After enough of these calls, I finally woke up to the fact that I was in my late thirties—with two small children, no savings, no retirement plan and a husband whose career was clearly going downhill. I started to freak out and ask questions: How were we providing for our sons? Did we have retirement accounts? I “broke the rule” and insisted on being involved in our finances. Not only did he refuse to discuss it, but he also refused any kind of counseling.
When I left, he felt personally betrayed, which translated into a very contentious divorce. I got a menial amount of child support, plus alimony for one year, since we were technically only married for two. There were no assets, and due to the unmanageable debt, both of us were urged to declare bankruptcy. Because California law splits a couple’s assets and debts 50/50, I inherited a decade’s worth of debt after just a little over a year of marriage. I remember my ex’s creditors constantly calling before I filed, looking for payments I couldn’t afford.
I inherited a decade’s worth of debt after just a little over a year of marriage.
From Luxury to Austerity
I went from a life of excess to saving every penny I earned from selling my own artwork. When my sons were bored, I said, “No movies, but we can make a cool fort out of cardboard boxes!”
At the same time, I was trying to recover from declaring bankruptcy. Luckily, I’d rented my new home before the filing went through. And thank goodness I also had a car because my destroyed credit made it impossible to get a loan or a credit card with a reasonable rate. I never wanted to use them again anyway. (My credit is now in the low 700’s—it took years to build back up to that number!)
Although I had a place to live, I had no resources to furnish it—or replace all of the things that were full of memories from my marriage. I didn’t want to sleep on the sheets we’d shared, but I couldn’t afford to replace them. So I dyed them to make them look “new.”
One day, I happened to dye a piece of suede, which turned out beautiful. I borrowed $100 from my parents, bought and dyed pieces of suede from the local leather shop, and then hand-stitched them together to make shawls. When a friend who owned a shop in a mall saw them, she said, “These aren’t shawls—you’re making skirts, and I’d like two dozen for the store.”
Before I knew it, I was dressing celebrities like Farrah Fawcett and Bonnie Raitt, and selling my creations in upmarket stores in major cities—the kind of boutiques I’d shopped in when I had money.