I spent some time tonight watching the movie "The Pursuit of Happyness". It's the true-life story of Chris Gardner, and it's a true hard-luck story. Gardner's wife left him with their young son, he became homeless and he had no job. He had one shot at success: a non-paying internship at Dean Whitter, which might or might not lead to a paying job as a stock broker.

Gardner and his son endured many hardships, including eating in soup kitchens, sleeping in homeless shelters (when there was room) and even an overnight jail stay for Gardner (for non-payment of parking tickets).

Eventually, Gardner was offered a paying job as a stock broker. He went on to found his own investment firm, and he sold a minority stake in it in a multi-million dollar deal. It's a very inspiring story, and if you haven't seen the movie (which stars Will Smith), I highly recommend it.

As I watched the movie, I thought of my own "Pursuit of Happyness". It's similar, though not as extreme as Chris Gardner's story.

Homeless

I will never forget the day my wife and I came home to our apartment after a weekend out of town with my in-laws. There was a piece of yellow paper taped to the front door. It was an eviction notice. Due to an error at our bank, our checks kept bouncing, so we had stopped paying the rent with checks, and paid with money orders instead. We paid each month, on time. However, those money orders never made it to where they were supposed to go. Did somebody pocket them and say we didn't pay our rent? It's possible, but we couldn't prove it. We had not kept our money order receipts.

As far as the apartment complex was concerned, we had not paid rent for six months. They wanted more than $3,000....money we did not have. We had no emergency fund. We had no savings account at all, actually. We lived paycheck to paycheck.

My wife later had to have emergency surgery, and I spent the whole day in the hospital, waiting to see if she would be alright. The doctor told us there was the possibility she could have died. After I got home I played my answering machine messages. One of the messages was from the manager of a company had taken over the company I worked for. He informed me I was fired. Now I had no job, and soon, I would have no home.

Taking a Chance

I applied for jobs in other states, since there were no openings in our local area for what I was doing at the time. I received two offers: one in Philadelphia, in an area which had a high cost of living; the other, in Oklahoma, which has a low cost of living. I chose Oklahoma.

I cashed in my 401k and collected an unemployment check to stay afloat until the whole family could move to Oklahoma. The 401k money would be used for moving expenses. My new employer would not move me. I left home with little more than $400 in my pocket, and that had to pay for gas to drive halfway across the country, food and somehow, a down payment on an apartment.

It took me two days to drive to Oklahoma. I spent the first night sleeping in my car. My new employer put me up in a hotel for one day after I arrived in Oklahoma. That left me one day to find a place to live. I found an apartment, but it was not in a good area of town, and we had certainly lived in better places. I didn't have the full amount of the security deposit. Thankfully, the apartment manager said I could pay $110 down and pay the rest once I got paid by at my new job. That night, I slept in our new apartment, with nothing more than a sleeping bag, a small TV, a few changes of clothes and many, many cockroaches.

Survival

While my wife, still recovering from surgery, packed our house with our two children, I started working and anxiously waited for pay day. I couldn't afford to buy groceries and I had nothing to cook them even if I could. I lived on burritos I bought at 7/11 for 79 cents, and I bought buckets of chicken from a restaurant for $8, which was enough chicken for me to eat for two or three nights. My food budget was about $30 a week.

Pay day came, and I did not get a check. I was informed that it takes two pay periods for payroll to get a new employee into the system. I had to wait two more weeks to get paid. I was quickly running out of money.

One day, my wife called me. She informed me she had packed as much as she could, but could not do any more. We had a moving truck coming to pick up our things, and they would have to finish packing for us. Our original plan to have her take a bus to Oklahoma fell through. It was just too expensive. I had to drive all the way back cross-country to get her and the kids, turn around, and come back again to be back at work the next week.

Pursuit of Happyness

After I got my family moved to Oklahoma, my wife eventually got a job. Between the two of us, we paid down our debt, put money in a savings account for emergencies, and actually had money left over from one payday to the next. I had taken a 20 percent cut in pay in the move to Oklahoma, but we had more money than ever. Things were looking up.

After a couple of years of our financial recovery, we were hit with another setback: my wife became disabled, and she could no longer work. Our income was cut in half. To top it off, her medications cost hundreds of dollars a month, and we had no health insurance.

To make ends meet, I took on extra freelance work, got a part-time job at a retailer that offered health benefits to part-time employees and worked seven days a week. I did this for a year.

Happyness

I now have health insurance. My income has doubled in the past two years, and I earn more money now than I ever have at any other point in my life. In fact, I have replaced the income we lost when my wife became disabled. We are paying down the extra debt we accrued when she could no longer work, and once again we have an emergency fund.

I have high hopes for our future. I'm pursuing a college education part-time while I continue to work full-time. My wife and I plan to purchase a home in a couple of years, so we are paying down debt and saving money for a down-payment at the same time. I jump at every chance to earn extra bonus money at work. You could say I'm extremely motivated to not return to the situation my family was in five years ago. It was those experiences that led me and my family to adopt a lifestyle of Savvy Frugality.


Avoid the mistakes I made in the past:

1. Pay your rent with a check. Your bank will have a record of the payments. Never overdraw your account. Balance your account daily. Yes, daily.

2. If you are being hassled by bill collectors, remember that you have rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Learn what they are, and you will buy yourself some breathing room.

3. Save at least ten percent of every paycheck, bonus or gift. Sock it away in an emergency fund. As you go through life, you will eventually have an emergency.

4. Have a game plan. If you do have an emergency (lose your job, illness in the family, bank account wiped out), don't panic. It's easy to sit and feel sorry for yourself, but that's not going to fix things. Come up with a game plan for HOW you will fix it.

5. Do what it takes. Before moving to Oklahoma, I had never even flown over the state. I knew nothing about it, but I knew it was my one chance to start my life over again. My family and I gambled that we would do well here, and overall, we have. We like it here, and it has truly become home. Don't get tied down to one area. If you have to move to improve your situation, do it. If you have to sell everything you own to make it happen, remember they are just things. Things can be replaced.


7 comments

  1. Kaye // August 2, 2008 at 9:15 PM  

    That was an incredible movie! I think I want to go watch it now.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

  2. Anonymous // August 14, 2008 at 6:26 PM  

    Hi, that was a very personal and moving story you shared, thanks for sharing it, by the way I am scaredrain on degreeinfo.

  3. Ashutosh Didwania // August 30, 2008 at 2:52 AM  

    Its amazing..both the movie n the story..Damn inspirational..
    At least I found it good enough to let it be a part of the top motivational movies of all time..
    check out the link for the list...

    u might just find the other movies mentioned in the list worth giving a try..
    http://www.intheorbit.com/2008/08/motivational-movies.html

  4. shirley // September 8, 2008 at 6:01 PM  

    You are an inspiration to others who are feeling hopeless. God bless you!

  5. Cia // June 4, 2009 at 10:34 PM  

    Really like the information you provide & appreciate the sharing of your personal story.

  6. T // June 8, 2009 at 11:48 PM  

    It wasn't easy going through it at the time, but I hope sharing my story help others cope with equally difficult situations.

  7. Amanda // November 13, 2011 at 11:29 AM  

    I never thought about someone possibly taking a money order! This is good advice...I didn't use checks because of the wasted paper, I suppose money orders are the same thing.

    Surprising choice of Oklahoma! But hey, back in the day, I moved to Nebraska :)

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