other end of the desk taking applications for those who need that very same help. I have been able to focus on paying down my debts and increasing my credit rating. Because of my struggle and hard work and dedication, I am now going to be able to pay off my car I bought in 2012. Now that I am aware of how credit and debt can hinder your success, I feel that my future looks even brighter.