I was born in a poverty-stricken family where debt is a necessity. Even if we don’t have the funds to pay them, borrowing money from friends and relatives is the only and last resort. I grew up with this kind of mentality since primary school.
And whenever I ask my mom how will we pay them back, she’ll just tell me, “God will provide.”
I sincerely believe in that, but I also know that it’s on a case-to-case basis. So, of course, as the eldest daughter, I’m always the representative whenever we loan money from other people, especially to my relatives (I always ask my sister to do the talking and bribe her with candies since they think she’s cute).
I had my first debt when I was in primary school. I started with $1, which I used to buy a pen. I thought, “well, that’s pretty easy. It’s just a dollar, I’ll pay it soon.” But I didn’t, I forgot about it and didn’t have any extra to pay that $1. Then when I remembered it after a few weeks, I ended up doing his assignment instead.
But I didn’t learn my lesson. I still had the urge to keep borrowing money from people because that’s the picture I saw growing up. It was frustrating, I was a kid, not merely 12 years old.
But we didn’t have any choice. We were poor, we needed to eat, thus didn’t have the money to support ourselves.
My debt grew as I age, I’ve paid some of it, and offered jobs for the others. I made my classmate’s projects in exchange for the money I owed. Then as I started college, graduated, got employed, and then boom! My debt list blew up from one paper to a lifetime.
Up until now, I still ponder on those times, so I’ll never forget them. All the debts, the humiliation and the determination to one day put an end to it.
I like how YourDictionary defined debt,
“Debt is defined as owing money, owed money that is past due or the feeling as if you owe someone something. An obligation or liability to pay or return something.”
So it’s not just about money. Since my family had a lot of debt, we spend most of our younger days working for the people we owe money to. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful for everyone who helped us, especially those who supported me financially during my college years.
But sadly, some of them asked for something too much to bear that created irreversible damage that only God can fix. I told my mom one time, “I think I was born to pay for all the debts we have in this lifetime.”
Because of everything that happened, I now get the feeling that whenever I borrow something from others, whether it’s money or some petty random stuff, I’m obliged to give them a part of my life.
I hated that haunting feeling. I wanted to be debt-free, that’s why I started working several part-time jobs. But whatever I do, it was never enough. I didn’t know what to do. I felt limited. I felt like I didn’t have many options because my family relied on me.
Plus, I have loans on my own because I kept buying stuff and pay it in instalments! See, I had this mentality that, since I don’t have the money to get what I want, maybe I can buy it by paying it off in small portions. But no, It was not a good idea.
So, I had a mountain of debt. I’ve lived my life like that for years.
Then I met my husband (well, I didn’t know that yet at that time)
His family used to be well-off, but due to some problems, everything went downhill, and their family ended up paying for the majority of the loss. They filed for bankruptcy. They lost everything and ended up having an enormous loan that they didn’t even spend.
He said, “give it some time, talk to your family and start living a debt-free life, get your debit card, I think it’s time”. Just to tell you a bit of a story, there’s this person that lends financial aid to people in our office. She will give you what you need regardless of the amount, but you have to give your debit card to her.
She’ll be the one to get your salary in the machine, minus your monthly payment, and hand over whatever’s left. She had my card for two long years. Every payday, at least 10 of us go to McDonald’s and wait for her.
When he told me that, I got scared. I don’t think I can live without debt. It saved me a million times. I started having doubts, re-created the scenarios where we didn’t have something to eat and reminisced the stress of not having enough money to pay for the bills. And the fear of begging our relatives for money again.
But I followed his advice. I sold the mobile phone he gave me as a gift. He was sad at first, but he said, “you have to promise me, if you’re going to sell that phone, you’ll start cutting the rope that ties you up with that human ATM.”
So I sold the phone and paid some of the extra side-debts I had. It was awful, unforgettable, but was a life-changing experience. My parents were quite confused about how come I can’t provide more than usual anymore.
And to my surprise, we got through our financial hardships, and they even helped me produce funds for my sister’s college. I didn’t even know that it was possible.
After that day – I forgot what day it was, but it was the 15th – I think it was 2013. I promised myself that I’ll never borrow money again – not unless it’s an emergency, of course.
The next few months didn’t go well as planned. My mom kept hoarding debts, and I’m the only one who’s paying for it. But despite all the stress and the sleepless nights, I didn’t apply for any loan. I’ve lived on coffee, didn’t go out, or buy food in the pantry.
I started walking home instead of riding the bus. I believe that someone needs to be that first domino tile that needs to fall so that all the other tiles will follow.
I started working hard and slowly noticed that my family and my attitude towards money has changed. We stopped buying things I didn’t even know we didn’t need and quit overspending on groceries.
Moreover, my mom stopped talking to our neighbours that owe a lot of money to several people that kept referring her to lending companies or asking her to be their co-maker.
I took the responsibility of handling our finances. It was pretty hard, but I needed to stand up for our family. I became strict with how our finances come and goes. I made a list for everything, for groceries, debts and bills. I’m not an accountant, but I learned different strategies by reading, watching videos and seeking advice from financially literate people.
Then our lives and perspective changed. Everything I feared didn’t happen. We didn’t live luxuriously, but we had what we need. We never had the chance to eat in fancy restaurants, but we had food on the table.
We had more predicaments and misunderstandings as a family, but at least we felt free from the chains of continuous debt or that feeling of obligation that we had to give a part of our life to someone else.
I realise that if you have the perseverance and the DISCIPLINE to stop buying the things you don’t need and prevent adding extra monthly bills or expenses in your life, you’ll have a stable financial run. I always remember what my preceptor tells me, “never spend money you don’t have yet.”
Lately, I’m watching videos that will help me more in achieving my goal. I like Rose Han, she helped me a lot – and no, this is not an advertisement for her channel.
Anyway, I’m trying to pay off some of the multi-debts I had at home. One by one, and in time, i’ll be debt-free. I have quite a few. Hopefully, one day I can be debt-free and let go of that rope that ties me up to that heavy feeling of always owing something that’s not rightfully mine.