Broke. Poor. Overdrawn. Late Payments.

These are just a few words that I chose to leave behind in 2017.  My financial vocabulary got a new year’s makeover along with other resolutions that I plan to execute in 2018. But how did I get even get here?

My relationship with money only really began at 20. Before then, I lived at home in Zimbabwe where my parents took care of me. I wasn’t spoiled, I knew the value of money and I appreciated the hard work my parents put in to afford me a comfortable lifestyle and an even better upbringing, but nothing could have prepared me for my years in university in Canada and the real struggle it was for me to finish my degree because of financial hardship.

Alone in another country as an international student paying at least $24,000 Cdn on tuition alone, I quickly became the most resourceful person I knew. At this point I was not good with money by choice, but because it was a necessity that every last penny I had went towards school if I wanted to stay enrolled in class. At the time as an international student I didn’t have access to government or bank loans so I did everything under the sun to fund my studies.

I borrowed from friends, worked multiple jobs to make ends meet, maxed out credit cards and scraped for bursaries and scholarships. (More on thrifty ways how to get by later on) At some desperate point I started taking out payday loans. As you may or may not know, these institutions are the absolute WORST! Lucifer himself has a hand in this mess. They have very high interest rates and the money that you owe comes right out of your account (on payday) like a direct deposit if you didn’t pay before the deadline. The thing is you only need a pay stub to get these loans so at the time it seemed like an awesome idea. I didn’t have to ask anyone for help anymore or maybe I could spend a little bit of money on myself I thought. Fortunately for me, I soon realized what a rip off these loans were and how damaging it was if I continued to use them.

By God’s grace, hard work and a good supportive unit of people, I managed to scrape through and finish my degree. But I didn’t finish my bill from the last semester though as I knew I could walk the stage and move on with my life and career without the actual piece of paper given at convocation. On top of that, I got my first job after graduation in my field without showing my degree so the motivation to pay my university the $12,000 I had left was non-existent. However, this hefty tuition balance would come back and haunt me…

My relationship with personal finance started while I was in my last semester of university. I took a Business in Journalism course. Towards the middle of the semester we were tested on our financial literacy and surprise, surprise I came last out of about 25 students. I won a book for being in last place, The Wealthy Barber (a popular personal finance story described as a good starting point to construct a personal financial plan). Obviously I was embarrassed but I used the excuse that I was not even Canadian in the first place so who cares if I don’t know what an RRSP stands for? (Even though I’ve been here for six years and I don’t plan on going anywhere SMH) In case you were wondering, RRSP stands for Registered Retirement Savings Plan.

In the same semester we even had to write a story about personal finance. On a whim I contacted two Canadian finance bloggers and asked them about tips to save money.

The joke is at that time I really wasn’t interested in educating myself about personal finance but since I hate not being in the know, I started to read more and more about the topic.

I followed blogs such as Debt Free Black Girl, watched Youtube videos and looked up financial hacks, joined forums to find out more about how to start handling my money better. With no real intention of paying off my own debts, I just had FOMO for learning about the lingo and perhaps slowly starting to be more financially responsible at some point in the near future. To be honest because I had spent five plus years struggling to make ends meet I began to loosen my frugal ways when I was done with school because I told myself I deserved it!

Fast forward to April 2017 and that hefty balance I had been letting linger for almost a year now was sent to collections and I knew I couldn’t sweet talk myself out of this one. Still I would not say I started to take paying off my debts seriously until a few months after the moment I found out. I kept receipts, tracked all my spending in a little log, I cooked more, barely went out, put my credit card away just to name a few tactics and just as a juice cleanse or detox works when you’re trying to lead a healthy lifestyle, this really kicked off my financial fitness. But above all the spending cuts I had to cut the attitude and that is where I saw the most difference.

My credit card was not the root of all evil, neither was my collections agent; it was ME!

Since I decided to take my debt pay-off seriously I am approaching my debt like a prison sentence. When I come out of this financial ‘prison’ – cutting out frivolous spending, implementing a debt snowball plan and building an emergency fund – I will be financially free.

It can easily be a pain saying no to dinners, drinks, vacations and other things that cost money right now but I had to put on my grown up pants and accept my responsibilities.

Now, as I learn to spend less and save more I look forward to becoming a #debtfreeblackgirl and sharing my experience along the way with you!

Ready to finally be able to stick to a budget?

Take my FREE 7 day email course, #BudgetPrep101 to get started.

Written by Zandile Chiwanza

Zandile is a hard working, resourceful, fine & frugal Zimbabwean living in Toronto, Canada. Proofreader by day, Zandile like to write about music, lifestyle and now personal finance when she is not busy being the grammar police!  

You can find @Zaknows on Twitter, Pinterest and Medium.