There were three people standing in line at a grocery store. Dina, a 44-year-old military wife, and mother of two, was let go from her part time waitressing job. She can’t stop thinking about the stack of bills sitting back on her kitchen counter.
“It’s denied again,” the cashier told Dina as she held her credit card. Dina turned red from embarrassment as the checkout line grew longer.
The older man behind her in particular noticed Dina’s predicament. She was sure everyone in the store was staring at her, passing judgment. She fumbled through her purse looking for another card to try. Dina blurts out, “I don’t know why it’s declining, I just paid it off.” But this wasn’t true, the credit card debt was higher than Dina even knew.
A second credit card swipe… DECLINED.
Dina digs deep into her purse and pulls out the emergency credit card. The credit card she’s never supposed to use unless things are bad. “I guess putting food on the table is an emergency,” Dina thought as she handed the card to the cashier. The card swipes… She waits anxiously. It’s approved.
Dina breathes a sigh of relief, smiles and begins walking away. But in her heart, all she knows is that she never wants this to happen again.
As Dina pushes her cart towards the sliding doors, she glances back at the older man behind her to see if he’s still judging her. The man, Donald, gives her a pleasant smile.
Donald, who goes by Don, or Grandpa Don as his grandchildren call him, is 62 years old and today is his late wife’s birthday. Dina’s stress with the credit card is the furthest thing from Don’s mind.
Don may be the sweetest, and funniest individual you’ll meet. But what he’s not sharing underneath all that pleasantness is that he’s worried beyond belief. The latest medical bill that came in the mail was over $23,000. With his fixed income from social security, there’s no way he’ll be able to pay that off.
When he saw Dina looking for another credit card, Don couldn’t help but think about his own two children. “What am I leaving behind for them,” he thought.
Don’s greatest fear is that soon he’ll have to move in with his oldest daughter and her husband. He’ll have nothing to pass on to them except debt.
“That’ll be $19.92,” the cashier yells, jolting Don to reach for his wallet.
Before he could pull his wallet out, the woman standing behind Don pipes in… “You want a coupon for that?”
Don turns around to see a young woman with a 3-inch-thick coupon book prominently sitting in her cart. “That’s a lot of coupons you got,” Don says to her in a joking manner as he gratefully accepts her coupon. “You got a coupon for medical debt?” Don didn’t say this of course. Debt isn’t something you talk about, but he did think it.
With his discounted groceries, Don thanks the kind stranger behind him again and pushes his cart to the sliding doors.
The stranger behind Don is Molly, who couldn’t stop smiling. Even though she was only going to the grocery store, she dressed up a bit because today was a day worth celebrating.
For years Molly was drowning in debt. Irresponsible purchases, a bad car accident and burst pipes in the house put her in a financial hole. The financial hole was so deep, it could’ve taken two lifetimes to crawl out of. Today though, Molly is free from her debt. It didn’t even take winning the lottery to do so (something she’s embarrassed to say she tried as a solution).
What Molly did do was become a serious budgeter. She first, made sure she wasn’t living above her means. Then, she found help from organizations that assisted with debt relief. While couponing didn’t solve her problems, it definitely helped her.
When Molly noticed Dina’s declining credit card from the back of the checkout line, she didn’t judge Dina. She felt empathy. Molly was in Dina’s same shoes years ago, and it was terrible… but it wasn’t hopeless.
Molly paid for her discounted groceries and walked for the parking lot. She didn’t look back to see if anyone was snickering at her coupon book. Or judging her for asking the cashier which items were on sale.
Instead, she walked for the parking lot hoping Dina was still loading her groceries. Maybe at the very least, she could let Dina know that she wasn’t alone in her debt struggle. If there’s one thing debt can make you feel, it’s alone.
No one should feel alone in their debt.
We often hear the phrase “don’t be quick to judge.” But what’s more relevant for the people in this story is “don’t be quick to think you’re being judged.”
There are people all around us with similar financial struggles.
People that have walked the road towards financial freedom. People who have been walking that road, and people who are starting. There’s tools, advice, and encouragement from so many sources. Sometimes all we have to do is ask…