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5 Tips for Dealing with Financial Chaos

My wife and I moved to Florida, shortly after getting our bachelor's, at the age of 20, so that I could go to law school. Between the two of us, we had $4,000 saved up; we worked all throughout college, and, despite having to pay for our own living expenses (separately because she lived in Louisiana and I lived in Texas), we managed to set money aside.

$2,000 of that was used to pay the deposit for an apartment and the initial apartment fees/rent. When we moved in together, we had no bed, no dining table, and definitely no tv. All we had were one wing chair (which I had gotten from my employer who was going to throw it away), a dresser (a gift from my parents), some plastic bins, and an assortment of random kitchen supplies that had been used throughout college. We slept on the floor for the first week or so, we used a cardboard box as our dining table, and we watched Netflix on my laptop.

Did I mention that neither of us had a job by the time we arrived in Florida? The plan was for me to only go to school for the first year, using my student loans as my primary income source, and for my wife to find a job to make ends meet. Thankfully, she quickly found a job, and things seemed to improve. My dad provided for a couch, my mother-in-law helped us get a bed, and we used our savings to get a dining table and a tv (it was on clearance so yay!).

However, about 2 months in, my wife got in a car accident, totaling her car (unfortunately she only had liability insurance). We were left with one car (which was not sustainable because she commuted one hour to work, and my school was about a 10-minute drive). Just like that, a car note was added to our monthly expenses. The little that we had saved up quickly disappeared. We weren't only living paycheck to paycheck. We were in deficit.

This was only the beginning of our financial problems, but I'm not going to go any further in this post. That experience truly forced us to "adult". We weren't living the lives of 20-year-olds anymore, and we had to adapt.

If you are living in deficit, here are some things that I learned that might help:

1. Don't dwell, take action.

I will never take for granted the amount of work my wife put in to keep us afloat. We embraced the situation for what it was, a s***** one, and we took action. She worked endless overtime, and I did as much as I could while trying to adapt to law school. I got a job as a freelance journalist -- I only got paid $25 per article, but I had so much flexibility, and I spent a lot of time answering surveys online (it takes forever, but it actually pays sometimes).

2. Adjust your lifestyle.

Yes, the obvious, lessen the number of times you eat out. At first, we settled for once every two weeks. There were times we cheated, but it wasn't often. You have to be honest with yourself. If you can't afford it, make the sacrifice now, so you can afford it later.

3. Buy used furniture & home goods.

Obviously, if you don't need furniture, then simply don't buy it. We bought a desk, a desk chair, and a tv stand through Letgo (now OfferUp), and we got free wine glasses from one of the sellers. We bought our plates and cups from Dollar Tree.

4. If you need a loan, ask family members first.

Unfortunately, sometimes loans are inevitable. However, a loan with zero interest is better than a loan with interest. My parents and sister (whom I'm grateful for) were always willing to give us loans. If you have a family member who can afford it, ask them for a loan (obviously pay them back).

5. Don't forget that it could be worse.

Despite living in deficit, I'd always try to set money aside in case of an emergency. Of course, living in a deficit means this is impossible, but it's a really good idea to at least try (maybe adding it to your list of expenses?). Every Sunday, my wife and I would empty our change into a piggy bank. And, guess what? Yes, things did get worse. Life is just full of surprises like that.

I'm not going to lie, living in deficit sucks, especially when you don't see the end of it. The key is to hustle. Getting out of this deficit isn't usually as easy as making a wish. Most of the time you have to work for it. At the end of the day though, you got this. Things will get better if you try.

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