Research has shown that a college grad will generate a yearly income that is $30,000 more than a high school grad. That means when people like me enter the work force without a degree behind them, things can be a bit bleak. We are talking 17 years ago now, but when I first left my unfinished college ride, I knew I had to get a job to survive in the world. However the only types of jobs to call me back were in retail and food service, both of which only offered minimum wage and no more than 25 hours a week. The raise was severely low, if offered at all, and it took years to become full time…plus the hours were long, late, and constantly busy. It was extremely discouraging with no choice but to find someone to help pay bills, or get additional jobs just to make ends meet. I needed enough for a place to live, food to eat, additional utilities, and transportation…forget even thinking of adding a child, quality of life, or a savings. And to be honest, I highly doubt things have changed almost 20 years later.

Fast forward a couple years to having my son, and depending solely on my son’s father for an income. I was a stay at home mom mostly because we didn’t have the money for child care, and after a few years of severely struggling on his one income, I had to get an overnight job. It gave me 40 hours a week at $9 an hour, just to come home and survive on little naps here and there because I still had to take care of my son while his dad was at work during the day. It was tough to say the least, but didn’t last long because we split up about a year later and I had to leave the over night job. I was moving from the area, and had no one to watch my son for those hours, so my immediate option was welfare, which offered healthcare, child care, $300 in cash, and $300 in food stamps. Combined with being able to live rent free at my uncle’s for the first few months, I was able to stay above water with just paying for the basic necessities.

Once again I was back to finding part time jobs where I could, and when I landed a steady part time job as a maid, the cash assistance stopped. I only had about 2 years before the food stamps and healthcare would stop as well, with the food stamps being severely reduced along the way. I luckily found a full time job that was only 7 minutes away, and offered hours that coincided with the child care hours I was offered for my son. I stayed with that company for almost 7 years, and while they offered a 2% raise through the years, nothing helped my goal of being able to move out of my uncle’s. I was able to increase my rent to him, have a small savings, and offer quality of life to my son, but there was no way I could handle being on my own with that income. I worked hard though, got a promotion that helped me in the long run, and made the leap for more pay at another company.

Since then, I have made a couple more leaps into things that allowed me to become financially independent enough for my son and I to be “o.k” on one income and in our own place. I take on second jobs here and there, and I take courses online towards a degree when I can afford them. I keep a lookout for cheaper prices on the activities and items my son and I could add to our quality of life, and I sacrifice certain things so that on the rare occasion my son asks for something, I’m able to give it to him. I also try to keep a savings for emergencies, and stay on a monthly budget. So while the struggle is still there, it’s a struggle that is moving forward. It’s life giving me lemons and me trying to make lemonade, lemon bars, and the occasional limoncello out of them. It took me 9 years and 8 months from the time I left my son’s father to try and make a life for my son and I on our own. Pretty much 10 years to gain enough experience in the working world, as a woman, to make enough money for us to have our own lives.

My fingers are crossed that it’s all leading to the final goal of attaining a career, being able to afford a brand new car, have a disposable income, and take week long vacations out of the country, all AFTER making sure I can help my son pay for college. That is my dream. Something so many people take for granted. Something so many can accomplish a lot quicker than in 10 years with a degree, or help from other sources. I don’t know what the future holds, but if my lessons can somehow be a guide for my son on what NOT to do in life, he just may have a shot at getting things right at a much younger age than me. He can enjoy all that he has worked for at a much younger age as well. And if I’m being extra with the hopes and dreams I send into the universe, he will find a life partner that will be doing the same.

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