Growing up, autumn was often the season when our utilities went off. I would go to cook dinner and yell, "Mom, the pilot is out on the stove!" only to hear her curse. The pilot wasn't out — our gas had been turned off. It happened often enough that I wasn’t entirely surprised when I flipped a light switch and nothing happened.
If you’ve ever been behind on your payments, you know that it takes quite a while before companies turn off your utilities. You get bills, late bills, and termination notices before you get the final rap on the door from an apologetic representative who has been sent to disconnect your power or gas. And yet, my parents never seemed to expect the lights to go out.
Their response to financial strain was to ignore it.
Their bills would stack up on the ancient table that served as my dad’s desk, and because my parents didn’t have the means to pay them, the envelopes sat unopened. In my endless middle school wisdom, I was frustrated with my parents. Like any teenager, I had all the answers and knew that if my mom and dad were simply more responsible they could calm their tumultuous finances. I was never embarrassed, but I did pity my parents’ inability to take control.
When I became an adult I was determined to break my parents' patterns, but freeing yourself from generational poverty isn't easy. At the time, there wasn't much I could do about making ends meet, but I vowed to at least acknowledge the situation. When I felt the thick knot of dread in my stomach, I immediately forced myself to log in to my accounts and check my balances.
When bills came, I opened them, even if I didn’t have the money to make a payment right away. If I fell behind on a student loan, I accepted that and called to arrange a more manageable payment plan.
There were times when I floated checks — putting a payment in the mail even if the money wasn’t there and hoping I could make a deposit before the funds were withdrawn. There were times I simply couldn’t make a payment. However, knowing exactly where I stood financially, even when that was in the red, helped me feel more in control of my future.