I remember being sick and tired of the same old tune. When you had just gotten paid, but your income quickly goes down the drain. Bills and banks take a big chunk of it like we’re merely working to keep up this losing end of the transaction. I want badly to change our family tree and re-write the entire narrative. I want to experience what it is like to wake-up debt-free, where I control the flow of money instead of money controlling me.

The Genesis of our Financial Troubles

We took a hit during the global recession of 2008, and this was the start of our financial burdens in the first year of our marriage. We were a single income household at that time, and my husband’s base pay was slashed by more than half. Our credit lines were reduced, and then all of our balances hit the max limit. Our minimum payments soared, and we found ourselves unable to keep up with our financial commitments for our credit cards, car payment, and our mortgage. Not only did our our accounts go delinquent, collectors also harassed us. We thought about filing for bankruptcy with the overwhelming onslaught of a wage garnishment, vehicle repossession, and foreclosure notices.

Our confidence crumbled, and it felt like we were in the middle of the ocean with violent, gigantic waves crashing down on us, but no one can hear our call for rescue. We were drowning, but no one even had a clue that we’re in deep. Nobody ever wants to be in this dreadful position, yet we can’t help but feel wrapped up in shame. We didn’t want to be seen in this light. How can grown adults not be able to handle his or her financial affairs well?

Rooted in Family Exposure

It did not help that growing up, I’ve seen my parents struggle as well in getting a grip of money matters. I remember as a kid when my mom’s Visa card got declined again, paying for groceries. In my naivety, I spewed insensitive rhetoric of words in my mother tongue “walang bisa and Visa” (translation: Visa is not working effectively), and my mother laughed it off, perhaps in embarrassment. But even small moments like this leave an impression. I thought maxing out credit cards was the norm like they are an extension of income. You can use it when you run out of money. Sadly, even in my youth, I had racked up credit card debt for myself mindlessly from random purchases that my father had to help me get rid of. Could I blame anyone for my financial illiteracy? No. Our parents probably didn’t have a strong role model either. I guess we go about learning about this stuff the hard way.

The Monumental Pivot

It took us more than a decade to rebuild our financial house. Becoming debt-free has been my life goal for as long as I can remember. Here, the poetic storyline is that we finally achieved this goal during a worldwide pandemic and a new cycle of recession when our financial troubles started during the last recession. But what a night and day difference now and then. Finally, we are debt-free!!! God has been faithful through the years to teach us how to handle money to give us financial peace.

How did we do it?

Envision a New Reality

Vision is a powerful driver to change your action. When you can see a vivid picture of the possibilities, you would examine deep within yourself what you need to change – in your mindset first, then in your action next – to break the status quo.

My husband and I painted a compelling picture together, and we talked through the details of our vision each day. We are both so excited for it to materialize and it fueled our efforts. You can achieve whatever you conceive in your mind with a commitment to tear down limiting beliefs in exchange for liberating truths about the way you view things.

Budget Like a Boss

This was a challenging exercise at first. But like a toddler that is just learning how to walk, the more you commit to taking a step toward creating a plan on paper, the more natural it becomes. It’s on paper, so I looked at this as a test that we can ace. I’ve become a bonafide budget nerd. We always do a new budget before the month begins. We know both the income-side and the expense-side of the equation. We review our budget line by line and approve / reject / revise the plan; then we finalize by signing this document. We’ve learned to be on the same page as husband and wife. We’re committed to working together to implement and protect this plan consciously and conscientiously aligned to our family’s financial goals.

Engage in Productive Activities

We quickly stopped feeling sorry for ourselves. Life is an up and down terrain. It doesn’t mean that we will stay stuck where we’re at. So we embraced the wisdom of this proverb: “The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” It was true for us, in that, while we struggled financially, we invested our time volunteering to teach and mentor the youth of our local community. It allowed us to see beyond our drab circumstances and hold a broader, grander perspective. It tangibly solidified the meaning of commitment. I was reminded by Zig Ziglar how things come around. One day you will tell your story of how you’ve overcome what you’re going through now, and it will become part of someone else’s survival guide.

Strategize by Up-skilling

When this all started, I hadn’t been able to work at all because of some work authorization documents I was waiting on. When I finally got them, I have had to start from scratch. It involved testing the waters of the competitive US job market. Entry-level positions rendered a crystallized purview of culture, language, and social etiquette. I relied on my ferocity of focused effort, peerless in my appetite for personal development, and for acquiring self-taught skills. In this relatively short period, I have worked myself up from a part-time massage therapist to become Vice President of a top financial institution. I’ve successfully broken through the desirable STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) field with no previous related education or experience. I continue to cement any gaps by blazing learning pathways to upgrade skills that render strong income increases for improved economic opportunities.

Find Joy in Simplicity

Stop keeping up with the Joneses. They don’t pay your bills. Be wise to say no if you know that you cannot afford an expense. Do not add more debt when you’re currently working on getting out of debt. You cannot get out of a hole by digging from the bottom. There were a lot of leisure activities we had to pass up on. We cut out our cable. We didn’t go on vacations. We limited our eating out. Our vision required sacrifice. We weren’t happy at the moment to make these sacrifices. But Dave Ramsey’s teaching gave us consolation: “Live like no one else now, so that later – you can live like no one else.”

Even though we had to forego many things, we found creative ways to have fun and create beautiful memories inside of our home. It’s where we have built foundations of financial literacy for our kids at their comprehension level. We are intentional in transforming downtime at home to be productive and educational, making the most of every opportunity as teaching moments incorporating spiritual conversations, home economics lessons, and growth mindset.

We are intentional in transforming downtime at home to be productive and educational, making the most of every opportunity as teaching moments incorporating spiritual conversations, home economics lessons, and growth mindset.

Shiela Bernardo

Debt and credit use is almost always implanted in the core of one’s financial behavior. There is an effective way to handle this, and reversely, there is a poor way to handle it that could get you in trouble. Act responsibly.

We are embarking on a new chapter in our lives. I wake up and mutter to myself – “so this is how it feels to wake-up debt-free…” There is much more to life after hitting this goal. My intent is to chronicle what that looks like. Come alongside our family as I tell stories from the other side of this road. We honestly don’t know what it looks like yet, but we know it is exciting.

At the end of this road, our family tree has been changed permanently. I would like for my kids, my grandkids, and any descendants in this branch of the tree to dig deep roots of godly wisdom, and to celebrate this milestone with us, as this essentially changes the trajectory of each of their lives too.

Stories of overcoming adversity should be told. There might be someone out there at the beginning of this road, not knowing how to move forward. Friend, I encourage you to persevere. You will find your way out of burdensome debt to becoming debt-free!

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”

Proverbs 3:5-6

1 Comment

  1. Floby on June 15, 2020 at 6:04 am

    Great writing coming from you Shey. We are also very frugal so, we also debt free now. We struggled the beginning but now we are very happy with the result! Congratulations!

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