When you’re facing tough financial times, it can be hard to see a way out.
Whether you’re drowning in student loans, in a never-ending cycle of credit card debt, going through a transition like a divorce — or a combination of multiple hardships — the stress of your financial situation can be crippling. But there is usually a way out. It may require some sacrifice and the right strategy, but with time and effort, you can find yourself on the other side.
I spoke with several women who were in dire financial situations about how they overcame their hardships to eventually thrive. I hope their stories will inspire you to see that it is possible to turn your financial life around.
Sharita M. Humphrey, Finance Expert and Money Mentor
Several years ago, Humphrey was a homeless single mom with two small children living in a motel after being evicted.
“At the time, I was living paycheck to paycheck and had no savings, and my credit score plummeted because of the eviction and outstanding collections, credit and medical debts,” she said. “I knew that I could not give up because I had two children that deserved an address to call their own.”
To turn her situation around, Humphrey’s first step was improving her financial literacy.
“I made up my mind to learn as much as I could about personal finance, credit, debt elimination and saving,” she said. “My children and I would go to the public library as much as possible. I read personal development and finance books and began to write out my goals.”
Humphrey started to save a portion of her paycheck each month, created a simple budget, made steps to rebuild her credit and eliminated her debt.
“The entire process that I went through was no walk in the park,” she said. “It took me several months to start to feel financially confident, but all of the hard work was worth it. My children and I moved into our new home, and I even secured a government job.”
She has since left her government position to start her own company.
“I would tell other women in a similar situation to never lose hope,” Humphrey said. “They have the power to change their financial trajectories and build beautiful lives for themselves and their children. Change happens when you shift your mindset and start to believe in yourself. Once you begin to shift your mindset and modify your money behaviors, this will create a positive relationship with your finances.”
Vee Weir, Owner and Founder of Vee Frugal Fox
Weir began her debt-free journey in 2016 after realizing she couldn’t afford to make her student loan debt payments while covering necessities like medication and food.
“At the time, I was with my ex-husband and in the beginning, he was very supportive. It wasn’t until our marriage began falling apart that paying off debt and being financially independence [became things] he didn’t seem interested in,” she said.
Eventually, Weir got divorced and found herself in an even worse financial situation. She ended up leaving the six-bedroom house she had shared with her ex and moving back into her childhood bedroom.
“I had less than $1,000 in cash, my dog, my clothes and my POS car. That was it,” Weir said. “I spent the next half a year couch surfing, paying attorney’s fees and trying my best to make the best out of a [tough] situation.”
It took Weir several years to get back onto solid financial footing.
“It was five years of budgeting, being intentional, cutting down non-essentials, selling a lot of things and making sacrifices — like continuing to drive my old car,” she said. She also took on a side job as a dog walker.
“I ended up paying off $71,000 in total over five years,” Weir said. “My advice is to lean on those that are available around you. Then, realize your inner power and harness that. Understand that where you are right now is NOT your forever, and there are better days to come. I am remarried now with a thriving business doing what I love. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Maya Corbic, CPA, CEO at Dinarii Financial Education Academy
When Corbic was 15 years old, her family immigrated from Bosnia with two suitcases and $50.
“We did not speak English and my parents had no jobs,” she said. “We were on government assistance and lived in government housing and shelters.”
By the time she was in high school, Corbic was working two jobs and independently supporting herself.
“I had to rely on myself to buy shampoo, school supplies and save for post-secondary education,” she said. “I could not save enough, so I had to take student loans to finish university.”
By the time she got married, Corbic and her husband had collectively racked up $60,000 worth of debt. But she remained optimistic despite their financial situation.
“Mindset is important,” she said. “I knew that my life could be better.”
In order to pay off the debt, Corbic started by consolidating all of their loans. She put her family on a budget and ensured that they spent less than what they made.
“Cutting down expenses was only part of the solution,” Corbic said. “The second part was increasing income. As an auditor, I worked for Deloitte & Touche and negotiated a contract that they pay for my CPA designation. As a CPA, I was earning more money, which was put towards repaying our debt.”
“Our main focus was to pay off our loans aggressively, including our mortgage,” Corbic continued. “We were debt- and mortgage-free in eight years.”
Her best advice for other women who are financially struggling is to pick one thing they want to fix and focus on just that.
“Start with small but consistent steps and build good financial habits,” she said. “If you want to get out of debt, focus on making regular monthly payments. Then, figure out if you can increase those payments by either budgeting and spending less, or increasing your income.”
Corbic also emphasizes the importance of improving your financial literacy.
“Continue to educate yourself about personal finance,” she said. “There is a lot of free information out there on social media, various podcasts, etc. Make sure that you are not just learning, but also implementing what you learn.”
Marissa Greco, Financial Planner at Greco-Nader Wealth Navigation
At the start of her professional career, Greco was working a 9-to-5 and was having trouble making ends meet.
“Like any young adult just out of college, I thought my 9-to-5 was the way to reach financial freedom. However, I quickly learned I was more broke than ever,” she said. “Living paycheck to paycheck and trying to keep up with my mortgage and food bills was a struggle. With no extra money at the end of every month, how was this ever going to get me to financial independence?”
Five years into her corporate job, Greco quit to start her own financial coaching business.
“This was important to me because I saw firsthand how going to college and getting a job didn’t equal financial freedom,” she said. “I wanted to live life on my own terms and finally make headway on my $400,000 mortgage.”
But working for herself didn’t pay off immediately.
“The first year in my business was really tough,” Greco said. “I survived on even less than I made at my corporate job. However, slowly my income started to increase and then double. I started making real headway on paying extra towards my mortgage and even investing on a monthly basis. In seven years, I went from $400,000 in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, to building over an $800,000 net worth of my own.”
She credits a three-pronged approach to being able to turn her financial life around: “Focusing on my cash flow, building an emergency fund and paying my debt at a 5% interest rate were small consistent actions I took to change my situation. Now I teach people how to do exactly the same: thrive financially on your own terms.”
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Gabrielle Olya contributed to the reporting for this article.