Beth has left an abusive relationship, is basically in hiding and the agency helping has asked for my thoughts. I thought a direct letter to Beth was appropriate and maybe would help others. (Published with permission, name changed)

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Dear Beth:

Clearly you’re a fighter. Through everything you’ve endured you were able to successfully raise your son and see him off to college. It may not feel like it at the moment, but you have a big win under your belt and now it’s time to rack up more. You can do this.

Credit
This is going to take time, a long time, but it is not impossible. If it hasn’t been done already through the courts I encourage you to take steps to ensure your credit cannot be tampered with any longer. While it won’t impact the rebuilding of credit, freezing your credit will immediately guarantee that no more can be taken out in your name without you knowing. You can do this directly through each of the three credit agencies, on-line, for free. Experian, Transunion, and Equifax.

Once this is frozen, I would reach out to each of the lenders on the report that show bad marks and inquire more about these. Maybe this has already been done however I would want to reach out to these companies and notify them that this was not your doing and inquire if there are steps to take to repair these issues. Possibly the time has come and gone and this will be fruitless or possibly you’ve already looked into this and met nothing but dead ends. This will be an ongoing process so start down this path, see what you can find out and follow up consistently. When you talk with someone, write down their name, ID if they have one or any other information so you can recite this when you speak to others in the future. Detailed notes will be your friend. Avoid at all costs credit repair agencies unless specifically tied to a group or organization you may be working with. More often than not these are just companies seeking to further profit off your misfortune. They do the same things I am suggesting and often there are no significant results other than you adding more debt by paying them.

Housing
I can’t imagine having only a few months of shelter hanging over my head. The pressure must be intense and this is critical step number one. If this apartment costs too much and the expense doesn’t allow you to make financial headway, I would be looking for a new set up immediately. There are a few areas I would be looking to ensure you have a secure, safe and long term housing option that you can afford. Rather than an apartment on your own can you rent a room in someone’s home? I just did a quick search on Roommates.com in our area and found rooms, condos and apartments that people are looking for roommates on for well under the $750 you’re spending now. Is it ideal? Hell no, but finding the right situation will help you tremendously. You cannot be searching for longer term employment options when you wake up everyday thinking about the clock that is running out on your apartment. A long term housing option is a must.

If a roommate situation doesn’t work how about a job that also provides or helps with housing? For example, hotels, motels, and inns have been absolutely decimated during the pandemic and are now reopening. While they’re reopening they’re understaffed and in desperate need of quality, dependable and reliable workers. Is there possibly a situation where someone is hiring and offering a room as part of the role? Be creative and ponder other opportunities that may help with housing along with your job such as apartment complexes, storage facilities (they often provide housing so the person can remain on site), etc.

Prioritizing is something I keep coming back to as I think about your situation. I can’t imagine all the ‘tasks’ you may feel like you need to accomplish at this very moment. I would imagine this becomes overwhelming and sometimes paralyzing. I think it will be of critical importance to prioritize these steps, making a list and focusing all your attention on one at a time. I would put housing at the top of that list. If by chance, new employment comes along with that, all the better, if not however, longer term employment and maximizing your earning power is priority #2.

Earning Power
What is your earning power? What I mean by that is what is your education, skill set and employment capabilities? Quite possibly you spent your entire life being a homemaker and your general earning power is slim to none. If that is the case, entry level work will be the only thing you may be qualified for however it will be absolutely critical for you to invest then in furthering your education such that you can establish for yourself higher earnings power for the future. It’s never too late to re-educate yourself however you must be smart about what exactly you’re gaining an education in. For example, maybe you completed college with an associates degree and would need to go back to finish your bachelors. In your situation a liberal arts degree may not be worthwhile however getting a bachelors in education so that you can become a teacher in the school system may be perfect. Our nation is in desperate need of teachers at this time and there is no better way to get school paid for than going with the intent on being a teacher. In addition to a solid career the benefits are unmatched and longer term retirement is achievable. (We can revisit longer term financial and retirement in subsequent steps but right now it’s not a priority)

What is it you’re passionate about or what is it you have skills in, that maybe you haven’t used in a long while. Explore these and then ask the question. Where do these passions or skills serve me best in the job market? If this requires more education while you’re working your entry level job, so be it. If it takes years to achieve, who cares. The most powerful asset you have right now is yourself and your earning power. You have to put yourself in a position to achieve maximum earning power which may mean taking additional classes in night school, weekend or on-line. No, this should not cost you money. You should be able to obtain scholarships, grants or participate in other programs that will help pay for this schooling. These programs are out there but you may have to search and connect with other agencies or groups specializing in this area.

Budgeting / Savings / Future
Once you have secured longer term housing and set a solid plan for education and or earnings power, you can begin to think about your financial future. At this moment it’s about survival so thoughts about retirement should be kicked to the curb. You may be working a day job, taking evening classes and working on the weekends for the time being. If you get discouraged over not saving enough for the future you’ll be missing the mark. At some point this will come but right now there are more important priorities.

When it comes time to focus on a budget and savings we can revisit the steps I’ve laid out in DIY Money. Despite what people may say it’s not all that complicated and is simply the idea of living below your means. Of course at present your means may not be enough to live so your first objective is simply getting back to even. Once this transpires you can begin to look at allocating the excess capital you’ll be making and seek to further improve your credit, save for a home and add funds for retirement.

While I can’t imagine what you’re going through I do know that it takes an incredible amount of courage to step out of the situation you were in and charter an unknown course on your own. That has to be the hardest step of all so I am completely confident these next steps, while difficult as well, are entirely in your grasp.

While I am unsure of your beliefs or religion I will commit to praying for you and your situation and know that the Lord will guide you in your path. One of the most powerful pieces of scripture I have ever read and put into practice is James 1:5 which says: If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

God bless Beth, and good luck!