Living in a car to pay off debt
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 don't spend lavishly on clothes, hair appointments, or travel. I drive a 12-year-old Honda Civic. I got into debt by trying different business investments, including real estate and selling refurbished tablets. I also took out a student loan that I really didn't need but couldn't turn down the money I automatically qualified for. Those are the main sources of my debt.
My debt payments began to total more than $1,100 a month. I moved in with an aunt and uncle to make ends meet. When they wanted to raise the rent, it was the straw that broke the camel's back. I was fed up with my situation. I couldn't even afford to rent a room anymore.
I took a drastic measure, which I know most people won't agree with. I decided to move into my car. But that wasn't all. There was no way I was going to live in my car for any length of time and come out in the same situation.
I buckled down and reviewed Dave Ramsey's system. I was familiar with his program but had never really studied it or applied it. I made a commitment to live differently from that month on (September 2013). It took two months to save up $1,000 for an emergency fund and to pay off my seven smallest debts. The third month, I brought current a credit card that was three months behind. Life felt so much more manageable. I could answer the phone again without trepidation. Eight months later, I paid off all three credit cards.
It wasn't just living in my car that did it, though. After I made the commitment, I got an insurance payout for damage to my car, a refund from the doctor, and some other small financial blessings here or there. All of that “extra” money went toward my debt. Before, it would have gone toward … who knows?
For the winter months, I moved in with a friend and rented a room for less than what my aunt and uncle charged me. She has been really understanding and was helping me out. However, in one month, she will need her room back. Since starting this journey, I've lost a job, faced medical emergencies and car breakdowns, and learned new survival skills.
Only two of my friends know about my situation. I've worked hard to keep it hidden from coworkers and family members. They will only worry about me, and they can't give me the help that I really need. I have blogged about my experience anonymously. I'm bracing myself for the negative backlash from readers — “You're stupid. That's dangerous!” Still, I am excited to be on this temporary journey and just thankful that I have the independence, the mental fortitude, the creativity, and the good health to make this happen for myself. I am $10,000 richer so far in less than one year![Editor's Note: This is an amazing story; but we wanted to understand Livinginmyhonda's reasoning on some things, so we asked:
Q. Why did you take out a student loan that you didn't need?
A. I took the student loan because it was free money and I also wanted to continue investing in real estate — ultimately it helped me sell the two properties I owned. I had to bring money to the table. Not what I had in mind originally. Dave Ramsey would call it a stupid tax, and so would I.
Q. Where are you living in your car? Do you live in a WalMart parking lot?
A. I park my car in hospital parking lots (lots of security cameras, guards on patrol, and employees coming and going all hours of the night). I also park on the street outside an apartment complex that I used to live in. There are no parking restrictions there and I feel relatively safe in that neighborhood. (I know that no neighborhood is perfectly safe).
Q. Are you currently working?
A. I'm a teacher. Three months after I started this debt-free journey, I was blessed to lose my job. It turned out to be a blessing because I got a job that pays 35 percent more (even though I loved the first job dearly).
Q. How do you manage grooming, etc., to go to work each day or to go to job interviews?
A. I got a gym membership so I would have a place to shower. After leaving the gym, I go to my storage unit and change clothes. Then I go to work. I spend the rest of my time in parks, libraries, fast food restaurants, or staying late at work.
Q. You say you are $10,000 richer. What do you mean? Is it because you have paid off your loans or by saving money in an emergency fund?
A. I feel richer because of the debts paid off so far and because of the security that a starter emergency fund gives. After paying off credit cards this past spring (three months ahead of schedule due to the new job), I started a car replacement fund. My car is 12 years old, and I consider this fund to be my way of paying off debt in advance.
Q. Do you plan to find a place to live?
There was no answer to this question, so we have to hope that Livinginmyhonda will once again find a stable and safe living situation.]