I have a confession to make. Several years ago, when I went bankrupt, I was too embarrassed to tell you my story. But, in retrospect, I went through a process of repair and rectification. I am certainly more apt to face the times ahead, so let me share my experience.

I am a single mother of three children. As long as the children were small, I could navigate the boat with a certain measure of control. But once they became adolescents, it became increasingly difficult to handle my finances. The expenses grew exponentially with increasing costs for schools, extracurricular activities, and rental and housing expenses. The children needed better clothing, ate more heartily, and suddenly needed things that were prohibitively expensive, such as encyclopedias, computers, school field trips and more.

The expenses grew exponentially

I had money in my savings account. But then, without warning, I lost my source of livelihood. That savings was quickly depleted. I had no choice: in order to pay for my expenses, I needed to put all my purchases on my credit card. I even started buying food with postdated checks.

I spent my time looking for an alternative, and probably had more than fifty job interviews. My mistake was that I had high expectations and high expenses, so when employers didn’t turn me down, I turned them down—thinking I could find something with better hours, more pay.

I went into overdraft with my bank. Then the checks started to bounce. I cannot even count the number of complaints filed against me, the number of times bill collectors seized my furniture, electrical appliances, and numerous other of our possessions. It spiraled so fast, and was ugly and painful. I shiver when I think about it.

The immediate fires were put out first, but every time I smothered one, another had been lit elsewhere. I kept waiting to see the “end of the rainbow” with the next job interview, the next lottery ticket, the next I don’t know what. Eventually I was evicted from my home, and my car was also seized.

I was alone, and feeling like a failure

During these times, my primary concern was trying to protect my children. I told them that it would all be okay. But it wasn’t. I felt like I didn’t belong amongst the people who had once been close to me. I did not join them on outings; I did not invite them over. I was annoyed by their conversations about travel plans, vacations, renovations, and the other ways they were spending their money.

I was alone, nowhere near family, and feeling like a real failure.

We were able to move into a really tiny apartment. I ended up accepting a low-paying job, and tried to scrape by with my expenses. But I also had major debt which had skyrocketed with interest. On top of all of this, I had lawyer fees to deal with.

Today I lead a much simpler life. I buy food at the outdoor market. I do not own a car, and travel by bus. I no longer have the possibility of overdraft, and I pay for every purchase in cash. I would not take a loan unless my or any of my children’s lives depended on it, not even from well-meaning friends.

Eventually, as others found out about my situation, I learned who my real friends are. And also discovered who really didn’t care. There were those who, in spite of my desperate situation, continued talking about their next trip abroad, which hall to pick for their son’s bar mitzvah, and the prices of installing a parquet floor.

But whoever was a real friend remained a friend to date. And how I wish I could have recognized how much I needed them, and given them the opportunity to be there for me so much sooner than I did. How I wish I had been willing to face my situation early on, before it got out of control. I kept hoping it would somehow get better on its own, but what I really needed to do was take responsibility for fixing it alongside taking the help that other people wanted to offer.

I wished I had faced my situation early on

I have learned that living simply is not demeaning. In fact, it’s very much in vogue. Today it’s cool to buy second-hand things to protect the environment, to save bath water and reuse it to water the plants, to use fluorescent light bulbs to cut electric bills, to repair appliances rather than throw them away, to plant herbs on the balcony. With my creativity and artistic skills, I have made works of art from pieces of furniture that others threw away. I can make gourmet vegetarian food out of the simplest, wholesome products.

But the biggest perk, a true gift from Above, is to see that my children have grown into responsible, independent and hardworking individuals who are always ready to lend a hand to those less fortunate. When my life was going well, other people’s troubles seemed surreal. But now I can approach people in distress and be able to empathize with them. I don’t wait for them to ask, as I know how hard and humiliating it can be. And finally, I am no longer embarrassed that I have been broke, nor do I feel it is anything to be embarrassed about. Rather, I now see it as a gift I was given: to discover what is really important and what truly has value, and to discover the inner strength and abilities that I have that otherwise might never have been revealed.