I most frequently write about resilience and regenerative practices from an environmental perspective. And while that’s extremely important, I can’t underscore how vital I also believe it is for us to work towards regenerating and increasing the resilience of the many people who are suffering physically and psychologically in our midst. There’s a tremendous amount of resilience and grit involved in overcoming addiction and even more to course correct towards financial independence
That’s why I’m so pleased to share this guest post from a very good friend of mine. I met Laurie when I lived across the street from the cute bungalow you’ll read more about in her story. I was struck by that bungalow’s curb appeal. What I saw upon being invited inside it impressed me even more. Laurie has a fantastic eye for color and interior design.
She’s also bright, full of life, and financially independent despite having battled addiction and never earning a six figure salary. Enjoy the rest of her inspiring story in her own words. And pay special attention to her key takeaways. They are relevant to all of us, not just those recovering from addiction.
A Traumatic Childhood Leads to Addiction
Please allow me to introduce myself, my name is Laurie M. I am a child of the 60’s with parents who lived through the great depression. My mother was an over spender and my father was an under spender. This did not make for a happy marriage or a sound financial education.
When I was 13 years old, they separated. It was a traumatic experience but I won’t get into details. That’s another story. However, the result left me thinking, I’m never going to get attached to anyone or anything and I lived my life that way for many years. I moved around from place to place, job to job. Never earning a substantial salary.
Taking Steps to Overcome Addiction and its Financial Effects
When I turned 40 I took a look around and decided I wanted something different for my life. I was single, broke, and my main objective was to get high and party. I was unhappy, empty, and unfulfilled. In the past I have had a lot of therapy and saw many counselors to help deal with my childhood issues.
But one thing I had never dealt with was my addiction. I was forced to look at it and went to a 12-step program for help.
I began to recover emotionally and spiritually. I met some interesting people there and one of them told me that there was an organization called Mass Rehab (Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission) that helped folks like us get back on the path with money for education and or job training.
Opening My Eyes, Ears, & Mind to the Opportunities Available to Recovering Addicts
Now, I had been in community college but it was going to take forever to even get an AA because I had no math skills and had to take remedial classes just to pass the college entrance exam. My counselor at Mass Rehab was a wonderful and helpful man. He directed me toward a competency-based program at the University of Massachusetts, where I could apply prior learning, life and job experience to get an undergraduate degree. Bonus! They would pay for it.
I really wanted letters behind my name, I had a goal for the fist time in my life. In 2000 I graduated with a BA in Human Services, the first college graduate in my family. Key takeaway: pay attention, take action.
Low-Income & First-Time Home Buyer Programs Offer a Path to Wealth-Building and Financial Resilience
I was living in a rent control apartment in Cambridge, MA and there was a ballot question that was headed towards terminating rent control. I was worried how I would ever be able to live in the area; market rates were high. I started saving money towards a down payment, I paid my bills on time had credit and no debt. I didn’t own much. I drove a used car that I paid for cash, no cable TV, cell phone or internet.
A volunteer at the nonprofit where I worked told me about a first time, low income program to purchase foreclosed properties through the FDIC. After filling out piles of paperwork, taking a workshop, and providing years of tax information I was accepted into the program. Key takeaway: pay attention, take action.
They provided me with a list of properties all around the Boston area. I set out to find one I liked. Most of the properties were gut jobs. They required more work and money than I had. I had managed to save $10,000 which I would use for a down payment.
Perseverance and Action Pay Off
I had almost given up when I went to see a condo in a not so desirable neighborhood known for gangs, drugs and crime. When I arrived at the property there were several other prospective buyers. It was a brownstone, the gutters were hanging off, the once beautiful dental work was covered with chicken wire trying unsuccessfully to keep the pigeons out. The entry stairway was lopsided and the interior hall didn’t look much better than the exterior.
On entering the unit, I observed a hole in the bathroom floor from water damage, a hole in the dining room ceiling from a leak and a place that didn’t look cared for. On the other hand, it had original wide plank pine floors. It was a corner unit with beautiful light and many windows. The unit overlooked a park and was walking distance to the metro and downtown Boston.
The minimum price was $30,000 which meant all bids were to be over that amount. It was a sealed bid auction, which meant I didn’t know what anyone else was bidding. I just had to submit my bid and $500 and wish myself luck. I bid $36,500, and waited. The letter arrived and the first word was “Congratulations.”
I won! In a couple months I went to the closing. There were no closing costs, down payment or inspection. My mortgage payment was less than my rent control apartment. The day I moved in I had over $70,000 of equity in my home. I never had to use my down payment so I kept it as an emergency fund. Even with a low mortgage there were many other expenses, condo fee, property taxes, and repairs. I did things a little at a time.
Tapping Social Capital and the Right Mindset to Succeed
I used my social capital and started asking around if anyone knew of any jobs and through networking. I found a full-time position with benefits within walking distance from home. In a very short time, I had accomplished a lot. Education, Home, and Job.
You don’t have to work long and hard to accomplish success Things can move quickly. I didn’t have a lot of money. I had drive, dreams and a mindset to succeed.
I heard that a professor at the University of Massachusetts was looking for a teacher’s aide in the Master’s Program. I interviewed for the position and was accepted. I received free tuition and a stipend. Basically, I got paid to get my Master’s degree.
I worked full time, went to school nights, and was a homeowner. When I graduated in 2003 with a Master’s Degree in Education, I had no student loan debt. And I had my letters behind my name.
Love, the Ultimate Form of Wealth
The best letters came in front of my name MRS. After I graduated, I met the love of my life and was married. I told my husband I disliked cold weather and wanted to live somewhere warm. He compromised and suggested we become snowbirds and live part of the year in Florida.
He was a retired firefighter but still working at his side job and wanted to continue. My plan was to sell the condo and buy a place in Florida for cash. By now my $36,500 investment was worth over $450,000. Not a bad ROI. I listed the condo and went to St. Petersburg, FL to shop for my new home.
I accepted a full price offer on the condo and made an offer of $120,000 on a $130,000 bungalow home. It was accepted. Returning home, the buyer of my condo wanted me to reduce the price after the inspection and I decided not to sell it.
Plan B: I applied for a mortgage on my own, not with my husband. I was approved so instead of selling the condo I financed the bungalow. Now I owned two properties. Mind you I’ve never earned over $45,000 a year. Myth: it does not take money to make $$.
I also quit my job….my husband was renting a small apartment; he did a lot of repairs and in return received a discounted rent. We decided to live there and I rented out the condo.
My first tenant paid me $1,600 a month. It paid for all the condo expenses and the bungalow expenses. I rented the unit for 8 years. In the end I was getting $2,800 per month. In the summer when we left Florida, we rented the bungalow. It paid for the taxes for the year, insurance and some other expenses. My investments were all profitable.
After 7 years of marriage my husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness. I decided once again to sell the condo. I accepted a larger offer than the first time and had collected over another $100,000 in rent. Buying that condo was a risk that was worth taking.
It wasn’t easy living in that neighborhood then, but now…..everyone wanted to live there. Shortly after the sale my beloved husband died. I stayed in our rental house for one more year and then moved to the bungalow full time.
From Addiction to Financial Independence and Peace of Mind
The house profits were invested in the stock market. Those earnings payed for the mortgage until I made enough from the investment to pay the house off in full. I now live mortgage free, debt free, and happily.
I knew nothing about stocks, bonds, investments, or allocations. I asked lots of questions and read many books. I’ve hired and fired financial advisors and most of all I trust my gut. What’s more important to me than money is peace of mind.
Don’t get me wrong I like money. It affords me luxuries, heat in the winter and the ability to be helpful to others. But currency is a mindset. It is a consciousness. My biggest suggestion is to live below your means. I live well, but debt free. I use point earning credit cards to pay for everything. I pay the entire balance in full every month. I am conscious of how much electricity and water I use.
I shop around for deals on car insurance and house insurance. I never throw food away…I make coffee at home. You’d be surprised how all the little things add up to major savings. I never made a lot of money. Key takeaway: never spend more than you earn. It doesn’t matter how much money you make if you spend it all.
Further Reading & Resources for Post-Addiction Financial Resilience
Deanna shares a similarly remarkable story at Recovering Women Wealth, where she writes about her post-addiction financial independence and resilience journey. Additional resources available to those trying to fix their finances as they move on from addiction can be found on the following websites:
Have you overcome addiction or other significant challenges to achieve financial resilience and independence? Share some of your inspiring story in the comment section below.
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