CNBC Select’s editorial team works independently to review financial products and write articles we think our readers will find useful. We may receive a commission when you click on links for products from our affiliate partners.
In late 2015, I logged onto my then-boyfriend’s laptop to watch Netflix since my computer was dead. What followed was about as cliché as you might expect.
I pulled up the internet browser, and there it was: a secret email exchange between my boyfriend (let’s call him C) and a webcam model. C had asked the model how much she charged for video chats, and she had given him a list of rates and services, ranging from late-night text access to simple email chatting to other arrangements.
C and I were not in an open relationship, nor did I know about his ongoing inquiries. (Though, in hindsight, can I truthfully say I was surprised?) I remember staring at his MacBook Air, wanting to smash its thin metal frame against the coffee table. Yet, even though my hands shook in anger, I withheld. MacBooks are expensive. Rage pumped through my veins, but I still knew that smashing a $1,200 laptop was just not something you do.
The event, as painful as it was, caused a chain reaction that sent me, in a roundabout way, here, to my current job as a money reporter. After my breakup with C, my long-time college boyfriend, I needed financial stability — and fast. The year before, I’d quit my job to go back to grad school, and C agreed to support me while I started freelancing as a yoga and writing teacher.
Without C as my financial safety net, I scrambled to pick up part-time work teaching reading at a local elementary school. Eventually, I leveraged that experience into two years teaching full-time at independent schools, then I started freelance writing again (after finishing up my master’s program in creative writing).
See? Not exactly linear. I started writing about money in 2019 while trying to decide whether to stay in my new career as an independent school teacher. I pitched an article about how I made the decision to leave, and voila — here I am. I’ve learned so much writing about money that I can hardly believe it was just two years ago that I published my first personal finance story.
Now I spend my days speaking to experts, researching and writing about topics like debt, budgeting and credit cards, and I’m glad to say I’m a little wiser than when I agreed to throw caution to the wind and trust C to support me. But I’m also committed to remaining humble, since money is really, really complicated.
Oftentimes, I’m struck by how many experts out there are quick to argue that personal finance is really quite easy. All you need to do is follow the rules and wealth and happiness will come your way. But anyone who’s ever struggled to make ends meet or made an impulse purchase when they’re sad (or happy) or fought with a partner over a credit card bill, knows that money is anything but easy.
Ahead, I offer a list of five reasons why managing your money isn’t simple — and they have nothing to do with understanding compound interest or your credit score. You probably have a few of your own to add to this list.
When C and I broke up, I asked him for one month’s rent. It took about two days of furious texting to convince him to give it to me, but he ultimately did. He moved out, and I had 30 days to formulate a game plan. I had been writing a curriculum for my first six-week yoga-and-writing workshop, which I expected would bring in some money after marketing costs. I was paying for my car, health insurance and all my business costs with student loans, and now that C was out of the picture I had to cover rent, utilities and food, too.
I made a budget worksheet in Excel (my first), and I looked at the various financial resources I had to my name: a $4,000 line of credit that a teller at my bank convinced me to take out in college, about $2,000 in savings, a credit card with an $8,000 limit. I was waiting on the check for $1,500 for my upcoming 6-week series, and I got paid $21 per hour to teach a 1.5 hour weekly yoga class at the YMCA, which I had to commute 30 minutes each way on the highway in order to teach (you do the math).
It would be tight, but I could hold myself over for two to three months while I searched for a permanent job. If I needed to, I could go into debt, I told myself. It wasn’t ideal, but I would survive. My biggest disappointment was that I had to put my dreams…