Do as I say, not as I do
Learn from these financial-disaster survivors' mistakes.
Don’t live in denial. If you lose your job, don’t keep doing the same old thing thinking a new job is going to pop up any day. “Go immediately into starvation mode,” Jen Lancaster says. “No more shopping, no more lunches, no more anything else. I wish I hadn’t spent a year still trying to live my life ‘business as usual.’ ”
Don’t panic. “Oh my God, I’m gonna have to live in skid row in a cardboard box with my children,” Lynda Ross says, remembering the manic fear she felt when she was laid off. As a result of her anxiety, she let clients take advantage of her—and often did more work than she charged for. She credits her “good mentors” with helping her stand firm with clients.
Consider changing your bank. As if there weren’t enough to worry about, some banks allow you to overdraw your account—just so they can slap you with an overdraft fee (often around $35). Others, like Citibank, simply deny your card when you don’t have enough cash to withdraw, so you don’t get the chance to screw yourself over.
Lay off the credit cards. “Just because you’re offered a credit card, that does not mean you have to take it,” one credit-card-debt survivor notes. Lancaster agrees, crediting the low limit on her cards with keeping her out of hot water. “On each of our cards, we had maybe a thousand-dollar limit. So when we were broke, we ran up our cards, but we didn’t end up with huge credit-card debt, which is probably the one thing that saved us.”
Avoid the loan sharks. Too embarrassed to ask her family for help when she couldn’t pay her rent, a magazine manager who asked to remain anonymous started taking out “insta-loans,” which charge upwards of 600 percent interest. Just at the mention of this service, Harold Hutchings rants: “[Gov.] Blago should be thrown in jail” for not outlawing those operations.