This reader story is from Kelly Crawford. Kelly is a “mompreneur” and contributing author for five blogs, including her own, Generation Cedar. Some reader stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success or failure. These stories feature folks with all levels of financial maturity and income.
I had left my job to raise my two children and was now expecting my third; we had no idea that my husband would be laid off work shortly after that. But with an entrepreneurial spirit, he charged ahead and started the landscaping company he had always talked about. It just wasn't enough.
“We'll charge it this time and then pay it off when I get paid for the next job” became a familiar, but foolish, solution. We charged our groceries, our power bill and our gas. Each time we got paid, we needed the money to live and the credit cards stacked up — to almost $40,000. But we couldn't keep up with the payments; day after day I dreaded the phone calls threatening us if we didn't “pay the balance in full” by a ridiculous date.
Enough is enough
My husband came home one day to find me in a puddle of tears refusing to answer another phone call. Something changed that day. Several different events played a part, but our resolve to break the bond of financial slavery began, and we finally moved from self-pity to anger— a good kind of anger that empowers people to change things.
My husband got two more part-time jobs, a difficult and demanding decision, but a necessary one, and then I got busy at home. Going back to work wasn't a feasible option, so I began to do my part from home to help dig us out of debt.
I began looking for every possible way to save a dollar; it's amazing how much can be saved with the right motivation. I scoured our utility bills to make sure we weren't over-paying — we were, so I got some of those lowered. We already didn't have cable or satellite television, and we scaled our one cell phone plan back as much as we could, but didn't cut it out as it was a necessary part of my husband's self-employment. I stopped buying anything that wasn't a necessity: paper plates, paper towels, fabric softener, even ready-made cleaners were all considered a luxury. We made our own cleaners and used cloth napkins. I began to study ways to cut the grocery bill and we incorporated far more homemade mixes, soups and staple foods into our diet.
One Christmas, we made all our gifts and I vowed to not buy any wrapping paper. I started requesting brown paper bags at the grocery store. I cut them up, wrapped our gifts, and then let the kids decorate the packages. We used leaves, stamps, paint, ribbon and fabric. We used old maps, old wallpaper and anything else that seemed creative. That was one of our most memorable Christmases.
This one might brand me as a fanatic, but we still laugh about the time I woke up to find our yard had been toilet papered. As I went out to clean up, I noticed how bright and clean the toilet paper was while it draped across our shrubs. “I'm not throwing this away!” I collected it in a basket, put it in the bathroom, and we made good use of someone else's wastefulness.
It was just a new way of thinking — using resourcefulness and creativity that once was a much more common habit, but has escaped most Americans now amid our comfortable lifestyles.
I also got busy seeing how much money I could make from home. My first project was eBay. I didn't even have a camera, and I remember my first listing: a 50-cent book of Shakespeare I bought at a yard sale. I listed it without a picture and it sold for $25. You would have thought I made a thousand! After that, it was “nail it or sell it” in our house. The most interesting thing that I sold was probably the free formula coupons new mothers get through the mail. I was nursing my baby, so I listed the coupons just to see what would happen. They sold for almost their face value!
One year a relative gave us a heap of sweet potatoes. It was near Thanksgiving, so my older kids and I decided to bake sweet potato pies and sell them door to door to the neighbors. We sold every one and even received phone orders for more.
I looked at everything for its money-making potential. And then things got exciting. The skimpy Christmas when we used no wrapping paper, we were set on making homemade gifts, and I made some homemade skin products. Already prone to an entrepreneurial mind-set, I decided to package a few and try to sell them. People seemed interested, but I didn't really have a great market. I am a writer, though I hadn't done much professionally, so my brother suggested I had a great combination for starting a blog: things to say, a great way of saying them, and products to market.
So in 2007, I started a blog, something I hadn't known existed a month before. It grew — and continues to grow — and now it is a considerable part of our income. I sold the skin products until this year (we decided to close that part down recently), but I've also added a book, several ebooks, a CD, as well as advertising, affiliate products and a membership website to help other mothers who want to learn to make money blogging. It has been a joy in so many ways. Necessity truly is the mother of invention. Now, as a mother of 10, I do what I love, from home, on my own schedule — a business/ministry born out of adversity and a desperation to make ends meet. We are, by the way, now debt-free, including our house.
Looking back, I'm thankful for our financial crisis in so many ways. Our struggle taught us the importance of contentment, it greatly improved our faith, and it sparked a creativity and resourcefulness in our family that has become a part of our life-blood.