Give Me Back My Five Bucks

You know you’re in financial trouble when…

carWhen I was in college, we had to do a mandatory 4-month co-op during the summer between our first and second year. I wanted to do something in marketing or event coordination, but couldn’t find anything in Victoria. I did, however, find a position with a non-profit in Northern Alberta. So without hesitating, I said yes to the barely-above-minimum-wage job and the chance for a bit of an adventure.

I decided to drive the 1,300km to my new temporary home because I knew I’d likely need my car while I was up there. But since my car was basically a piece of crap on wheels, I was going to have to take it into a mechanic to make sure it was safe to take on my short road trip. When I found out it would cost just under $1,000 for the repairs, I remember nearly bursting into tears. I didn’t have that kind of money! So for the first time in my adult life (and the first admittance to anyone that I was in any sort of financial trouble), I asked my parents if I could borrow the money from them.

“You don’t have $1,000?” I remember my dad asking. I felt shame. Nope, I didn’t. His face fell and he kind of shook his head in disappointment, but he loaned me the money. I got my car fixed, and away I went on my road trip. But I felt so horrible about owing him money that I paid him back with my first pay cheque (which ended up being the entire amount – and a little bit more) – and lived off my credit cards until I got paid again.

Except that when I got paid again, I had to pay off my credit cards. And it was just so easy to fall behind when the minimum payments were a lot more appealing than paying off the entire amount. A few pay cycles like that, and all of a sudden I had maxed out my credit card.

I’ve mentioned it in a few posts lately, but life is a lot easier now. I don’t feel like I’m falling behind, and I actually have savings in the bank and a financial plan for the future. But I will admit that I still feel a bit of a victory whenever I can fill my gas tank up completely (instead of only putting in $10 worth of gas because it was all I could afford).

I’m not really sure what the point of this post was, but I wanted to share the story of the first time I admitted to anyone (including myself) that I was in any sort of financial trouble. Even 11 years later, I can still see that disappointed look on my dad’s face, and it’s something I hope to never, ever see again.

Can you remember the first time you knew you had money problems?

Author: Krystal Yee

I’m a personal finance blogger and marketing professional based in Vancouver. I’m a former Toronto Star (Moneyville) columnist, author of The Beginner’s Guide to Saving and Investing, and co-founder of the Canadian Personal Finance Conference. When I’m not working, you can usually find me running, climbing, playing field hockey, or plotting my next adventure.


  1. This was a great post Krystal. I actually know the feeling of living off credit cards for a short period of time and it’s one of the worst feelings. The stress, sleepless nights and having to miss out on fun activities is terrible. I’ll never be that way again which is why I read financial blogs like yours to help me understand how to better manage money!

  2. One of my acquaintances recently told me she’s $6,000 in credit card debt. It’s so scary how things can spiral out of control so fast with 15% interest racking up.

  3. strandedrocks says:

    Sometimes having someone be disappointed in you is more painful than if they were angry. I’m glad you used that circumstance to propel you to where you are now and to where you are going in your financial life.

    • Krystal Yee says:

      Oh, absolutely! For some reason when people are angry at me, that memory seems to fade away over time … but almost always remember when I let people down or I know they’re disappointed in me.

  4. Mine was around the same stage as yours. When I was in my first year of college and found out that Mom and Dad were up a creek and couldn’t make rent. I was already working full time to pay for school, so I figured I could just work more hours and help with the rent. And then the snowball of bills and debts became apparent. It was alarming, to say the least, and started me on a quest to earn enough that I wouldn’t have to scramble like that every week just to make the basic payments again.

  5. Thea says:

    My financial rock bottom came after grad school. I had done a really good job of getting through my undergrad with only $1500 debt which I paid off after my first summer out of school. But for grad school I just had to move to Vancouver (such an expensive city) and everything was going well, living off my savings and being frugal with my spending until I ran into an unexpected setback. My thesis required an extra semester of work, which took me way over my savings and into debt. Then my laptop died, so I had to buy a new one (in hindsight no I didn’t, that’s what libraries are for). Then I was so discouraged and upset about the struggles with my thesis that I went on a trip with my best friend that I paid for with credit to try to lift my spirits. It worked a little but when I got back I was so tired of being frgual and not getting out and enjoying Vancouver that I quickly spent through my line of credit that had been mostly untouched until then. After not being able to find full-time employment in Vancouver, I moved to Alberta and got a parent loan to buy a car (which again in hindsight, I could have waited to buy). Now I went from a manageable $3000 in student debt to $16000 for extra tuition, trips and consumer debt. It took me years to pay off and got in the way of savings. Thankfully, I have been out of debt for a few years and will hopefully max out my TFSA this year. I learned a very valuable lesson that while frugal may be boring at times, it feels a heck of a lot better than the shame of foolish debt!

  6. Kayla says:

    I am experiencing that feeling right now! However, I feel I am going in “reverse”–I started out being very mindful of my budget, money, and staying out of debt. I paid for my first 2 years of school in cash from my job. I graduated with “only” $10,000 in debt but a job with the government, which I mistakenly thought I would need a vehicle for. Turns out, not so much. I’ve been saving for retirement $50/month for years to create the habit of saving early(as a late teen/early 20’s, not too bad–but I could do better). But now, I have taken on responsibility of caring for an aging family member and have had to drain that savings.

    I knew I was in trouble when I saw I now have debt and no emergency fund, and it is seriously freaking me out! I am looking for ways to get back on track though.

  7. KC says:

    Good post. I agree that the disappointed look had a far bigger impact on me than anger. I think my Dad understood the position that I felt that forced me to ask him for help as well as explaining how I was going to fix it. That disappointed look served me as part of my motivation to get rid of my debt.

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