Isra Hashmi shares her story of how she and her family emerged from a chasm of debt to become stronger, wiser and happier.
You will be tested with money.
The food you eat, the clothes you wear, the car you drive, the places you go. All depend on one thing: money. Society pursues the American dream that says if you study hard, work hard and pay your dues, you’ll have a decent chance at becoming wealthy.
But sometimes, just sometimes, no matter how hard you study for a test, you fail. Study harder next time, they say. Get a tutor, read more books, attend more classes, study hard and you’ll pass.
But certain tests in life come only once. There are often no second chances. If we blow all our money no one will return it to us and let us try again.
My parents moved to the US before I was born. They studied, worked hard, became professionals and lived the American dream. They emigrated from India, one of the poorest countries in the world, and built a life many people would envy.
I went to private school my whole life. Open house at my elementary school felt more like a medical school reunion, with all the doctors in attendance. Back-to-school shopping was an event worthy of an Olympic medal.
Go to college, then more college, and you’ll be fine, I was told. I became book smart, not street smart.
I never understood what a ‘starving student’ was. College was never spent eating microwave noodles or living in dingy dorms. I had one job during college and I took it only because it was in Beverly Hills and close to my favourite shopping mall.
Then I got married.
My husband is a genius. He’s an ex-MIT research scientist. He has lots of letters after his name, but I just call him Fahd. His family told him the same thing. Just study. He did, a lot.
But here’s the thing: sheltered, book-smart kids learn little about managing finances. And that’s where our story begins. Soon after getting pregnant with baby number two we found ourselves in over $56,000 debt.
We had failed our money test.
When we went over the numbers, we discovered we were two months away from being unable to pay our rent. I wondered why God would put me in this position. We had a toddler, and a second child on the way.
Some would say to leave it up to God. But here we were, with nothing in the bank account and praying for money to fall from somewhere.
That was in 2008. Even reflecting about that time makes me tearful. I was a stay-at-home-mum and did not want to leave my babies to work outside the home.
I told Fahd we had to leave. It was my decision to move out of our apartment in the middle of a harsh Boston winter to a different apartment that month in order to save money.
A marriage is a team; the money was our test.
That month we moved. Six months later we would move again. We went on to change our lifestyle 180 degrees. And in three years we had paid back our debt and cut up all our credit cards.
I jumped and screamed for joy after the last bill was paid.
Now I shop consignment sales, hunt craigslist for kids gear and make almost all our meals at home. I drive a beaten-up Jeep and live in an apartment better suited for a college bachelor.
I also thank God every day for giving us this test. I’m stronger than I thought, wiser than I believed and happier than I imagined.
We will all be tested. Just know that everything you’ll need to pass the test is already within you.
Read more from Isra Hashmi at her blog, The Frugalette