Introducing “Barlow”

IMG_2270I, “Barlow”, am a Chicago based thirty-something obsessed with budgeting, a good cup of coffee, great books and board games. I created this space to write about my path to financial freedom in the hopes of finding accountability and to encourage others in their own journey.

What experience do I have with money? Not a lot! Until 2013, I never dealt with “money” in any real sense; I never had much of it. As a child, I lived with my parents before shuffling through a series of foster homes that relied on public assistance. I occasionally returned home to parents who couldn’t hold down jobs and were, thus, unable to care for my siblings and me for any sustained period of time.

At seventeen, eager to avoid the cycle of poverty that had plagued my family, I applied and was admitted to a private four-year college. Despite a generous scholarship, I graduated in 2008 with $20,288 in student loans and with no idea how I would repay those loans on my government salary. Undeterred, I moved to D.C. two days after graduation and lived minimally with three roommates and tried, with limited success, to pay down my student loans.

Two years later my boss asked me about my future and suggested that I go to graduate school if I wanted to advance out of my current role. A year later, I followed his counsel and went to law school, adding $87,986 to my debt load. 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 at a large firm after law school where I made good money. For the first time in my life, I had enough and I began “treating myself” – to a nice apartment, expensive trips and daily lattes – instead of aggressively paying down my student loans. I thought I was 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 battled against the feeling of financial insecurity and, in 2015, I found myself staring at spreadsheets and worrying about crashing back into poverty. I constantly worried that I was not making enough money.

After devouring personal finance books, blogs, and podcasts and taking an honest look at my finances, I had a wake-up call and two things became evident: (i) I was not good with money and (ii) It was what I was doing with my money that was causing anxiety, not how much money I was making. I committed to paying off my student loans, spending money more intentionally and increasing my savings rate. This is that story.

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.