Introducing “Barlow”

IMG_2270Hi! And welcome to my blog!

I’m “Barlow”, a Chicago based thirty-something mildly obsessed with budgeting and a good cup of coffee.

What experience do I have with money? Not a lot! Until 2013, I never dealt with “money” because I never had any. Growing up, I lived briefly with my mother before being shuffled through a series of foster homes.

The U.S. foster care system is notorious for a lot of things but teaching money management or “life skills” is not one of them. In my teens, I watched anxiously as my foster siblings “aged out” of foster care – turned eighteen without being adopted – and into adulthood where they struggled to make ends meet. I would get physically sick to my stomach as I wondered how I was supposed to “make it” when no one I knew had figured it out.

With a non-existent safety net, a checked out caseworker and foster parents who weren’t particularly interested in how things turned out, I knew my margin for error was razor thin. Figuring that it would provide me some needed structure, I enrolled at a private four-year college at seventeen using Pell Grants and a host of private scholarships. Despite having generous scholarships (83% of my cost of attending was covered), I graduated four years later with $20,288 in student loans I no idea how to repay. 

Still, I’d landed a job in DC working for a congressional member and moved to DC two days after graduation and tried, with limited success, to pay down my student loans. A few years later, I followed a boss’s counsel (and a large scholarship) to law school in New York. Despite my scholarship, I increased my debt load by $87,986.  Accounting for accrued interest and my outstanding undergrad loans, I had more than $100,000 in loans when I graduated from law school in 2013.

I began working after law school at a great firm – although the hours left much to be desired – and considered myself “pretty good” with money. After all, I had a 401(k), a savings and investment account – and I was paying more than the minimum on my student loans. Yet, I found myself staring at spreadsheets often and spent a lot of my time worrying about losing everything.

After taking an honest look at my finances and reading more personal finance articles than its probably healthy, two things became obvious (i) I did not know enough about money to be “good” with it and (ii) it was how I was spending money that was causing anxiety, not how money I was making. I committed to learning more about my relationship with money, paying off my student loans, spending money more intentionally and increasing my savings rate. This blog is how the rest of the story played out.

I hope that my perspective on money helps to create positive change in how others interact with money. I also want to end the secrecy around debt and talk freely about the “bad” money decisions we make.