At the start of 2008 I was living in Brooklyn, NY (after a stint abroad in Paris, Edinburgh, and London) running customer service and the overall online community for a now defunct startup tech company. I had a stake in the company so it was very personal to me, each small action. I had developed incredible relationships with some of our community members as our product relied very heavily on human interaction. I had shared photos with these folks. I had shared personal stories. I felt as if I was one of them and they, me.

Andrew Odom in Paris2007 had just ended with the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis and financial crisis. People were losing jobs. Businesses were closing. Paychecks were uncertain. My company was not exempt. Our investors seemingly got cold feet in light of the recession and money quickly ran out. I was living off my American Express paying nearly $1800 in rent/month on top of health insurance through BCBS, a personal loan payment with BofA, a VISA payment, and simple living expenses (including food, transit, clothing, etc). For the first few months I kept telling myself that it would get better and as soon as the money came back I would pay the American Express off (or at least down) since it was the one being worn out and also had the highest limit. I helped several of those under my employ, sending them small amounts to help them get by so they would stick it out with the company to reclaim our place in the market when this cleared up.

As the summer of ’08 came and went nothing seemed to be getting better. On a personal note I had re-met Crystal (through the magic of Facebook nonetheless) and was encouraged by the growth of our relationship. We talked on the phone, talked online, visited each other, etc. After just a couple months of dating it was obvious she was my future. But on the back of my mind was always this growing debt. If our relationship kept on we would surely be married and then she would be scarred by this financial shame. I quickly told her the truth and we talked about debt in general, what she owed (I seem to remember she was debt free), what I owed, and what we had to look forward to.

By October I knew I had to leave Brooklyn. New York City in general was eating me up. I couldn’t afford it. Mentally I was growing depressed. Crystal was living in North Carolina and I desperately wanted to be close to her. The signs were obvious. At this point I even had to ask a dear friend for a personal loan just to pay my rent. My AMEX was all but used up. My VISA had been cut up. I had no income to speak of. I had even taken to cleaning apartments in Manhattan to have money for groceries. Crystal came to visit me at the start of December and after a weekend of being absolute tourists in this beautiful city she helped me pack up in a small Uhaul van and leave town headed for Barnesville, GA.

And therein lies the first step to claiming your financial freedom.

5. KNOW WHEN TO HOLD ‘EM AND WHEN TO FOLD ‘EM

I had held my cards as long as I could; too long probably. I should have folded sooner. I should have cut my losses and moved on. You need to do the same. Are you working a dead end job? Are you spending more money than you are making? Maybe you need to look for a job that has a brighter future? Maybe as a mother you need to forego a job outside of the house and look into being a SAHM. I know in a lot of cases women work outside the home only to spend every penny made on a baby sitter or day care for their children just so they can work and repeat the process. Heck, maybe you need to be a SAHD! Whatever the case, the first step is being real with yourself and knowing when to bow out of the game. Crystal helped me realize that it was time for me to bow out of the game and step away from the table. The company officially folded, I left Brooklyn, I moved back “home” to Barnesville, GA on a sort of barter system with my folks, and I pursued a job that didn’t pay well but paid every other Friday at the same time payday after payday.

4. CONFRONT YOUR DEBT 

When I was about 10 years old I ran under a train. Yes. Literally. I ran under a very slow moving train. The problem was I tripped on the far track (after clearing the moving train) and took a spill landing face first onto the railroad tie. While I didn’t lose any teeth or get knocked unconscious I did do nerve damage in my cheek and spur some bone fragment. More than anything it bursted the blood vessels in my eye and caused half of my face to swell up like a helium balloon. The problem really was I was in public school at the time and I had to go to school looking like this. My first day back I was asked by the assistant principal to where a hooded sweatshirt because my face was upsetting some of the other students. To this point I hadn’t even really looked at the damage. I didn’t want to. But that night I went home and I took off my hood and standing in front of the mirror confronted my new appearance. It was indeed ghastly. It was so bad I refused to let anyone take a photo and so to this day I have only the memories to remind me of the scar on my cheek and the released facial ligaments you can pinch out. I say all of this because the second step in claiming financial freedom is to confront the ugly.

Stop tossing your bills aside for fear of what they look like. Embrace them. They are yours. Just as you embraced that impulse buy at the Target 2-for-1 sale you must embrace the amount owed plus the accrued interest. Yes, it will probably make your stomach pang. It will probably make you want to cry. Others won’t want to see it. But it is yours and the sooner you confront it, the better off you’ll be. By Christmas morning 2008 I was well aware of the fact that between AMEX, VISA, a personal loan, a loan from a friend, and a couple of store cards, I owed just at $46,700. Just two days earlier I had asked Crystal to marry me presenting her a very modest ring. She answered “Of course. We talked about this.” I am adding this in because that ring was the start of a new strategy. I had saved literally dollars and cents since September to purchase that ring and when I picked it up at the start of December I was able to pay cash for it and walk away knowing it was possible!

EDITORS NOTE: There are 3 tips to go. Come back Monday to read more about how I claimed my financial freedom and how you can too!